KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials on Saturday accused pro-Russian separatists of hiding evidence _ from moving the weapons thought to have shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 to removing 38 bodies from the crash site _ that will impede the investigation of the tragedy that killed 298.
Speaking at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center in Kiev, which has been active since the nation first plunged into crisis last winter, officials claimed armed Russian separatists “forced Ukrainian officials from the Emergencies Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the procurator to leave the crash site,” according to a government press release on the statements. The statement continues: “The Russian mercenaries then loaded the bodies into a truck and delivered them to a morgue in the city of Donetsk.”
The Ukrainian statement alleged the reason was to remove missile shrapnel from the bodies, an act that would make it more difficult to prove conclusively that a BUK missile took down the plane.
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said: “The cynicism of these bandits has exceeded any limits.”
Ukrainian Ministry of Interior adviser Anton Herashchenko posted on his Facebook page that Russia has removed the BUK anti-aircraft missile system that shot down the jet from Ukraine. He claims Russia has taken it back to Russia for destruction.
The BUK system is seen as central to any investigation.
The Ukrainian security ministry on Friday released a video in which officials claimed they have evidence proving pro-Russian separatists had the capability to shoot down the Malaysian Airlines jet.
The video claims that earlier Thursday, on the day of the attack, Ukrainian counterintelligence received what it had considered reliable information that separatists had received both the BUK anti-aircraft system thought to have brought down Flight 17, and the Russian military staff that would know how to operate it.
The video begins by showing scenes of the wreckage and noting, “The Security Service of Ukraine has established certain circumstances of the terrorist act committed on July 17.” It goes on to note that “the available information allows to assert that the Boeing 777 was shot down by terrorists of the Donetsk People’s Republic with the use of BUK anti-aircraft missile system capable of hitting aircraft at high altitudes.”
Most national leaders around the world have stated that this is probably what happened, though have hedged by saying a full investigation is needed first.
The Ukrainian security service video is more definitive. It notes that at the time of the shooting, the presence of the BUK system in the hands of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern edge of Ukraine had not been fully confirmed.
Information gathered that day, both before and after the plane tumbled to earth, offers the evidence needed to prove the involvement of both the separatists and the Russian Federation, the video asserts.
The video then shows a conversation between what they claim is a leading separatist and an officer of Russian military intelligence at 7:12 p.m., July 14, two days before the jet tragedy. In it, the separatist leader notes, “We already have BUK. We’ll be shooting them down to hell.”
The video then shows a map of the region, with arrows showing what where they think the BUK entered Ukraine from Russia. The information is said to have been gathered on the morning of July 17, the day the jet was brought down.
At least one BUK-M system is said to have been moved from Russia into Ukraine and the hands of separatists at 1 a.m. on July 17. The Ukrainian counterintelligence service reports that the system came complete with a Russian crew to man it. It was first sent to Donetsk, then on to a smaller community to the east.
That morning, a Russian intelligence officer and separatist were recorded talking. While the Russian officer appeared to talk vaguely when asked, “Where should we load this beauty?” by referring to it only as B and M, the separatists replies, “Yes, yes, yes. BUK, BUK.”
The video goes on to note that the system was intended to join a column of tanks; at one point it was even noted that the column was behind a motel in a village called Hornostaevka.
While officially, Russia continues to deny responsibility, there are media reports from Moscow that Russians have been leaving flowers outside the Dutch Embassy there, many with notes asking for forgiveness, and some even asking the Dutch to understand that “not all Russians are murderers and terrorists.”
Even in official publications, the information is being seen in Russian.
According to the Russian agency, Valentin Nalivaychenko, Ukraine’s internal security chief, said, “A criminal investigation was opened and the allegation is an act of terror for shooting down an airplane on the territory of Ukraine. The passenger plane was shot down with a BUK-M system that had been moved here from the territory of Russia. We have evidence for that.”
Iva reported from Kiev. Schofield reported from Oslo, Norway.