MH17 bodies stop at hard-bitten town

07:10, Jul 22 2014
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A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of MH17 near the settlement of Grabovo in Ukraine's Donetsk region.
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A man looks at debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which landed in a field of sunflowers in Rassipnoye, Ukraine.
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Coal miners take a break after searching fields looking for remnants of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Grabovo, Ukraine.
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A man shows a piece of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which landed in his garden in Rassipnoye, Ukraine.
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Wreckage is pictured at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the Ukraine settlement of Grabovo.
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Flowers and mementos lie on wreckage at the crash site of MH17, near the Ukraine settlement of Grabovo.
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Mementos placed at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the Ukraine settlement of Rozspyne in the Donetsk region.
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Wreckage is pictured at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the Ukraine settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
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Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 wreckage near the Ukraine settlement of Grabovo.
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Flowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
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Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a body near the wreckage at the crash site of MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo.
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People look at flowers and messages left by local residents for MH17 crash victims outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev, Ukraine.
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Kiev residents light a candle for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, outside the Dutch embassy in Ukraine.
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People look at flowers and messages left by Kiev residents for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, outside Ukraine's Dutch embassy.
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Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo.
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A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in Ukraine's Donetsk region.
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A pro-Russian separatist guards the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
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Flowers and mementos are left for the victims of the plane crash.
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Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and members of a forensic team inspect the remains of victims from the downed flight MH17, at a railway station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Torez.
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Bodies are loaded into a truck at the crash site by Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry staff.
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A pro-Russia rebel guards a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash.
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Senior Ukrainian separatist leader Aleksander Borodai gestures as a rebel places the black boxes of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on a desk.
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A satellite image shows the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine, dangerously close to a village.
MH17 black box
A guard stands on the train carrying the remains of MH17's victims as it arrives in the city of Kharkiv after days of delays.
MH17 black box
Armed pro-Russian separatists watch as monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Malaysian air crash investigators inspect the crash site.

The Soviet-era refrigerated train cars were far too weak to combat the stench of death in Torez.

At a sleepy whitewashed station in this run-down Ukrainian town, the cars had become a charnel-house collection point for bodies gathered from the rolling fields of wheat and sunflowers. A separatist struggle that began three months ago had already made this easternmost part of Ukraine a war zone; the downing of a passenger jet in the skies above had made the conflict global.

As residents shook their heads at the misfortune that war had brought, a team of Dutch forensic experts bowed their heads in preparation for the task that lay ahead. When rebels opened the door to one railway car, the smell hit one witness 15 metres away. Now, one woman who lives next to the train station said, the world will think that they are "terrorists’’.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
The crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash near Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash near Grabovo, Ukraine.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
Wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight 17 smoulders at the main crash site.
Part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
Part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
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The site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region.
The upper floor of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is reserved for family and relatives of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
The upper floor of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport is reserved for family and relatives of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Ukraine plane crash
An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in Ukraine.
People bring flowers and candles to the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
People bring flowers and candles to the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on a bus bringing them to a separate area at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
Family members of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on a bus bringing them to a separate area at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked officials observe a minute's silence for victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked officials observe a minute's silence for victims of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a visit to Wilmington, Delaware.
US President Barack Obama speaks about the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a visit to Wilmington, Delaware.
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo.
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo.
Talking to reporters, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) demands swift justice for those responsible for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, as Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein looks on.
Talking to reporters, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) demands swift justice for those responsible for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, as Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein looks on.
Schiphol Chief Executive Jos Nijhuis, Malaysia Airlines Senior Vice President Huib Gorter (middle) and Malaysia's ambassador to the Netherlands Fauziah Binti Mohd Taib at a news conference on flight MH17 at Schiphol Airport.
Schiphol Chief Executive Jos Nijhuis, Malaysia Airlines Senior Vice President Huib Gorter (middle) and Malaysia's ambassador to the Netherlands Fauziah Binti Mohd Taib at a news conference on flight MH17 at Schiphol Airport.
Smoke rises from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Smoke rises from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
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A firefighter stands as flames burst amongst the wreckages of the MH17.
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The wreckage smoulders at the site of the MH17 crash.
An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
An Emergencies Ministry member walks through the site of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash.
A woman who said she believed her sister was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, cries as she waits for more information.
A woman who said she believed her sister was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, cries as she waits for more information.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People light candles at the Malaysian embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People light candles at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People place candles and flowers at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
People place candles and flowers at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
A family member cries as she receives the news of the ill fated flight MH17.
A family member cries as she receives the news of the ill fated flight MH17.
A Malaysian woman who had a relative on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 reacts to messages on her mobile phone as she waits to travel to Kuala Lumpur.
A Malaysian woman who had a relative on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 waits to travel to Kuala Lumpur.
Relatives of passengers onboard the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Relatives of passengers onboard the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A father and daughter light candles at the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17.
Malaysian Siti Dina weeps after seeing her daughter's name on the list of passengers on board MH17.
A security officer passes a Malaysia Airlines advertisement at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia.
A security officer passes a Malaysia Airlines advertisement at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang
A man (in blue) whose family was onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH17 consoles another who had just arrived with her wife to receive confirmation that their daughter's family was onboard the plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A man (in blue) whose family was onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH17 consoles another who had just arrived with her wife to receive confirmation that their daughter's family was onboard the plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A relative of a passenger onboard the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 is assisted by MAS staff members as she leaves Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A relative of a passenger onboard the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 is assisted by MAS staff members as she leaves Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Malaysian Siti Dina speaks to media as she arrives to confirm news that her daughter was on board Malaysia Airlines MH17 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Malaysian Siti Dina speaks to media as she arrives to confirm news that her daughter was on board Malaysia Airlines MH17 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
AIDS Conference
Members of the public walk past signage on the Princes Bridge for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Twenty-seven Australians and more than 100 AIDS activists, researchers, health workers and delegates bound for the major conference were among those aboard MH17.
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Relatives of passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash
A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry search for bodies near the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash.
MH17 crash
A woman lights candles at a memorial for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur.
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Pro-Russian separatists look at passengers' belongings at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
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A pro-Russian separatist holds a stuffed toy found at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
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A flower placed on wreckage is pictured at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
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A man blocks access to the scene of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as emergency personnel remove the bodies of passengers.

