MH17 was downed at 16:20:03 on July 17th, 2014. Soon after separatists went out to the area where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had fallen. By combining video and written sources it is established the first separatist units arrived at Grabovo at approximately 16:50 EEST. These were men from the Oplot battalion, arriving from Shakhtarsk, expecting having “to fight the Ukrainian pilots” of an AN-26 freighter plane, but “instead stumbled across dead bodies of civilians”.
A little earlier some separatists coming from Nikishyne arrived at Rozsypne, but soon after they also headed to the main crash site at Grabovo.
From video footage made by separatists shortly after their arrival it becomes evident the story of a SU-25 having downed MH17 was made up by Donetsk ‘headquarters’ around 17:00.

Introduction

As far as I know there is no publication discussing the arrival of the separatists at Grabovo, Rozsypne and Petropavlivka, the villages where the debris of MH17 fell. Therefore I made an effort to reconstruct this from sources available.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to @Sl0zhny, @Lena_from_Kiev and @AricToler for lending a hand!

Disclaimer

There may be other relevant sources, unknown to me. I’d like to invite readers to adjust relevant sources by means of the comments section.
Most of the sources presented here deal with Grabovo, as I found only a few accounts regarding Rozsypne and none about the situation at Petropavlivka.

Early videos

Between 16:20-16:30
First of all there is the well known video, made shortly after the crash in which villagers of Grabovo are preventing the fire to reach the hay stacks (or hay huts) at the entrance of the village. This video was released by Associated Press on November 16th, 2014. The video was published at the AP archive, but also on YouTube.
A transcript in English was published by Interpretermag.com, but it seems to be incomplete and not always accurate. Twitter user @sl0zhny was so kind to provide a transcript of the fragment where a missile is discussed:

1:15 Man 1 – Ну, ракета пошла.
Well, a missile flew off.

1:16 Man 2 – Ну, а то и разорвало его.
Well, that is what blew it up

1:17 Man 1 – Да, пошла ракета и разорвала.
Yes, a missile flew off and blew (it) up.

1:19 Woman (articulating like hearing-impaired) – Пошла большая ракета.
A big missile flew off.

1:20 Man 3 – Ракета пошла […]
A missile flew off […]

1:23 Man 2 – Оттуда пошла […]
(It) flew off from there […]

1:25 Man 3 – Скорее всего, скорее всего […]
Most likely, most likely […]

1:28 Man 2 – Да разные, [.о.о.Ач .И.]
Well, different ones, […]

1:30 Man 3 – И [снУхи.] там, но оно там же, да?
And […] is there, but it is in the same place, right?

1:32 Man 1 – Ну, выясним.
Well, we will find out.

The Associated Press website gives 16:28 as the time it was recorded (most likely the timestamp indicates the end of the video).

A second early video was published by Billy Six. This video was made by a father and daughter from Torez, who were visiting their grandmother at Grabovo.
When comparing both videos there is an overlapping moment, in which a small truck is seen driving past. In the AP video this occurs at 01:38 (below left), in the Six video the same vehicle is seen at 0:02 (below right).

 

The duration of the AP video is 2:00, while the Six video comprises 1:34. This means that the Six video lasts until 16:29, perhaps 16:30.

On July 18th, 2016, Billy Six released new early footage, that was probably made by the aforementioned father and his daugter as well, since there’s mention of a grandmother somewhere.
In the first second of this video a man is heard saying “Спасибо Путину” (“Thanks to Putin”). Next the same voice says: “Call the fire service”. A woman’s voice says: “Phones don’t work, no electricity.” A female voice remarks: “Thank God, it landed over there”.

This new video precedes the one released by Associated Press: the car entering from the right at 01:17 in the Six video is also entering at the AP video at 00:12. Therefore the footage starts around 16:25, possibly 16:24. This is approximately 2-3 minutes after the main debris of MH17 reached the grounds near Grabovo and upon collision immediately exploded.

In addition, there is another (very short) video showing Grabovo immediately after the crash. This one was also reposted as part of the ‘MH17 primer videos’ collection.

In short: given the duration of these videos and their mutual succession, we may conclude that within the first 10 minutes neither the fire brigade nor the separatists had arrived at the village. In an interview by Billy Six the aforementioned father tells that during the first “15 or 20 minutes” there were no strangers or soldiers present at Grabovo. The inhabitants mostly gathered at the ‘burn site’ near the entrance of Grabovo.

There are 5 other, lesser known videos showing the three crash sites at Grabovo, that were made in between 16:30-17:00 approximately.

Crash sites at Grabovo

Between 16:30 and 16:50
The first of these 5 videos was made at 16:31 EEST, given its title. It seems to be filmed from a white truck, as can be seen at 0:16, which is most likely the same truck that is visible in the AP video at 00:59. It was originally posted on Vkonkakte and copied to YouTube as part of the MH17 primer videos collection.

