Investigators make 1st inspection of Ukraine war zone site where Malaysian jet went down

Two weeks after a missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, an international team of investigators Thursday reached a wreckage site in eastern Ukraine that remains bitterly contested between government forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels.

ROZSYPNE, Ukraine — Two weeks after a missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, an international team of investigators Thursday reached a wreckage site in eastern Ukraine that remains bitterly contested between government forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels.

For the families of the victims, it was an important start in locating and recovering bodies still rotting in the fields and building a case against those who perpetrated the tragedy.

Harun Calehr, the uncle of two young victims of the disaster, said by phone from his home in the U.S. that he was happy investigators had reached the site. But Calehr said he remains concerned that dozens of bodies haven’t been retrieved.

“It’s been two weeks. I just hope they can get there now and do their job,” Calehr said from Houston. “The only thing keeping me sane is being religious, hoping for something positive.”

As the investigators — two apiece from the Netherlands and Australia — made an initial survey of the area shortly after lunchtime, mortar shells rained down on fields in a nearby village. Despite the lingering signs of risk, the team called their one-hour inspection a success.

For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been lying in open fields where midsummer temperatures have hovered around 90 F (32 C).

But after negotiations, the investigators were allowed through the final rebel checkpoint before the wreckage site at the village of Rozsypne by a rifle-toting militiaman who then fired a warning shot to prevent reporters from accompanying the convoy on Thursday afternoon.

The militiaman, who gave his name only as Sergei, said there was still fighting in Rozsypne as the Ukrainian army continues an offensive to take back swatches of territory from the rebels.

Australian Federal Police commander Brian McDonald said the visit was only a preliminary survey before more comprehensive recovery work.

“We had a quick inspection of the site. Today was more about an assessment of the site than it was of a search,” said McDonald, who was in police uniform.

Up to 80 bodies are still at the site, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. from Ukraine.

Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a “day of quiet” was declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

But Associated Press journalists near the wreckage site reported that clashes were still taking place in the immediate vicinity of where the Boeing 777 came down. Reporters who attempted to reach the area by another route were warned by residents that some nearby roads had been mined.

And AP reporters passing by Hrabove, another village around which fragments of the plane remain uncollected, saw one mortar shell fall on a spot about 150 metres (160 yards) from their car and heard two more hit nearby. It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible for the mortar fire or what the intended target was though Lysenko put the blame on rebels.

The 100-kilometre (60-mile) drive took the investigators and eight officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from the rebel-held city of Donetsk through the town of Debaltseve, which was retaken earlier this week by the government, and later back into rebel territory.

Armoured personnel carriers and light armoured trucks bearing the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag could be seen in and around Debaltseve and residents at one entrance to the town walked along a pontoon erected over the remains of a blown-up bridge.

The OSCE said on Twitter that the team observed a moment of silence upon reaching the scene in remembrance of the victims.

Alexander Hug, deputy head of an OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine, called the visit a success because the delegation “managed to access the site without any incident.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office in a statement urged rebels to comply with a cease-fire spanning an area of 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) around the wreckage site.

The European Union and the U.S. have formed a united front in accusing Russia of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine by supplying weapons to rebels. Russia denies that accusation.

In Brussels, the EU formally adopted economic sanctions designed to pressure Russia to help bring about a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis. The measures will take effect Friday.

But back in Donetsk, the rebel’s acting political leader, Vladimir Antyufeyev, denied that their movement was being assisted by Moscow.

“Neither I nor (rebel military commander Igor Girkin) knows or has met anybody from the Russian presidential administration,” said Antyufeyev, a Russian national.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance is ordering his troops to be ready to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe on short notice, and prepare to help distribute the doses while responding to floods and other emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence chief says CAF will be ready after ordering COVID-19 vaccine prep last week

OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces received formal orders last week to… Continue reading

Geoff Neville poses for a photo with his sons Casey, 3, left, and Ryder, 6, in this undated handout photo. Geoff Neville is a rotational worker in Newfoundland and Labrador who works in a mine in Nunavut for 14 days in a row and then gets 14 days off to come home and see his family. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Geoff Neville
‘I’d love to be home:’ N.L. rotational workers facing bullying online

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — As Geoff Neville waited this week in a… Continue reading

Justice Minister David Lametti arrives for a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday November 26, 2020. The Liberal government is set to introduce long-awaited legislation today to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Bill to enshrine UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canadian law

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is set to introduce long-awaited legislation today… Continue reading

In this Nov. 26, 2020, photo, President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after participating in a video teleconference call with members of the military on Thanksgiving, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Trump expected to flex pardon powers on way out door

WASHINGTON — Advocates and lawyers anticipate a flurry of clemency action from… Continue reading

In this March 18, 2019, file photo, the logo for IBM appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. IBM says it is breaking off a $19 billion chunk of its business to focus on cloud computing. The 109-year-old tech company said Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, it is spinning off its managed infrastructure services unit into a new public company, temporarily named NewCo. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Phishing ploy targets COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort

BOSTON — IBM security researchers say they have detected a cyberespionage effort… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury out four to six weeks with back injury

MONTREAL — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first… Continue reading

Detail of James Wilson Morrice's "LaPlage."
James Wilson Morrice canvas outperforms at auction with more than million-dollar sale

A canvas by Montreal-born artist James Wilson Morrice exceeded expectations with a… Continue reading

Bank buildings are photographed in Toronto's financial district on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. International comparisons suggest Canadian financiers are oiling the wheels of the fossil fuel industry at a far greater rate than their peers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
‘Canada really sticks out:’ Studies show banks not so green on climate change

International analyses suggest Canadian financiers are oiling the wheels of the fossil… Continue reading

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Goals galore for Ronaldo, Giroud, Neymar in Champions League

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is seen at a media availablity to introduce new pitcher Shun Yamaguchi in Toronto on January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Jays ‘prepared’ if things pick up on free agency and trade fronts this off-season

Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, left, and teammate Taylor Austin are shown during training in Whistler, B.C., in this undated handout photo. Montreal Allouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to pysching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he got ready to hop in a bobsleigh for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. Murrary-Lawrence, 27, is one of three CFL players who joined the national bobsleigh team after the league canceled its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shaquille Murray-Lawrence
Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

Sliding into a new sport: CFLers turn to bobsled after football season wiped out

North Carolina State defensive lineman Daniel Joseph (99) celebrates with linebacker Isaiah Moore after Moore forced a Liberty safety during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Hyman, The News & Observer via AP, Pool
Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

Canadian defensive lineman Daniel Joseph enjoying a banner first campaign at NC State

A Canadian Pacific Railway employee walks along the side of a locomotive in a marshalling yard in Calgary on May 16, 2012. CP says an investigation is underway following the release of a video showing one of the company's trains running over dozens of pronghorn antelope in southwestern Saskatchewan.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

CP investigating after video shows train running over pronghorn antelope herd

Most Read