Four days after 298 passengers and crew members perished in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, the leader of the Dutch team, Peter van Vliet, said his inspection had found the bodies in satisfactory condition. "I think that they all can be identified,'' he said. But the temperatures, he said, were "not ideal".

The grim-faced rebel guards, meanwhile, glowered at anyone who got too close to the inspection team, and their high-powered rifles left no room for negotiation. At least one wore a mask.

"It's a total mess," said Lilia, who lives next to the train station and would give only her first name because she feared for her safety. "We had a peaceful life, and now we are part of something we can't even understand."

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Ukraine train MH17
ON THE MOVE: Rebel fighters guard a refrigerator train carriage as monitors from OSCE and members of a forensic team inspect the remains of victims from the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

 


GRIM JOB: Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and members of a forensic team inspect a refrigerator wagon, containing the remains of victims from the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The conflict in Ukraine makes the head reel: The February ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. The Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March. The April takeover of key buildings and towns around eastern Ukraine by local pro-Russian separatists — and their replacement in May by leaders who are mostly Russian citizens.

Now, camouflage-clad rebel fighters keep watch on the roads at dozens of checkpoints that are made with whatever material is handy: rubber tires, concrete blocks and, in some parts of this mining country, mounds of coal. But if the construction is sometimes makeshift, the weaponry is often not. At least one rebel at a checkpoint on Monday was carrying a sophisticated sniper rifle and had a paratrooper's insignia on his left shoulder.

Their equipment appears to be getting more advanced — culminating, perhaps, in the Buk M-1 antiaircraft systems that Secretary of State John Kerry this week blamed Russia for supplying to the rebels. US and Ukrainian officials suspect that such a missile was used to down the Boeing 777-200 on Thursday.

In this hard-bitten coal-mining settlement, named after French communist politician Maurice Thorez, a grocery store and several two-story concrete-block apartment buildings clustered around the whitewashed station, sizzling in the heat.

At least a dozen heavily armed rebel guards watched warily over the Dutch inspectors, who were accompanied by another group, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The rebels led the convoy when the inspectors sped away in five white SUVs.

At the main crash site, near the town of Hrabove, about 80 kilometres east of Donetsk and 40 km from the Russian border, the scene Monday was equally grim.

DEFIANT: Pressure was growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane.

A dark-green dump truck rumbled past, burdened with more remains zipped into body bags. Children's playing cards, a Converse sneaker and other remnants of victims' lives lay scattered on the side of a road.

The three Dutch forensics inspectors said they were impressed with the efforts to recover bodies, but they were uncertain whether the site had been too compromised to conduct a meaningful investigation of the attack on the plane.

Local emergency workers who collected the bodies "did a hell of a job in a hell of a place," said van Vliet, the main Dutch inspector.

The chances seemed slim for a truly impartial investigation. Plane parts were scattered across vast square miles of fields, and many appeared to have been touched. Parts of one engine lay in a charred area where fresh truck tracks crisscrossed the remnants. Guard tape had been strung up, then knocked down, and local residents idly walked through the site. One part of the cockpit and nose cone appeared to have been "split or moved apart," an OSCE spokesman said.

Workers from the Donetsk regional office of the Ministry of Emergency Situations said they had been keeping an eye on the site for days. But they said they were close to wrapping up their work and would soon pile up the belongings that remained.

"Today's the last day,'' said Igor, a worker who refused to give his last name or say where the suitcases and other belongings would be taken. "No one will stay here overnight.''