MH17 latest - Ukrainian government says 251 bodies have been found
Grisly tug of war over victims
Published 21/07/2014 | 02:30
Rescuers found 251 bodies and 86 fragments of bodies by late last night at the crash site of a Malaysian airliner and a second train with refrigerator wagons to take the remains away has arrived, a Ukrainian government committee said.
In a statement, the committee investigating the disaster said the first train where the remains of almost 200 victims have been placed before starting their journey home was stuck in the station in the town of Torez because "terrorists are blocking its exit".
The bodies are thought to be contained in four refrigerator wagons - and they are now the grisly focus of an international tug of war over the fate of the MH-17 disaster.
Many of the bodies had lain for two days before being collected, watched over by men of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic.
Last night, upwards of 100 body bags were laid alongside the country road above the main crash site.
They were then loaded on to flatbed lorries by rebel militia and driven off into the night. The drivers said they did not know where they were being taken. It was only after a night of uncertainty that the rebel leadership revealed the presence of the train.
But uncertainty still remains.
Rebels say that 196 bodies are on the train – a figure that observers call "unconfirmed".
That leaves 102 unaccounted for – perhaps simply unnoticed, perhaps burnt up in the blast that brought the jet down.
Now the dead have become objects of an international squabbling match.
The Ukrainian government accused the rebels of spiriting away dozens of bodies and obstructing access to the site.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called the rebels' treatment of the dead 'grotesque' last night, and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of failing to ensure access for international observers.
Alexander Borodai, the prime minister of the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk, said leaving the bodies unattended for any longer would have been "inhumane".
While rebels assembled belongings in tents for "safe-keeping", it was clear that many suitcases were rifled through.
The Dutch banking association said it was taking "preventative measures" after reports that looters stole credit cards.
While partly malicious, much of the shambolic rescue seems to be the result of a woefully under-resourced service.
An economically depressed mining town of 88,000, Torez's units of emergency workers do not have the facilities necessary to deal with such a disaster.
Rescue workers and miners bussed in from mines are now trying to remove those buried in the wreckage. Lacking even the most basic lifting equipment, they dug through wreckage by hand.
Torez's roads bear the imprints of caterpillar tracks from rebel armour. But even those hardened by war have been left shocked by the events of last Thursday.
"When we saw a plane go down, people were cheering. We thought our guys had got a Ukrainian," said Igor, a local militia man.
"Then we got to the site and ... 'my God'." Few want to believe that the rebels are responsible for the disaster. For Igor it was "100pc a provocation" by the Ukrainians.
"We don't have weapons like that," he insisted. The Ukrainian and many Western governments beg to differ.
What happens to the dead now is an open question. Mr Borodai said the train will not be moved until international inspectors arrive.
Rumours abound that the train could be sent to Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city 175 miles to the northwest.
But station staff said ongoing fighting meant any train headed in that direction would have to divert through Donetsk, the regional capital where rebel fighters have a stronghold.
"We're as much in the dark as you," said one station worker. "My guess is they'll take them to Donetsk and work out what to do there."
There is a third possibility. Mr Borodai has spoken about sending the bodies east to Russia, where he says he "trusts" the authorities to take care of them.
Just 75 miles from Torez, the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, is a staging post for Russian volunteers and material to supply the rebels.
Sitting in the cab of his Soviet-built locomotive, Roman said the train could go almost anywhere on the network.
"I've been waiting for several hours to know where to go," he said. "And I clock off at seven tonight, so at this rate I'm not taking it far." (© Daily Telegraph, London)