The second one has a timestamp of 16:34 EEST, also according to its title. It was published on July 19th on VKontakte and shows the entrance of Grabovo. This one was also posted at YouTube as part of the MH17 primer videos channel.
There aren’t many people visible and there is no sign of a fire engine yet.

The third (now gone, but reposted within MH17 Primer Videos collection) one has a very low quality, probably due to a low resolution, an extreme zoom factor and having been made from a driving car. Given the thickness of the smoke visible this one was made very early as well. At the crash site, from a distance, a white truck can be seen and some cars. The white truck may be the truck from which the aforementioned 16:31 video was made. Fire engines however can not be seen, but given the fact it was filmed from an elevated point of view from a road to the south of Grabovo, and there’s a slightly hilly field in between, the lower placed village entrance can hardly be distinguished.

The fourth video (now removed) was made some time after; the smoke cloud is still dark, but its dimensions have lessened.
The video opens with footage of the vertical stabilizer which was lying in a field south of the second, smaller burn site, near the road to Grabovo. Next, at 0:42, the area around that second burn site is filmed from different angles. One fire engine can be seen, and it seems to have arrived just before and not to be in operation yet. At 1:52 the white truck mentioned earlier can be seen. At 3:25 the fire engine car can be seen again; its door is now opened. Mostly local people are seen near the side of the road or in the fields, some of them are filming.
In the video two guys with military design pants are visible, but it’s unsure whether they are separatists that had just arrived with a unit.
From this video we may conclude that the fire brigade most likely had arrived earlier at the second burn site than the separatists. My estimate is that this video was made some time in between 16:40-16:50.
WARNING The video contains some graphic imagery. It has been reposted here as part of the MH17 Primer Videos collection.

Between 16:50-17:00
The fifth recording was made some time after the aforementioned videos, because the smoke density visible has clearly diminished compared to the other videos. My estimate is that this was recorded in between 16:50-17:00. The recording has been cut up in different videos for some reason, but they clearly stem from one source. These videos stop before the area of the crash sites is reached and they were made from a greater distance, as the car is entering from the crossing Pelahiivka/Rozsypne towards Grabovo. What can be seen is several people on motor bikes and some cars passing. Also, at the end of the second video, a number of cars have already halted, near the poultry farm, south of Grabovo. These two videos were found on VKontakte, published on July 17th at 19:02 and at 19:03 EEST . The latter was also published on YouTube at 21:03. And there’s a version uploaded by Russia Today on July 17th, at 20:35 EEST.

The fire department

In the second early video released by Billy Six, at 00:04 one can hear someone asking to call the fire department. As of 01:00 a part of the conversation with the fire department can be heard, e.g. when some voice is providing the location at Grabovo (“Just behind the bus stop”). From this we can derive that the alarm number was called at approx. 16:27 EEST.

Jeroen Akkermans of Dutch RTL news had an interview with the commander of the fire deparment at Torez, Sergei Michenko. Michenko tells:

“First we heard an explosion. We could even hear this explosion here, about 12 kilometers away.
Then an alert message came in at the emergency room.
We have an emergency room with a ‘101’ emergency number, which people called that a plane had crashed.
(…) Our units were sent there. (…) I also went.
In this area we have two units: one is located here in the city Torez itself
and the other near Hrabove and Rozsypne, about 5 to 6 kilometers away.
(…) Along the way I got a call from our control room.
I was told that this was an airliner, where at first we thought it was a military aircraft.
(…) I did not go to Hrabove, but turned around and went to Rozsypne.
When I arrived residents of the village were gathered there.
At first we did not understand. But after 5 to 6 minutes it dawned on us what had happened.
Immediately we saw 14 dead bodies, you did not even have to look for them.
They were lying on the street and on the roofs of houses.
There were six corpses next to the cockpit and there was a lot of luggage.”

Recently, on the second memorial of July 17th, Jeroen Akkermans made a short video report in which he interviewed Michenko once more. This provides one further detail, when Michenko says:

“First we didn’t understand what plane had crashed, but after about 10 minutes I received information from Donetsk that it concerned a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Then we knew it was a passenger plane.”

As mentioned above: the call to the alarm number was made at around 16:27. Soon after the fire brigade went on its way, but we don’t know how fast they hit the road. Some ten minutes after departure the information on MH17 was received, Michenko states. From this we can roughly estimate that the call from Donetsk to Michenko must have been received after 16:40 at the earliest.
The main DSB report (on page 48-50) states that MH17’s fixed emergency locator was automatically activated and its signal was first detected (technically) at 16:20:35. Its signal was located as coming from the area near the poultry farm at Grabovo. According to the DSB report on Passenger information (page 25) the Russian air traffic control reported the disappearance of the flight from radar to Malaysia Airlines at 16:30. The report continues: “In the following half an hour these reports were verified and confirmed”. As of 17:00 the airspace above East Ukraine was closed.

