• Ukrainian tanks stand guard near a field on July 31, 2014 in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine.
SBS journalist Nick Lazaredes says he 'hit the ground' after gunfire erupted around him at the 'highly volatile' MH17 crash site in Ukraine.
By
SBS

1 Aug 2014 - 7:54 AM  UPDATED 1 Aug 2014 - 7:50 PM

SBS journalist Nick Lazaredes is lucky to be alive after gunfire erupted near the MH17 crash site.

Speaking from Ukraine this morning, Lazaredes told SBS Radio he had set out for the crash site with a team several hours after the reconnaissance mission.

He said the group passed through a series of rebel check posts before reaching the edge of the crash site.

"We could see parts of the aircraft on the ground around us," he said. "The ground was burning all around."

"We put our heads down and drove out. We were fired upon again as we drove out."

Apprehensive about explosions further in, Lazaredes said they held back. Other journalists who ventured further reported being threatened by separatists.

After an hour and a half, the group tried to leave the site but were blocked by a tree that had fallen across the road. They contacted the local mayor, who said she would come and guide them to safety. 

It was then gunfire broke out near the group.

Listen to the full interview with Greg Dyett:

"We hit the ground," Lazaredes said. "And eventually our driver managed to get us out of the situation. He took off his shirt, which was white, and waved it out of the car."

"We put our heads down and drove out. We were fired upon again as we drove out."

It was not clear whether the shooting was crossfire between the two sides, or was aimed at the SBS crew.

He said the incident was a clear sign that the separatists were highly volatile.

"There's a major military offensive going on there," he said.

Lazaredes noted that while he and other journalists refer to the men at the site as "separatists," it is not clear exactly who they are, and could be Ukrainian.

He said witnessing the chaos had brought home what a difficult task the Australian MH17 team had ahead of them.

“To have to negotiate your safe passage every day into this mess is going to be really difficult,” he said.

“The prime minister has said we’re going to be in it for the long haul and I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to be.”