Airport groundstaff walk past Malaysia Airlines planes parked on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on June 17, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashes in eastern Ukraine

Airliner crashes with 298 people on board.

This story has been updated - see below.

A Boeing-777 jetliner with 295 people on board has crashed in eastern Ukraine near the village of Grabovo, near the border with Russia, according to Reuters. Eyewitnesses in the area claim that it was shot down by a ground-to-air missile, but as of yet this is unconfirmed.

The flight, Malaysia Airlines 17, was five hours into a journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Russian news agency Interfax broke the news, which was later confirmed by other sources, including a Reuters journalist on the ground who has reported "burning wreckage and bodies on the ground". Despite the claims that the plane was shot down, nobody has come forward to take responsibility. 

The Ukrainian government has said that its military did not fire at the plane, while blaming "terrorists" and pro-Russian separatists. The president of Malaysia, Mohd Najib Tun Razak, has said that an investigation has been opened into the incident. Russia president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama were reportedly in the middle of a phone conversation when news of the crash emerged.

Other airlines have reported that their planes will avoid the airspace over eastern Ukraine. This is the second incident involving a Malaysia Airlines flight this year, after the disappearance of Flight MF370 in March.

UPDATE [18/07/2014 - 10:55am]: The airline has clarified that there were 298 passengers on MH17. Three small infants were not included in the original count.

A full passenger list has not been released yet, but it is understood that 173 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians and nine Britons were on the flight, with 15 of the Malaysian nationals making up the flight's crew. More than a hundred of those on board were heading to Australia for the 20th International Aids in Melbourne, Australia - the global HIV/Aids research and prevention community is in shock and mourning.

The plane crashed in territory currently held by pro-Russian separatists from the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, and there are unconfirmed reports that one of its militia groups has recovered a black box recorder from the crash site and intends to hand it over to Moscow for analysis. An official Ukrainian government rescue group has recovered the other black box from another part of the site. The separatists have issued a statement via the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to say they will "close off the site of the catastrophe and allow local authorities to start preparations for the recovery of bodies", and provide access to and cooperation with national and international investigation teams.

Both the separatists and the Ukrainian government have blamed each other for shooting down MH17. The Ukrainian authorities have released what it claims is intercepted telephone conversations between separatist militia leaders and soldiers discussing shooting down a plane in the area and at the time that MH17 crashed. 

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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Listen up, Enda Kenny: why two Irish women are livetweeting their trip for an abortion

With abortion illegal in the Republic of Ireland, many women must travel to Britain to obtain the procedure. One woman, and her friend, are documenting the journey.

An Irish woman and her friend are live-tweeting their journey to Manchester to procure an abortion.

Using the handle @twowomentravel, the pair are documenting each stage of their trip online, from an early flight to the clinic waiting room. Each tweet includes the handle @endakennyTD, tagging in the Taoiseach.

The 8th amendment of the Irish constitution criminalises abortion in the Republic of Ireland, including in cases of rape. Women who wish to access the procedure must either do so illegally – using, for instance, pills acquired online or by post – or travel to a country where abortion is legal.

As the 1967 Abortion Act is not in place in Northern Ireland, Irish women often travel to the UK mainland, especially if seeking a surgical abortion. Figures show that in 2014, an average of ten women a day made the trip. The same year, 1017 abortion pills were seized by Irish customs.

Women who undertake the journey do so at a substantial cost. Aside from the cost of travel, they must pay for the procedure itself: a private abortion in England can cost over £500, and Irish women, including those born and resident in Northern Ireland, are not eligible for NHS treatment. Overnight accommodation may also need to be arranged.

The earlier an abortion is obtained, the easier the procedure. Yet many women are forced to delay while they obtain funds, or borrow money to pay for the trip. 

Women’s charity and abortion providers Marie Stopes provide specific advice for the flight back which reveals the increased health risks Irish women are exposed to. The stigma surrounding termination may also dissuade women from seeking help if complications arise once they have arrived home.

Abortion is a relatively minor procedure in medical terms. A recent survey quoted in Time magazine suggests that 95% of women who have had an abortion say they do not regret it.

It is not surprising, then, that calls to repeal the 8th amendment are increasing in volume. Campaigns like the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the 8th (to which this author is a signatory) as well as the Abortion Rights Campaign and REPEAL have mobilised to lobby for a change in the law, and in some cases help fund women forced to travel.

Women’s testimony is an important part of campaigning. Abortion is stigmatised across these isles, but the criminal aspect in Ireland makes the experience of abortion particularly difficult to discuss. Actions like @twowomentravel and groups such as the X-ile Project, which photographs women who have had the procedure, help to normalise abortion, showing a part of life often hidden from view (but which plenty of women experience).

The hope is that Irish women will soon be able to access abortions which are like those available to women in England: free, safe, and legal.

The Abortion Support Network help pay for women from the island of Ireland access abortion. Their fundraising page is here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland