GRABOVE, Ukraine: Pro-Russian militiamen in Ukraine loaded almost 200 bodies from downed flight MH17 into refrigerated train wagons yesterday as an outraged United States pointed the finger of blame directly at Moscow and demanded it ensure full access to the crash site for international investigators.
In what is the most unequivocal statement incriminating Russia, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the missile system used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines jet was “transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists.”
European leaders warned Moscow of further sanctions over the crash while Kiev piled on the pressure by releasing fresh recordings of what it says are intercepted conversations between rebels organising to hide the flight’s black boxes from international monitors
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was blown out of the sky on Thursday by what is believed to be a surface-to-air missile, killing 298 passengers and crew and dramatically raising the stakes in Ukraine’s bloody three-month conflict.
Insurgents said they had in hand material resembling black boxes but promised to give them to “international investigators if they arrive”.
They were also holding the bodies in refrigerated carriages until “the experts arrive”, said a rebel chief who explained that fighters had moved scores of bodies “out of respect for the families”.
“We couldn’t wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals in the zone,” said Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw described the stench at Torez station, where armed separatists were guarding the grisly cargo of corpses, as “almost unbearable”.
The bodies, some dismembered and charred, had been left rotting in cornfields amid the blackened piles of mangled wreckage of the plane at the main crash site in Grabove, with debris spread out for kilometres.
Possessions of the victims were also all over the ground: suitcases torn open, passports, books, children’s toys.
Ukrainian deputy prime minister Voldoymyr Groysman said salvage crews on Sunday found 27 more bodies and 20 body parts, with emergency workers in surgical masks seen carrying black body bags.
Fighting continued to rage between government forces and rebels in the east, with 13 people wounded in the last 24 hours just 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Grabove.
And Ukrainian authorities said they could not guarantee the safety of investigators on the ground.
Kerry, whose government has condemned reported evidence-tampering and lax security at the crash site, said the missile system used to down the jet was supplied by Moscow.
“We know with confidence, with confidence that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time. So it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists,” Kerry told CNN.
He also slammed as “grotesque” the manner in which “drunken separatist soldiers” were allegedly “unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies, as well as evidence, from the site”.
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany signalled they could ramp up sanctions against Russia as early as Tuesday -- barely a week after the last round of toughened embargoes.
“Russia must understand that resolving the Ukrainian crisis is more than ever an imperative after this tragedy which has outraged the entire world,” the French presidency said after President Francois Hollande held separate telephone talks with British and German leaders.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a German newspaper that taking a plane down was an operation that would take professionals and not “drunken gorillas”.
The Washington Post said Ukraine’s counterintelligence chief had photographs and related evidence that three Buk M-1 anti-aircraft missile systems moved from rebel-held territory into Russia early Friday, less than 12 hours after the crash.
The US embassy confirmed as authentic recordings released by Kiev on Thursday of an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer as they realised they had shot down a passenger jet.
But top Russian officials and state media have suggested that Kiev’s new leaders staged the attack to blame the rebels.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- his shocked nation flying flags at half mast in mourning over 193 lost compatriots -- has urged Putin to “take responsibility” for a credible probe, with investigators from the Netherlands set to arrive in eastern Ukraine.
Across the globe relatives in the dozen countries whose citizens were killed when the Boeing 777 crashed en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur pleaded for them to be brought home. Reuters