According to a news message on Facebook from the press center of the ATO (anti terrorist operation), at 16:45 the beacon signal from the crashed plane was detected as coming from a Malaysian Airlines plane. (Whether this is an exact time or an approximate time, rounded off, is uncertain. Since the ATO press center is no primary source I suspect the latter). From this we may assume that after 16:30 it slowly became clear that MH17 probably had crashed. This was confirmed by the detection of signal from the emergency locator around 16:45. Therefore, the information was provided to colonel Michenko most likely shortly after 16:45.[1]The news about the emergency beacon became known to a few people before the general public got the news about the crash of MH17. At 17:31 on the Yaplakal forum user Artimoni4 writes: Ребят работаю в коспасе! (спутниковая система поиска и ...continue

The fire brigade at Torez is located here (Google Maps coordinates: 48.037129, 38.628524). I haven’t found the location of the second unit mentioned by Michenko.
Later on more fire engines were sent, possibly from the fire departments at Shakhtarsk and Krasnyi Luch.

The first photographer at the crash sites

The first photographer arriving at Grabova was a local photographer, Oleg Vtulkin. A year after, he shared memories of the gruesome scenery with Deutsche Welle reporter Kitty Logan:

“Oleg Vtulkin was in his hometown of Torez in eastern Ukraine on July 17 last year, when an unfamiliar noise caught his attention. ‘I heard a loud explosion and a hiss,’ he told DW. ‘Then I headed off in that direction, started to phone around and found out that it was a plane which had crashed somewhere near Grabovo.'”

Vtulkin states that he arrived “within half an hour” after the plane had crashed and also that at that time both the fire brigade and the separatists were already present. The portrait story ends with a statement regarding Vtulkin’s activities as a photographer: “Despite shelving the horrifying collection of images, Vtulkin continued his career as a photographer, joining newly emerging rebel media outlets.” From this we may conclude that the separatists had arrived in between approximately 16:45-16:55.

In addition to the sources above there are accounts from separatists’ side too: in the Russia Today documentary “MH17: the untold story”, aired on October 22nd, 2014 (a slightly shorter version at YouTube), a separatist commander is commenting the footage he made when they arrived at Grabovo. Looking back he mentions: “It’s 5 pm”. Some 30 seconds of his footage, made at the site at Grabovo, is shown. In that footage a background voice is heard saying “Oleg, let’s go.” A bit further on, his name is presented on screen:

RT MH17 the untold story Vtulkin

So, the local photographer turns out to be a separatist self-defence unit commander!

According to a “wanted list” Oleg Alekseevich Vtulkin is a member of Oplot and he’s been active in Torez and Snizhne.
Vtulkin’s profile on Odnoklassniki.ru also shows some early photos of the crash sites at Grabovo.

A week earlier his footage had already been broadcasted by the Russian Channel 1, according to the Daily Mirror website, where a 59 seconds clip is presented and Vtulkin is quoted having said on Channel 1 that he arrived “about half an hour after the crash”.

There is also a video in which Vtulkin tells about the events; it was published on June 2nd, 2016. There he tells that before July 17th, 2014, he had witnessed a MANPADS launch, but on July 17 he had heard nothing similar. He also states that he didn’t see other airplanes, but heard that others said that they did. He arrived at the second burn site 40 minutes after the crash. Also he mentions that he saw dead pets, and one pigeon in a cage, still alive.

Elsewhere I found photos made by Vtulkin as well as from a second photographer. I will not link to that site here, since some of these images are truly horrid. The timestamps of these photos are in between 17:10 and 18:24. From this we may assume that Vtulkin, coming from Torez, arrived a bit later than the militia unit, at around 17.00. He may have looked around first, talked to other militia and local people, before he started taking pictures. But, there may be pictures with an earlier timestamp just as well, since the photos published represent only a small selection.

The same footage as in the “MH17: the untold story” documentary, cut a bit differently, was used by RussiaToday’s Ruptly tv in another video, published already on July 17th. In the first 20 and in the last 13 seconds shots from the early scenery are shown, with one fire engine at the smaller burn site near the road towards Grabovo.
Possibly another fragment uploaded by Ruptly tv on the 17th may come from Vtulkin’s recording, but it could have been obtained from other people as well.[2]In any case these videos weren’t produced by RussiaToday themselves: a RussiaToday crew with their Spanish correspondent, Francisco Guaita, left Donetsk after 18:00 EEST, together with Dutch photographer Pierre Crom, and arrived approximately 2 hours later, according to a report by Crom published ...continue

Separatists’ testimonies

According to a separatist fighter’s statement to Lorenzo Cremonesi, a journalist at the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, a separatists unit was sent to the crash site at Grabovo shortly after the downing (English translation here):

“We have hit a plane of Kiev, we were told by our leaders (…). We thought we were having to fight the Ukrainian pilots that just landed by parachute and instead stumbled across dead bodies of civilians.” [My translation, AG]

This was stated to Cremonesi by an Oplot militia fighter, at the Torez train station, where he was guarding the train with the remains of the victims, on July 21st.

