The field is strewn with bodies. One has jeans donned on, but no shoes. A second is clad in a polo shirt and grey socks, one of which is charred. A third wears blue trousers, but the journalist cannot see the face, because it was smashed under the wreckage of MH17.
Eastern Ukraine has been at war for close to three months. the violence had came at a slow drip that few thought could turn into a torrent. Now 298 people—283 passengers and 15 crew—have died in an instant, their deaths seemingly the work of a sophisticated surface-to-air missile.
Passengers on board MH17 had made themselves comfortable for the long journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. One, in black leggings, now lies next to a black duffle bag, which is somehow intact. A green luggage strap lies in the grass like a snake. Somebody comments on the smell: acrid, heavy. Only death smells this way.
“We thought that they were bombing us,” says Natalia, from the village of Grabovo,which was quite close to the scene, referring to the Ukrainian forces who fights almost daily with pro-Russian separatists in surrounding towns. The passengers fell, one fighter stationed here says, “from incredible heights”. As they came down, many were “undressed by the air”. One victim somehow kept his black shirt on, but lost half of his face. A can of Gillette shaving cream is wedged under his back. Nearby lie the makings of a holiday: an Avis rent-a-car receipt, a postcard, a toiletry kit with face-wash and a blue and white toothbrush. A pair of chocolate bars with macadamia nuts lie in the grass.
The rescue workers mark the bodies' locations with bits of white cloth tied to stakes. These men do what they can to find all of the corpses, but the space is vast and the light is short. The only buildings in the area are a chicken factory on one edge of the field, and a stretch of small country homes that begin on the other edge, not far from the smouldering wreckage around the plane’s engine. The firefighters try to extinguish the blaze, but it takes a while—their hose has holes and spews water like little geysers. They were not ready for this. “Nothing has happened here for 30 years,” says one rebel, a local man who goes by the nickname “Tuna”.
A dead boy of about ten years old lies with his face frozen in fear. He has one shoe left on, and patterned socks. He is still strapped to his mangled blue chair, the belt tight across his lap.
It begins to rain, but only lightly. The mosquitoes emerge, and the dogs too, barking in the distance. Clusters of rebel fighters grow thicker along the roads. They are in shock. “This is not a disaster,” says a local commander called Aleksey, “it is Hell.” The orange glow of ordnance flickers over a hillside on the horizon
Part of the list of the names of passengers on board MH17
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