With the remains of 200 victims, the train of death finally moves out

Published by The Daily Mail (22nd July, 2014)

The freight train filled with its grisly cargo of death last night finally pulled out of the station where it had sat for almost two days.

While accusations of mistreatment flew around the world, the stench grew in the heat as two more truckloads of remains were loaded to join those packed into body bags inside four refrigerated carriages.

Ukrainian officials said 282 corpses have been found, along with 87 fragments from 16 bodies. There are fears some body parts may have been incinerated as aircraft wreckage exploded.

Almost 200 of the bodies were packed on to the train in Torez station, about nine miles from the main crash site, while obscene arguments raged over the conducting of forensic investigations.

Rebel militia have been accused of wilfully allowing the site’s desecration. Bodies were left out for two days in sweltering heat while possessions were looted and picked over. Some items even caught fire in the hot sun yesterday, shortly before the search of the crash site was declared over.

Russian sources said last night the grey freight train containing the bodies was moving to the regional capital, Donetsk. The ultimate destination – confirmed late last night – is the city of Kharkiv, currently loyal to Kiev.

A team of 12 Malaysian aviation investigators arrived in Donetsk last night. According to their country’s prime minister, the group’s chief was due to be handed the aircraft’s black boxes. It was also reported that a deal had been reached with pro-Russian militia to allow the investigatory team ‘safe access’ to the crash site.

For much of the day, militia men strutted around cradling assault rifles outside the faded white station building in Torez as they held hostage the human remains of people their forces almost certainly killed. They allowed Dutch investigators to examine the bodies for the first time, while a team of international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe oversaw the loading of the most-recently discovered remains.

I watched as human remains were placed on the train with a sickening lack of decorum.  A blue dumper truck pulled up close to the carriage, while the guards said they were waiting for a worker with ‘specialist equipment’ to open the doors.

After the international observers arrived, protected by members of the security force supposed to have been disbanded after the February killing of protesters in Kiev that sparked the Ukraine crisis, this worker turned up with a hammer to force a door lever. Another man in an orange fluorescent vest climbed on to the truck and casually slung a black bag containing body parts to a colleague on the train, while the station manager covered her face at the stench.

‘The smell is simply horrible,’ admitted one of the militia from two separate paramilitary groups who were guarding the train.

Like other rebels, he insisted the dead were being treated with dignity. ‘It is horrible to see all these women and children lying dead,’ he said. ‘It is one thing when you see men killed on a battlefield but this is quite different.’

Inside the train, one of the rail staff was making a cup of tea for himself. ‘We do not know of the final destination,’ he insisted. ‘We have not been told when we are leaving or where we are going.’

Ukrainian officials in Kharkiv, nearly 200 miles from the crash scene, say they have been expecting the remains since Saturday after an agreement with rebel leaders in Donetsk. The town has prepared a special refrigerated warehouse to receive the bodies and put scores of hotel rooms on standby for relatives.

More than 30 bodies are understood to have already been taken to a hospital morgue in Donetsk. Pro-Russian guards at the scene arrested several journalists making inquiries on Sunday, although one militia man there confirmed to me that some bodies were inside.

Earlier yesterday, Ukraine accused rebels of blocking the train’s departure. ‘We managed to load 192 bodies and eight body parts of the innocent victims of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight on to a special train,’ said vice prime minister Volodymyr Hroisman.

‘The train has not left the station, for the terrorists are blocking the way. We are in constant negotiations with them regarding the transportation of the bodies of the victims.’

Australia’s foreign minister condemned using bodies of murdered people as political pawns in a conflict. ‘It is time for these bodies to be brought home and it’s time for an investigation into who is responsible for this atrocity to begin,’ said Julie Bishop.

In Holland, home to the biggest number of victims, King Willem-Alexander made a rare televised address after meeting victims’ relatives. ‘This terrible disaster has left a deep wound in our society. ‘The scar will be visible and tangible for years to come,’ he said.

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