Malaysia Airlines  plane crash Ukraine
Igor Girkin, Commander and self-proclaimed minister of Defence of the so called 'Donetsk People's Republic' in eastern UkraineGetty Images

The Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) is a self-proclaimed area of eastern Ukraine controlled by the pro-Russian separatist group Donetsk Republic.

After the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed near the Russian border, killing all 298 on board, the DPR leader denied involvement, saying it does not have the military capability to shoot down the plane.

Aleksandr Borodai, prime minister of the DPR, said the crash was a "provocation by the Ukrainian military", and said representatives from the group had gone to the crash site. "Self-defense forces have no air-defence, which could target transport aircraft at that height," he told Interfax.

However, his comments contradict a picture posted by the DPR to Twitter last month, showing a Buk missile it had obtained after overrunning a Ukrainian garrison. Experts say MH17 was most likely shot down by a Buk missile, as it has a range of 25km – far further than hand-held devices.

The DPR covers a 10,000-square mile territory, including the city of Donetsk, and was set up after the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from his position and fled the country.

DPR representatives want the current Ukrainian government in Kiev to resign. They want closer ties with Russia and pursues its war against Ukraine in what it calls self-defence.

Troops from the DPR attended the MH17 wreckage and are believed to have recovered the black box, which should contain information about why the flight went down, and 11 other recording divices. It was initially thought DPR would comply with international investigations, however Igor Girkin, the rebel's military commander, said it is only considering handing over the information and providing access to the crash site.

Malaysia Airlines MH17: Attack was 'planned action' by pro-Russian rebels
Debris is pictured at the site of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, near the village of Grabovo in the Donetsk regionReuters

Although the DPR denies attacking the Boeing 777, it had in recent days admitting to bringing down another Ukrainian aircraft earlier this month: "Ukraine's aviation launched an assault on the outskirts of the city," a DPR spokesman told Russia's Iter Tass news agency. "A return vertical fire destroyed the jet, supposedly a Su-25."

While Girkin controls the DPR's military, he also is the self-declared leader and is known for his volatility. He reportedly once shot his own troops for subordination and is accused of being directly involved in the abduction and murder of two Ukrainian activists.

Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, has been a strong critic of Moscow, which he claims is failing to intervene in conflict directly. Before becoming involved in the DPR, he was active in Crimea.

Born in Moscow, he posted on social media hours after MH17 crashed: "We did warn you not to fly in our sky." – a post that has since been deleted.

"The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez (Donetsk Oblast). It lays there behind the Progress mine (a mining town). We did warn you – do not fly in 'our sky,'" he said through his account on VK.

The post continued: "And here is the video proving another 'bird' falling down. The bird went down behind the slagheap, not in the residential district. So no peaceful people injured. There is also information about another plane shot."