“On Thursday afternoon, our commanders ordered us to get into the lorries with our weapons and plenty of ammunition. Perhaps ten minutes earlier, there had been a huge explosion in the sky. ‘We’ve just shot down one of the Kiev Fascists’ planes’, they told us, warning us to take care because at least some of the crew had reportedly baled out. White objects had been seen floating in the clouds. We might have had to fight to round them up”, the soldier explained.

This story from the Corriere della Sera was confirmed a day later by Konrad Schuller of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The FAZ wanted to verify the Corriere’s story and received further testimonies from other soldiers from the same unit matching the account given to the Corriere. The FAZ article also mentions that a family at Grabovo stated that the separatists had arrived 10 to 15 minutes after the crash, but given the video evidence and other sources, that must be an exaggeration.

On July 17th, 2015, the Australian News Corp presented a scoop: unseen footage at the crash site, made by the rebels themselves. This story was picked up immediately, all over the world:

frontpage Daily Telegraph Australia

According to News Corp the footage was “smuggled out from the rebels’ own Donetsk base”. But, as BBC correspondent Jon Donnison remarked:

The BBC had indeed already shown parts of this footage on July 21st, 2014, in a longer and in a shorter version as part of news reports by BBC reporter Fergal Keane.
On July 18th, 2015, the Joint Investigation Team didn’t have possession of this video yet, as can be learnt from a news story on the ‘new’ footage: “A spokesman for the international Joint Investigation Team conducting the criminal investigation into the MH17 crash told Fairfax that it had already seen parts of the video published by News Corporation, but not all of it. (The) video images … which have been made public by the Australian News Corp, were not fully in possession of the joint investigation team which is investigating the cause of the crash,” spokesman Wim de Bruin said.”

Actually, the footage had already been given to the BBC on July 20th, 2014. “Why did these militia give us their tape?”, BBC reporter Fergal Keane’s voice over asks, in a video report showing the first excerpts of the footage. “Possibly because they believe their unit hasn’t done anything wrong.” In the video Fergal Keane shows a portion of the footage and next interviews the commander that is said to have filmed and was in charge at the 17th.

The commander, whose code name is given as “Zhuk”, explains their conduct at the scene as follows: “We looked at their belongings because we were searching for documents. Then we put them in a truck and took them away for sorting.”

The commander’s account is confirmed by another video document, to which I’d rather not refer, because it is moronic, gruesome and, above all, perverse. Nevertheless, it provides some insights. It’s a video made by pro-separatist news outlet Anna News, showing pro-Russian propaganda at its worst. In the video several photos of the crash site are displayed, showing graphic imagery of corpses of victims, mostly blurred but sometimes unprocessed. The claim made by the woman talking to the interviewer is that these were no real bodies.
In the video she confirms the statement from commander “Zhuk”: “After we gathered everything, all passports, USB sticks, handys, regardless whether broke or intact, it was stored into a car and taken away. As they told me then, they were taken to Krasnyi Luch, I believe. But I don’t know exactly whereto.”
Earlier on in the video she states she arrived 20 minutes after the crash. At that point the video shows a photograph made of an ID card of one of MH17’s stewardesses.

It turns out that most of the pictures shown in this video were made by Oleg Vtulkin! The other photos were most likely made by the woman who’s commenting in the video.
I will give one example of an image shown in the Anna News video which is also present at Vtulkin’s profile on Odnoklassniki:

When News Corp presented the separatists footage in 2015, the BBC also published a larger portion of it. Both videos differ though, as Donnison remarked already on the day News Corp released the video.

The original footage lasts for 17 minutes, but hasn’t been published uncut. However, a full transcript was published (but it’s behind a paywall now).

The News Corp video has a duration of 4 minutes and 13 seconds, where the BBC video contains 5 minutes and 53 seconds of footage. Both videos share a lot of footage, but there are different scenes. The BBC video shows fewer cuts and longer takes, where the News Corp video has more cuts and shorter takes. It’s unclear how both were edited exactly, as the sequence of scenes is also different.

The News Corp video opens with a shot showing the wings of MH17, which fell at the main crash site, near the entrance of Grabovo. Further on the second site near the road towards Grabovo is shown. At 01:47 the ID card of a stewardess is shown, possibly the same as the one in the Anna News video mentioned above. The footage clearly has been divided in several cuts, but then the camera may have been on pause from time to time.

