The grimmest journey for MH17 victims

Published by The Daily Mail (21st July, 2014)

The stench of death is thick in the air as onlookers peer inside a freight train containing the bodies of some 200 victims of the MH17 massacre.

The scene, a grim echo of the mechanised slaughter of millions in the Second World War, has been created by Russian separatists who have collected piles of corpses from the plane crash and put them in refrigerated rail carriages.

There was international outrage over the undignified scene last night – with swarms of flies buzzing around the train – although defiant local militia men insisted they were doing what they could for the dead.

The bodies had been lying spread out in the fields for two days in the summer heat, before being removed from a large swathe of the crash site yesterday. Workers from local mines were bussed in to clear the corpses. Once the bodies had gone, only bloodstained military stretchers were left along the side of the road.

Controversy is now raging over not only the conditions in which the corpses are being kept, but also fears that vital evidence of exactly what caused the tragedy is being lost. It risks becoming a gruesome tussle over the dead.

Ukrainian sources said they feared the piles of corpses might be moved to Russia or used as a bargaining tool by rebel leaders.

The bodies, each inside individual body bags, were last night still on the stationary train at Torez station nine miles from the crash site. Ukrainian officials in the city of Kharkiv, about four hours’ drive away, said there had been an agreement with rebel leaders for the bodies to next be taken there so they could be visited by grieving families. But there was last night no sign of that happening.

A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring the operation, said rebels had told the team that 167 bodies were in the train, and added that the monitors had checked three of the refrigerator wagons.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, meanwhile, told a news conference 192 bodies and eight fragments of bodies had been placed in the train. But he said the local rebels had yet to give permission for the train to set off.

The rebels responded by suggesting the pro-Western Ukrainian government was delaying the train’s departure, and arguing they could do nothing until the arrival of the international experts pledged by several countries to help determine what and who caused the crash.

A senior official of the pro-Russian rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Sergei Kavtaradze, said: ‘They will stay there for now, until the issue is resolved. We are waiting for the experts.’

Another rebel leader, Andrei Purgin, said with heavy sarcasm that the investigators must be ‘walking from Kiev’ as it had taken so long for them to arrive.

Mr Groysman denied Kiev had put up barriers to the investigators.

In the city of Kharkiv, where the bodies were due to be taken, local government officer Natalia Yakovleva said they had been expecting the remains since Saturday. The town had prepared a special refrigerated warehouse to receive the bodies and had 312 hotel rooms on standby for relatives.

‘We have everything ready,’ she said. ‘But despite the agreement the bodies have not arrived.’

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