Almost 2 weeks after Ukraine crash, clashes again prevent experts from reaching bodies

Almost two weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky, the remains of some passengers are feared rotting in the 32-degree Celsius midsummer heat, deepening the frustration of relatives desperate to recover the bodies of their loved ones.

DONETSK, Ukraine — Almost two weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was blown out of the sky, the remains of some passengers are feared rotting in the 32-degree Celsius midsummer heat, deepening the frustration of relatives desperate to recover the bodies of their loved ones.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels has kept away international police charged with securing the site, a sprawling area of farmland and villages. And until it’s secured, there is no way for forensic experts to recover the bodies or gather debris for analysis.

Even the rebels — who initially oversaw the collection of more than 200 of the 298 bodies in a disorganized, widely criticized effort — have stopped their work, saying attacks from the Ukrainian military have forced them to focus on defending themselves.

It remains unclear exactly how many bodies remain and what condition they are in after being exposed for so long to the elements. Dutch officials are adamant there are still bodies to be recovered, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said repeatedly that bringing them back is his government’s top priority.

But Dutch officials were gloomy Wednesday about the prospects of reaching the site any time soon.

“We don’t expect the security situation to improve enough over the next few days to make this possible,” said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch-led recovery mission.

Two crucial pieces of evidence — the flight recorders — have already been retrieved and analyzed, however.

The U.S. and Ukrainian governments say the Boeing 777 was brought down July 17 by a Russian-made missile fired by eastern Ukraine’s pro-Moscow separatists. The separatists deny it; Russia denies providing the Buk missile launcher and says the Ukrainian military may have shot the plane down.

After the investigative team’s failure to reach the site on Wednesday, the United Nations called on both sides in Ukraine’s grinding civil conflict to cease hostilities in the area.

“The families of the victims of this horrific tragedy deserve closure and the world demands answers. International teams must be allowed to conduct their work,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

In their latest attempt to get to the wreckage zone, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe left in two vehicles from the rebel-held city of Donetsk but got only as far as the city’s outskirts.

The observers talked with rebels and turned back after being “warned of gunfire on the route and in the surrounding areas,” the Dutch said in a statement.

Recent offensives by the Ukrainian army have enabled it to take back swaths of territory from the rebels. But the fighting has edged ever closer to the crash zone.

“We are still waiting and it is a miserable process,” said Jasmine Calehr, the grandmother of two Dutch brothers who died in the crash

International observers say wreckage has been cut, moved or otherwise tampered with.

Of the 298 who died, 194 were Dutch citizens, and Ukraine has asked for their government’s help in investigating the crash. Thirty-seven were from Australia. A total of 227 coffins have been flown to the Netherlands for identification and investigation.

Despite her mounting frustration, Calehr said she did not want investigators to go unless it was safe.

“Other people are not supposed to risk their lives,” she said. “But that there is nobody strong enough to put pressure on a bunch of rebels is very painful.”

Ukrainian government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko added to security concerns Wednesday by accusing the separatists of mining the approaches to the area. Even if rebels leave, he said, it will take time to remove the mines and make the area safe for investigators.

Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s security services revealed what he said was fresh satellite imagery proving Russia had created a major cross-border corridor for the delivery of military equipment to the rebels.

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said other photographs showed burn marks from rockets fired at Ukrainian troops from a position two kilometres inside Russian territory.

Just Posted

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for… Continue reading

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

EDMONTON — Opponents of a private member’s bill that calls for more… Continue reading

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

OTTAWA — Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to… Continue reading

Saskatchewan government considers funding first supervised consumption site

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s health minister says the government will consider whether to… Continue reading

Thousands fill City Hall Park for Red Deer Lights the Night

With the flip of a switch, downtown Red Deer was filled with… Continue reading

Central Albertans help families during holidays with Christmas Wish Breakfast

It takes a community to help a community. And Sunday morning at… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Nov. 19 The Mountview Sunnybrook Community Association will hold its AGM at… Continue reading

‘Ford v Ferrari’ speeds to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels’ fizzles

NEW YORK — “Ford v Ferrari” put its competition in the rearview,… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

WINNIPEG — A terminally ill cancer patient who recorded a video from… Continue reading

Five things to watch for when Trudeau shuffles his cabinet this week

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil his new… Continue reading

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

VANCOUVER — A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows… Continue reading

Rowing Canada, university investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

VANCOUVER — Lily Copeland felt she had found her purpose in life… Continue reading

MacKinnon scores OT winner, Avs recover from blowing late lead to beat Canucks

VANCOUVER — Nathan MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game 27… Continue reading

White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get… Continue reading

Most Read