The BCC video shows the second site at Grabovo first. In the first shots a civilian is seen with a fire hose, extinguishing the fire. Behind the smoke the contours of a fire engine can vaguely be seen (very briefly at 00:07, at 02:30 and 02:34). From 03:05 on, this video ends with the footage of the main site, near the village entrance. At 04:04 the point is reached where the News Corp video starts. From here on no fire engines or fire fighters are visible.

(Since the separatist unit arrived from Shakhtarsk they must have first encountered the ‘burn site’ near the entrance of Grabovo first, before arriving at the smaller second site. This means the BBC changed the sequence of the scenes in their edit.)

According to the transcript, early on the commander says:

“They say the Sukhoi (fighter) brought down the civilian plane and ours brought down the fighter.”

A few lines further on the commander instructs someone on the phone to not come to the site yet:

“Yes (KOT). Speak. What? No, don’t fly in anywhere yet, wait for the orders. Remain at the headquarters.”

To show the context of the lines quoted I will cite the beginning of the transcript:

This is another plane, I think.
It’s the fighter.
Commander: There, part of engine.
Other: Yes, I think.
Cmdr: Yes, it’s the Sukhoi.
(Phone): Call the headquarters, the town, he will take you there.
Background: There’s coins here.
Cmdr: There’s five people who jumped.
Background: This is the Sukhoi lying around.
Background: You know how many bodies out there?
Cmdr: They say the Sukhoi (fighter) brought down the civilian plane and ours brought down the fighter.
Background: But where is the Sukhoi?
There it is … it’s the passenger plane.
Background: It’s just fragments.
(Phone ringing)
Cmdr: Hello, yes, we’re at the crash site. What, is there’s another plane taken down there?
Understood, keep the perimeter, don’t let the civilians in. OK then, we’ll be there soon.
It’s a civilian, it’s some civilian.
Background: But what direction did it come from … and fall?
Background: Look, aluminium.
Background: [Undistinguished]. Where is the Sukhoi then?
Background: It’s confusing. No idea where the Sukhoi is, it’s burning here and there and debris everywhere.
(Phone ringing)
Cmdr: Yes (KOT). Speak. What? No, don’t fly in anywhere yet, wait for the orders. Remain at the headquarters.

From this we may assume that the “they” in the first quoted line refers to “the headquarters”.
This means that “they” had most likely made up this story upon the arrival of the separatists at the crash site or perhaps just before they arrived. (We may assume that the video recording was started shortly after they had arrived.) This also means, that “ours” brought down some aeroplane in any case… and a Su-25 was never found! Therefore this fragment can be read as an admission of guilt. But most of all, as a story concocted by “headquarters”.
A bit further on in the transcript the commander takes another phone call, most likely from a local young woman. The transcript shows him repeating part of the incoming information and immediately instructing some of his men:

“Hello, yes. They saw a pilot crawling at Rassipnaya [Rozsypne, AG]. A pilot was seen crawling.

Get out there with your men …. Right now. And where’s the parachute jumper?

The plane fell at Lesnaya Skazka. Understood. OK. The car has left to there. Let’s go already. Understood.

Thank you girl. After the war we’ll give you a medal.”

Lesnaya Skazka, in Russian: Лесная сказка, turns out to be a former youth camp or rest house. Лесная сказка may be translated as “Forest fairytale”. The former youth camp building has been in ruins for many years already, but its location is still marked at Wikimapia nevertheless, as “the children’s camp Forest fairytale” (in Google Maps use the coördinates: 48.138017, 38.604266). It is situated quite near to the Grabovo crash sites and to the northeast of Rozsypne.

In a field nearby several small debris fell, which someone attributed to be the remains of the illustrious Su-25 that allegedly downed MH17. The author of this theory, Valentin Yuriy Dehteryov, mentioned Lesnaya Skazka in his blog, which helped me further locate the spot. (See here, but also found here. And there’s a video.)
He also mentioned that a Russia Today reporter conducted an investigation in July 2015.
Indeed, a story by RT correspondent Murad Gazdiev can be found at the Russian version of the RT.com website and the embedded video can be found at YouTube.
Although the video item was produced in the English language, neither the story nor the video were ever distributed in the English version of RT.com – only this version with a Russian voice over was published. Outcome of Gazdiev’s investigation was that no remains of the Sukhoi whatsoever could be found there. Forest fairytale indeed.

The separatists’ video itself does not provide any explicit clues to the time of recording. News Corp stated the following: “But an investigation by News Corp can reveal a unit from Donetsk was dispatched shortly after 3pm local time, two hours after contact by civilian air traffic control was lost at 1.20pm, to hunt Ukrainian pilots who reportedly parachuted after their aircraft was shot down.”
This would imply that the time referred to is in UTC, 1.20pm being 16:20 EEST. The separatist unit from Donetsk would then have left Donetsk at 18.00 EEST. There may have been a unit leaving Donetsk at that time, but that unit was certainly not the first one that arrived at the scene.
I’ve contacted both the BBC and News Corp about the timestamp of the original footage, but didn’t receive an answer.

