New grim discovery at MH17 crash site

EXCLUSIVE: Personal items belonging to victims of the MH17 plane crash are still being recovered from the crash site in Ukraine - but Russian-backed authorities are blocking international journalists from visiting the scene.

Four years after the civilian airliner was shot down killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australian citizens and residents, items including passports and wallets are still being recovered from the fields around Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

A portion of the plane's wing is being stored in a shed, a Malaysia Airlines pillow is being used in a house, and locals are unsure what to do with the highly-personal items they have found, which should be returned to grieving family members.

There are unconfirmed reports that some small, unidentified human remains may also remain at the site.

A Samsung tablet recovered from the wreckage. Picture: Supplied to News Corp
A Samsung tablet recovered from the wreckage. Picture: Supplied to News Corp


News Corp has obtained photographs taken last month of personal items including two Dutch passports, a Samsung tablet and two wallets containing bank cards and identification.

The passports belong to brothers Miguel Panduwinata, 11, and his older brother Shaka, 19. One of the wallets also belongs to Miguel. The brothers died as they travelled to Bali to visit their grandmother.

News Corp was refused access to the area in July by authorities from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), the Moscow-backed authorities who have taken control of the area in eastern Ukraine.

DPR officials cited two previously-published News Corp stories which they believed were negative towards Russia.


A passport found at the scene. Picture: Supplied to News Corp
A passport found at the scene. Picture: Supplied to News Corp

Other large international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Radio Free Europe have been banned in the past two years as Russia, which invaded Ukraine in 2014, keeps an iron grip on the region.

This means there has been limited coverage of the ongoing conflict there, as civilians living in the area have been unable to speak to foreign media.

Russia denies involvement in the MH17 tragedy, despite the international Joint Investigation Team's determination that the jet was shot down on July 17, 2014, by a Russian-made Buk missile, which had come from a Russian military brigade based in the city of Kursk.

It was fired from a Russian-controlled area of Ukraine, from a Russian missile launcher, which was brought across the border from Russia and taken back into Russia after the attack, investigators have said.

On May 24, at a press conference in The Hague, the JIT said it was " convinced that the BUK-TELAR that was used to down MH17, originates from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade … unit of the Russian army from Kursk in the Russian Federation.''

It said comparative research had shown highly individual elements of the missile, and called for "insiders and eyewitnesses'' from within the brigade to co-operate with the investigation.

On July 18 this year, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US and the European Union issued a statement in support of the Joint Investigation Team, saying: "The JIT's findings on Russia's role in the downing of MH17 are compelling, significant and deeply disturbing.''

The DPR is the Moscow-backed separatist group fighting to bring the Donetsk Oblast region of Ukraine under Russian control. The self-proclaimed authorities of the region, they are not

recognised by Ukraine or the international community.

To access the site where MH17 was shot down, approval is needed from the DPR.

Officials at the Donetsk People's Republic denied accreditation to News Corp earlier this year,

saying: "Good morning! Unfortunately you both have been denied getting accreditation in DPR.''

When questioned by a local contact in Donetsk over the refusal, they sent extracts from two News Corp articles they believed were hostile towards Russia.

The first, which appears to have been written in October 2014 and published in the Herald Sun , said: "The Perth children and their grandfather Nick Norris were among 38 Australians killed when rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight above eastern Ukraine on July 17.'' This was from a factual report of the deaths of Perth man Nick Norris and three of his grandchildren, Mo, Otis and Evie Maslin, who were all on board the flight.

Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin were killed when the plane was shot down.
Evie, Mo and Otis Maslin were killed when the plane was shot down.


The second extract singled out by the DPR read: "While Russia's invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea - the first hostile taking of land in Europe since World War II - were the original triggers for the economic sanctions and military build-up in eastern Europe, NATO has been further alarmed by Putin's growing aggression."

This was taken from a News Corp story published in March 2018 based on a day spent with NATO forces in Lithuania.

One journalist from a major international newspaper told News Corp he had also been denied

accreditation, without explanation, earlier this year.

He said he had heard from colleagues that it had become much more difficult to gain access to the site in the past 12-18 months, and even Russian journalists were finding it more difficult to get into Donetsk.


He said the DPR authorities probably believed they were controlling the message by keeping foreign media away from the area.

The Russian refusal to allow foreign journalists to the area, combined with the security situation in the region being so dangerous that international embassies are warning families not to visit, mean there is almost no outside scrutiny of the MH17 crash site, which is spread across about 50km of mainly farmland near Donetsk.

No permanent memorial has been established at the main site, although locals do hold annual

memorial services nearby.

The Netherlands Ministry of Justice has developed protocols for returning personal items to next of kin.

A spokeswoman said there were agreements with contacts in the region around the crash site to ensure the repatriation of items.



"These items can be returned to the local authorities and will be transferred to (the) Netherlands for research/return to the next of kin," she said.

The DPR did not respond to questions about why journalists were being refused access.

Multiple countries which lost citizens in the tragedy, including Australia, Malaysia and the

Netherlands, directly blamed Russia for shooting down the jet. The JIT says it has identified 100 persons of interest although none have been named by authorities.

Despite an ongoing police investigation, no one has been charged, and Russia has indicated it will not assist with extraditions or help investigators get access to the suspects.

Russia also used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block the establishment of an international war crimes tribunal into the tragedy. In response, the Netherlands plans to prosecute any suspects in a specially-convened court in the Netherlands.

The plane was on its way from Schiphol Airport at Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia when it was shot down.

Some of the other items included two Dutch passports, two wallets containing bank cards and identification. Picture: Supplied to News Corp
Some of the other items included two Dutch passports, two wallets containing bank cards and identification. Picture: Supplied to News Corp