NORTH OF GRABOVO, Ukraine — The black handbag lay on the field turning muddy from the rain. A beige wallet lay next to it, open, near credit cards and photographs carefully lined up next to each other on the wet grass, ordinary pictures of loved ones: son, daughter, father and mother.
The scene was replicated across the field – camera holders missing cameras, wallets missing cash, cosmetics and other items scattered in random patterns after a jet disintegrated and fell from the sky.
A day after a Malaysian airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 aboard, twisted wreckage and mangled bodies remained uncollected as emergency personnel searched the site Friday.
In some areas of this field, near the small town of Grabovo in a remote eastern Ukrainian farming region close to the Russian border, backpacks and other carry-on luggage were grouped together. It was clear that looters had opened and rifled through some of them.
As Ukraine and Russia, along with the pro-Russian separatists who have taken control of the region, fight over who gets to manage the scene, the recovery operation has become chaotic, and the typical procedures used to aid the investigation into the crash have been compromised.
Rain fell Friday afternoon over bodies that remained on the field, and they weren't covered up to protect them. Such scenes are normally cordoned off, but men randomly walked the area, findin
g an item or a limb, then staking the ground to mark the site with a stick that had a white piece of fabric twisted around it.
Absent was the "grid" walk at such scenes, where organized teams in a line walk a grid pattern to make sure nothing is left uncovered. Also missing was any organized way of categorizing the debris — description, location, photo — that is standard procedure for a crime scene.
Nor was there any effort to secure personal items, such as a Winnie the Pooh bear or a Minnie Mouse lunchbox, that belonged to victims so they could be returned to their families.
Many of the dead have been identified through passports found at the scene, where some victims were miraculously intact. Others were too mangled or burned to be identifiable.
Passengers strapped to their seats were found in contorted positions. Next to one young man was a watch separated from its strap. It's display showed 15:54.
Residents said they were in shock over what happened. Some said they cried Thursday as they rushed out to help, only to realize they were helpless to save anyone. Several took photographs of the scene.
Alexander Aleksandrovich and his teenage grandson, Cyril, said a part of the jet's body and the engine just missed their house and landed nearby in a charred pit.
They attributed the miss to a large Orthodox Christian cross they erected on their land last year. "As my wife told me, (the plane) was heading towards (the house),'" Aleksandrovich said. "She came out of the town to see the plane coming. It started to fragment and crashed across the road.
"It was by the grace of God we are still alive – what other kind of power could have pushed it aside so that it didn't fall on peaceful people. The cross protected us – we survived."
Cyril said his father and mother had to be taken to the hospital because of exposure to the jet fuel's fumes, which is highly toxic.
Though the world's focus is on the tragic end for 298 passengers, residents said the separatists' fight for autonomy from the national government in Kiev shouldn't get lost.
"Remember, we are still fighting here," Aleksandrovich said. "Let's not forget about that."
Bhatti reported from Berlin.