From these fragments we may conclude that initially the separatists went to the crash sites at Grabovo and after some minutes, responding to a phone call, sent some men in the direction of Rozsypne.

When the News Corp video gained international attention, RussiaToday and Russia Insider went at great lenghts to fit it into their narratives on MH17. Here’s what RussiaToday made of the transcript: “Later on, the man is quoted as saying that ‘there’s two planes taken down,’ while a voice in the background says, ‘the fighter jet brought down this one [MH17 Boeing], and our people brought down the fighter. They [the Ukrainians] decided to do it this way, to make it look like we have brought down the plane.'”

After repeating the claims by the Russian Ministry of Defense in their July 21st press conference (that were all debunked afterwards), and quoting the fragments given above, Russia Insider demonstrates a rather hazy form of reasoning stating: “Note that this is not to say you need to accept their [=the separatists’, AG] claims that a Sukhoi shot down MH17 — maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Rather, the point is that the claim made by the West — that the separatists shot down MH17 thinking it to be a Sukhoi — is simply not borne out by this transcript. They shot down a Sukhoi thinking it was a Sukhoi, and they believed it was this plane, or perhaps even a second Sukhoi, which had shot down the Boeing.”

LifeNews – arriving early, as usual

It took about an hour before journalists arrived. The first to arrive – as more often was the case in Eastern Ukraine – was LifeNews tv. The crew from LifeNews arrived quite early at the scene, as can be derived from a couple of tweets and some early news reports.

At 19:03 they tweeted:

Корреспондент #LifeNews увидел обломки похожие на “Боинг” http://lifenews.ru/news/136805
Correspondent #LifeNews saw fragments like “Boeing” http://lifenews.ru/news/136805

This tweet refers to an article published at 19:02, titled “The airliner crashed near the village of Grabovo”. That news report goes like this:

“According to preliminary information, “777” Malaysia Airlines airline fell to Ukraine a few dozen kilometers from the border with Russia. On board, according to preliminary data, there were 280 passengers and 15 crew members.
A call to the police that an unknown aircraft fell to the ground, came from eyewitnesses at 17:00 local time on July 17th.
It is known that in the Donetsk region, where the crash occurred, a Ukrainian military division with self-propelled anti-aircraft missile systems ‘Buk’ had previously been relocated. These SAMs and the C-300 can shoot down aircraft at an altitude of 10,000 meters. The militia do not possess such weapons.”

At 19:07 another tweet follows:

Корреспондент #LifeNews: я нахожусь в д.Грабово, здесь обломки гражданского самолета, повсюду паспорта граждан Малайзии и Голландии
Correspondent #LifeNews: I am in the village of Grabovo, here is the wreckage of a commercial aircraft, passports of Malaysian and Dutch citizens all over the place.

And at 19:11 @lifenews_ru reports:

По предварительной версии, самолет был сбит украинскими ПВО. У ополченцев нет вооружения,которым можно было сбить самолет на такой высоте
According to a preliminary version, the plane was hit by Ukrainian air defense. There are no weapons with the militia, that could bring down the plane at such an altitude

A little later pictures from the crash site are published, in news reports at 19:13 and at 19:24.

At 19:23 @lifenews_ru already provides another explanation for the downing of MH17:

По версии очевидцев, за малайзийским “боингом” двигался самолет украинских ВВС
According to eyewitnesses, the Malaysian Boeing was followed by an airplane of Ukrainian air force

Around 19:30 LifeNews even broadcasted live from the crash site and at 20:14 a video was put online:

В прямом эфире #LifeNews первое видео с места крушения: http://lifenews.ru/watch-live
Live #LifeNews first video from the crash site: http://lifenews.ru/watch-live

Their video shows a fire engine and a fireman extinguishing the fire at the second crash site at Grabovo. Some more firemen can be seen. Also there is a scene in which passports of Dutch and Malaysian citizens are shown. The video was later withdrawn, but copies had been made already.

Tip-off

It seems that the separatists thought they had made a big splash this time, and therefore called in photographer/commander Vtulkin from Torez, but also notified some journalists, like the LifeNews crew.
This is confirmed by a testimony from Jerome Sessini, the French award winning photographer who arrived at the crash site as the first international photographer. Just like the LifeNews crew Sessini arrived around 19:00, according to a quote in a news story published on July 18th. When awarded for his photo series on the MH17 crash a video testimony was made (referred to here) in which Sessini recalls the events of that afternoon:

“When we got the phone call from a press officer of the separatists, he said first: ‘We shot down a military plane, from Ukraine’, and for me it was like he was giving us an information to cover this. And when we were underway, and after 15 minutes, I got a call from friends, from a journalist, I don’t remember, and he said: ‘They shot down a civilian plane in Ukraine. Where are you?’ And I asked: ‘Are your sure it’s civilian?’ And he said: ‘Yeah, yeah, we have the confirmation.’ He said: ‘Malaysian Airlines plane with two hundred people on board.'”

