Aussie journo who accused Ukraine rebels of MH17 looting seeks money for returning victims’ items

The crash site of the Malaysian Boeing 777 outside Shakhtyorsk, Donetsk Region. © Andrey Stenin
Australian police told a journalist he should return items he said he collected from the MH17 crash site in Ukraine and not demand to be paid travel expenses in exchange. He said he took things from the site “for safekeeping from Russia.”

Demjin Doroschenko is a first-generation Australian of Ukrainian descent, and was among the foreign freelance reporters covering the Maidan events of 2014 and the subsequent turbulence in Ukraine.

He was at the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and reported seeing rebel fighters looting the bodies of crash victims.

"They were rifling belongings with torches 50 yards away. Once they had gone I went over to the body where they had been and found wallets left open, purses empty and papers all over the ground. It's awful," he told the British tabloid the Sun at the time.

But Doroschenko is now apparently seeking a way to gain some monetary benefit from items he collected at the crash site. He says he is in possession of dozens of items and offered to hand them over to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) - if he is compensated for travel expenses, ABC News reported.

Doroschenko claims he collected the belongings as evidence because he was concerned that the rebels would try to cover up their alleged actions.

"It needs to be rescued or otherwise the Russians will appropriate any other pieces that they can use in their case against the Joint Investigation Team," he said.

The Australian authorities said Doroschenko should hand over the evidence unconditionally.

"Items recovered from the MH17 crash site should not be used to obtain a profit or benefit," an AFP spokesman said.

"The AFP and JIT are aware that Mr. Doroschenko may have visited the MH17 crash site and have provided him with a process of how he can provide those items to the JIT.”

The journalist said he doesn’t trust the process.

Reports of looting by the rebels were abundant in the days after the crash, fueled by statements coming from Ukrainian officials. The validity of those accusations remains disputed.

What is not disputed is that some media reports grossly misjudged the actions of the rebels. One case was when an image of a rebel fighter holding a stuffed toy in his hand was widely characterized by media outlets as showing him bragging about his trophy. The truth was that he was paying respect to the victims.

Another example came on the anniversary of the tragic crash, when News Corp Australia released what it said to be previously unpublished video showing rebel fighters looting passengers’ items. The footage showed confused rebels trying to find out what had happened and keep civilians away from the scene. Interpreting that as an attempted cover-up and pillaging or an attempt to keep evidence as intact as possible in a war zone is up to the viewer.

While evidence of looting by the rebels remains murky, there was one case of an individual allegedly trying to line his pockets from the MH17 crash. In November 2015, a Dutch police officer was arrested and charged with fraud after reportedly trying to sell online several items from the crash site, including a fragment of the plane.

The investigation into the crash of flight MH17 is a politically-loaded process, with the JIT postponing its final report several times. Kiev and its foreign sponsors claimed Russia was responsible for the tragedy right from the start, although no comprehensive report backing such allegations has been published by any nation.

Moscow denied the accusations and refrained from allocating blame to any party. Russia criticized the JIT for lack of transparency and a failure to act fast enough.