Conflict & Justice

Small signs of progress for investigators looking into the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17


A Malaysian expert, left, examines a black box belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight 17 during its handover from pro-Russian separatists, in Donetsk July 22, 2014.


Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

The rebels in eastern Ukraine kept their word. As promised, they finally handed over the black boxes from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 early this morning. The boxes, which are actually painted orange, were given to a Malaysian official at a ceremony in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

But the calls continued today for the pro-Russian separatists to let international investigators have full and unrestricted access to the site where flight 17 fell to Earth. The BBC's Natalia Antelava has been to the crash site several times. She says much of the potential evidence has already been carted off.

"Even though the black boxes have finally been handed over, the crucial information may not even be in the black boxes," she says. "The crucial information is much more likely to be on site."

Even the black box handover wasn't simple, though. Malaysia didn’t work with Kiev officials to get them, but rather they worked directly with the leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. Presiding over the handover was the DPR’s self-declared Prime Minister Alexander Borodai.

“It was very striking to watch last night what a stretched, unnecessarily so, process that hand over of the black boxes became,” she says.

Antelava says Borodai moved the handover from the hotel to his headquarters. The Malaysian experts referred to him as “his excellency.” He made them sign a memorandum of understanding. “They turned this whole thing into a ceremony of sorts,” she says.

The video clips make it look like a trophy presentation. It’s bizarre, a strange sort or political theater.

The good news in the area, if there is good news, is both side have agreed to a ceasefire around the crash site. Both sides say they will allow international investigators to do their work. So Ukraine won’t attack, and the rebels will allow for safe passage to the area. But it’s a tenuous deal. Antelava says when the Malaysian officials arrived, the sounds of rocket fire could be heard in the distance. 

“This is indeed a war zone. There’s fighting going on. There are buildings that are being shelled regularly, and people being killed and wounded,” she adds.