KUCHING: Colonel Mohd Sakri Hussin has endured many harrowing experiences in his military career. But his mission to Ukraine shortly after the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 remains by far the most challenging.
Mohd Sakri was the chief negotiator of the ‘Dozen Persons’, a Malaysian team tasked with entering Ukraine covertly to secure not just the bodies of the victims but also the downed aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder, mere days after the tragedy took place on July 17, 2014.
Now a senior deputy director (operations department) with the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), he said the episode remains fresh in his mind even though it took place four years ago.
“Even though our lives were on the line, we were given the trust to complete the mission for the sake of the country. That remained foremost in my thoughts as well as the other 11 team members.
“We had no firearms, we went in empty. All we had was some money (to rent a car), food and medication to pull off the covert operation. Our main objective was to secure the cockpit voice recorder (black box), and ensure that the bodies of the passengers and flight crew were safely escorted out of ground zero,” he told NSTP.
Despite his 38-year experience in the military and security fields, humanitarian missions and conflict zones, the operation was a challenge as there were various parties interested in laying their hands on the evidence.
“The challenges were substantial, even more so as we were in a conflict zone. It was even tougher than any other mission I had participated in, be it peacekeeping missions, disaster relief or anything with the United Nations.
“There were 10 checkpoints we had to pass to reach Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Each checkpoint had its own unique set of challenges and we were also being followed. We didn’t know who was an ally and who was the enemy, which meant we had to be on our toes the entire time,” he said.
Throughout their journey to the region, which was controlled by the Donetsk Separatist Group (DSG), he and his 11 teammates fasted and prayed.
“We regarded it as a test of our faith from Allah. We did our best and left the rest in God’s hands,” he said.
The Dozen Persons stunned the international community when they completed the negotiation process in 24 hours, a mere three days after the aircraft was shot down.
The negotiations were also successfully concluded without any conditions attached by the separatist leader, Alexander Borodai, who declared himself as the Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Apart from Sakri, who was at the time attached to the National Security Council, the Dozen Persons also included a communications expert, a doctor, pathological and disaster victims identification expert, translator, as well as commandos as a security measure.
“As we made our way out of ground zero, we faced many chilling incidents, including attempts by some to steal the evidence.
“That was when I reminded our commandos to ensure that the evidence’s safety is of paramount importance, even if it cost them their lives. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), we all made it out safely,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sakri questioned why the information contained in the equipment has yet to be revealed by the international investigation team, including justifications on why the airliner was shot down.
“There has yet to be a satisfactory conclusion to this, apart from pointing fingers to certain parties. There has been no conclusive summary as to how it was shot down as well as those responsible, leaving many questions in the air.”