At Rozsypne

So far all accounts, except fire brigade commander Michenko’s, deal with Grabovo. I also found a video made early at the cockpit crash site near Roszypne. It is titled: Человеческие тела вперемешку с искореженным металлом: кадры с места крушения Boeing 777 (“Human bodies mixed with twisted metal: footage from the crash site of the Boeing 777”). (The accompanying news message can be found here).
The video shows no militia present yet at that site. My estimate is that this footage was made about 10 minutes after the crash. The footage clearly shows that the cockpit crash site was relatively compact originally. Cargo is still held together with a thick cord netting. Boxes containing goods are still more or less intact. Soon after the cargo would be spread all over the place.

Regarding the time of presence at the crash sites the first SBU intercepts video also contains one relevant fragment:

The tapped conversation from the crash scene bears a time stamp of 17:11 EEST. The person reporting, ‘Major’, refers to a location close to a mine at Petropavlovka, which would be “Шахта Рассыпнянская 2“. The Rozsypne cockpit crash site is located (48.123725, 38.558286) not far from this mine. But ‘Major’ may also refer to the point (48.12715,38.52630538) where MH17 was hit, according to the Flight Data Recorder, which is quite near to the mine.

In addition there is an account by a militia member who went to Rozsypne from Nikishyne. It was published at the same site where the horrid photos by Vtulkin were posted, and therefore I will not provide a link to this testimony either.
This witness was at Nikishyne with some other militia men, at approximately 10 km distance, when MH17 fell:

“First there was an explosion, but rather a small one. Then soon there was a really strong blast.”

The witness states that this second explosion occurred when the plane had fallen. He also mentions that the plane fell in two parts.
Soon after the witness was called by a commander who told them to go and check the area. He told them that probably a military plane had been shot down. The order was given to look out for parachutists. Because there was debris flying, and it was not clear to them what was falling exactly, they thought that it were paratroopers.
After 15-20 minutes they arrived at Rozsypne. They combed the field and ran into the wreckage.

“Well, basically we came across fallen civilians. All civilians. There were bags, suitcases. We understood it was civilian.
It was 5 km from the main site, where the plane crashed. And then we went and phoned.
We had already learnt that it was a civilian plane and we drove exactly there, where the plane fell.”

When they arrived at Grabovo their commander had arrived there already.
This witness also confirms that documents (and other goods) were taken away with a car.

In addition to the sources given, there are only a few social media messages pointing to the separatists with regards to the crash sites.
The first one is quite ‘on time’:

@WowihaY at 16:58:

#ZelloТорез Говорят упал в районе птицефермы #Грабово Туда несутся сепоры
#ZelloTorez said fell near the poultry farm #Grabovo Separs are rushing there

And some time later, @HuSnizhne at 18:25:

На месте аварии рыскают сепары.
At the scene roam separatists.

Followed by @WowihaY at 18:27:

сепары окружили место падения. не добраться ? трупы вокруг падения по полям
No one can reach the crash site because separatists surrounded it ? There are dead bodies in the fields around the crash site

Posts from Strelkov

Last, but not least: there’s a statement from Igor Ivanovich Strelkov himself regarding the time of arrival of the separatists. On July 18th he wrote two posts at the forum-antikvariat.ru that were deleted some time afterwards.
At 10:53 he posted this text, answering a question to him posed on the forum:

По данным людей, которые собирали трупы, значительная часть трупов – “несвежая” – люди умерли до нескольких суток тому назад. За полную достоверность данной информации не ручаюсь – конечно же, необходимо заключение судмедэкспертов.
According to the people who collected the corpses, a significant part of the corpses – “stale” – people have died up to a few days ago. For the full accuracy of this information I cannot vouch – of course, the opinion of forensic experts is needed.

At 11:40 EEST he added:

Во-первых, далеко не все люди в самолете были мертвы до падения.
Во-вторых, в самолете были обнаружено большое количество медикаментов, сыворотки крови и прочего, что нехарактерно для обычного лайнера. Похоже, что имел место медицинский спец-груз.
В-третьих, ни на чем не настаиваю (пока). Просто буквально сейчас беседовал с двумя людьми, лично собиравшими трупы сразу после падения (оба – из Шахтерска и прибыли на место менее чем через полчаса после катастрофы). С их слов и пишу. Они подчеркнули, что множество трупов оказались “совсем бескровные” – как будто кровь свернулась задолго до катастрофы. Также отмечали и сильнейший трупный запах, отмеченный многими местными жителями – такого запаха в любую погоду за полчаса образоваться не могло, а погода вчера была пасмурная, не слишком жаркая.
В-четвертых, сам с крайним подозрением отношусь ко всяческим “конспирологиям”, но 18 наших бойцов, отравленных химией на позициях в Семеновке, расстрелы членов семей ополченцев и прочие “маленькие радости сведомых патриотов” убедили меня, что украинские власти способны на любую подлость.

