Pro-Moscow insurgents on Sunday took control of the 219 bodies recovered so far from the debris of the downed Malaysian jet, even as global pressure mounted on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure unfettered access to the crash site in Ukraine’s rebel-held region.
A total of 192 bodies and eight body fragments had been loaded onto a refrigerated train stationed in the town of Torez near the crash site. Emergency workers retrieved 27 more bodies from the crash site later, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 298 people was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur as it was downed on Thursday between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk. It is believed that flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel-held area.
Pro-Russia separatists are keeping the remains of 192 of those MH17 victims in refrigerated cars on a train, Groysman said, adding that talks are ongoing for their release. “Jet parts resembling the black boxes were discovered at the crash site,” said Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
The parts would be handed over to “international experts if they arrive”, he said.
Borodai said the fighters had moved scores of bodies “out of respect for the families” and loaded them on to trains where they would be kept in refrigerated carriages until “the experts arrive”. “We couldn’t wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals in the zone,” he said.
European countries and the US again warned Russia to ensure rescuers and investigators have full and unfettered access to the crash site in rebel-held eastern Ukraine or face further sanctions.
French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to demand that Putin force separatists controlling the site to “finally allow rescuers and investigators to have free and total access to the zone.”
A statement from Hollande’s office said if Russia fails “to immediately take the needed measures, consequence will be drawn” at an European Union foreign ministers meeting.
Earlier, the Ukrainian State Emergency Service said 380 staff were taking part in the search that stretches across 34 sq km of eastern Ukraine.
Latest figures released by Malaysia Airlines show the plane was carrying 192 Dutch nationals, 44 Malaysians, including 15 crew,, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians and 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, and one each from Canada and New Zealand.
Ukraine on Saturday claimed it has “compelling evidence” that Russian crew operated the missile system that downed a Malaysian jet with 298 people on board and accused Moscow of helping rebels in trying to destroy evidence.
Kiev also accused Russia of helping pro-Moscow rebels of trying to destroy evidence in the downing of the aircraft.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Saturday said the crash site was “absolutely chaotic” as he feared interference with the evidence. Twenty-eight Australians were on the flight. Abbott said recovering the bodies was a priority.
Image: College students gather around candles forming the shape of an airplane, during a candlelight vigil for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, at a university in Yangzhou, Jiangsu. Photograph: Reuters