Пилоты, естественно, были вполне живые – вся кабина (а передняя часть сохранилась хорошо) была буквально залита их кровью.

Firstly, not all people on the plane were dead before the fall.
Secondly, on the plane was found a large quantity of drugs, blood serum and other things, which is not typical for a conventional liner. It seems that there was special medical cargo.
Thirdly, I do not insist on anything (yet). Just now I talked to two people who personally collected the bodies immediately after the fall (both – from Shakhtarsk and they arrived at the scene less than half an hour after the accident). [My emphasis, AG] I am writing this from their words. They emphasized that many corpses were “quite bloodless” – as if the blood drained long before the disaster. They also noted the strongest and putrid smell, noticed by many locals – this odor could not be formed within half an hour in any weather, and the weather yesterday was cloudy, not too hot.
Fourth, I am utmost suspicious towards all kinds of “conspiracy theories”, but 18 of our soldiers who suffered chemical poisoning in positions at Semenovka, and the executions of family members of militia men and other “small pleasures of the conscious patriots” have convinced me that the Ukrainian authorities are capable of any meanness.

The pilots, naturally, were quite alive – the whole cabin (and the front part is well preserved) was literally flooded with their blood.”

These posts were captured by the Internet archive, but both messages were – of course! – also reposted by the Strelkov_info community on VKontakte and by others, e.g. on this news site.
Besides, the Strelkov_info post even has the required banner, signifying the content was written by Strelkov himself! Thus we can be assured of its authenticity for 100%.

Conclusion

From all the sources presented here, we can conclude that the separatists arrived at the crash site in Grabovo in between approximately 16:45-16:55. One fire engine had just arrived before them, as can be seen in the videos described.

The first unit that reached the crash sites at Grabovo consisted of militia men from Shakhtarsk, according to Strelkov, and – given the information from the Corriere della Sera – they were Oplot members. Photographer/commander Oleg Vtulkin, also an Oplot member, came from Torez and arrived shortly after, around 17:00.
After some time – see the phone call mentioned in the BBC/News Corp video transcript – some men were sent in the direction of Lesnaya Skazka but, most likely, they soon ended up at Rozsypne, as there was no Su-25 to be found anywhere in that area.

At Rozsypne also a few men had arrived, coming from Nikishyne. They arrived there at approximately 16:35-16:45. After a while these men went to the main crash sites at Grabovo.
With regards to Petropavlivka I haven’t found any account of the arrival of separatists there so far.

Probably more separatist units were sent along gradually, to Grabovo but also to Rozsypne and Petropavlovka. These men may have come from Torez/Snizhne and, later on, from Donetsk.

The accounts given by separatists to journalists from the Corriere della Sera as well as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the footage handed over to the BBC by members of commander Zhuk’s unit, Vtulkin arriving early to do an exhaustive foto shoot, the statement from Jerome Sessini on having received a tip-off and the LifeNews crew arriving early as usual – all of this is circumstantial evidence clearly pointing in one direction.

Originally published on September 14th, 2016

Notes   [ + ]

1. The news about the emergency beacon became known to a few people before the general public got the news about the crash of MH17. At 17:31 on the Yaplakal forum user Artimoni4 writes:

Ребят работаю в коспасе! (спутниковая система поиска и спасания), тока что (15 минут назад) прошел аварийный сигнал и именно по координатам в торезе! но фишка в том что аварийный маяк принадлежит МАЛАЙЗИИ!!!
Guys working in the Cospas! (Satellite System for Search and Rescue), that just (15 minutes ago) an alarm passed and that the coordinates are in Torez! but the trick is that the emergency beacon belongs to MALAYSIA!!!

Next there is some discussion and at 17:34 Artimoni4 adds:

информация меняется там оказывается боинг упал рейс малайзия -амстердам!
information is changing a Boeing has fallen there flight Malaysia-Amsterdam!

A bit later, at 17:38, he mentions the source:

сообщили по телефону из ГКЦПС.
said by telephone from SSRCC.

(ГКЦПС = Государственный координационный центр поиска и спасания = State search and rescue coordination center, hence abbreviation translated as SSRCC).

2. In any case these videos weren’t produced by RussiaToday themselves: a RussiaToday crew with their Spanish correspondent, Francisco Guaita, left Donetsk after 18:00 EEST, together with Dutch photographer Pierre Crom, and arrived approximately 2 hours later, according to a report by Crom published on the 19th. The first broadcast by this correspondent was on the Spanish language channel, and later on on the English language channel as well. By then it was already dark.