HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — A refrigerated train carrying Malaysia Airlines victims’ bodies pulled away Monday from a rebel-held town in eastern Ukraine, one small step forward in easing the agony of their grieving families.
In an emotional inspection hours earlier, Dutch experts had called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site and told the armed separatists controlling the area that the train must be allowed to leave as soon as possible.
Four days after someone shot the Boeing 777 out of the sky, killing 298 people, pressure was growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin to rein in the insurgents and allow a full-scale investigation into the downing of the plane. The U.S., Ukraine and others say Moscow has armed the rebels, a charge Russia denies.
In Washington, President Barack Obama demanded that international investigators get full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence and blocking investigators.
“What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama asked, a day after the U.S. presented what it called “powerful” evidence that the rebels had shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile.
At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council was voting later Monday on an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a cease-fire around the area. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country would view a Russian veto of the resolution “very badly,” adding that “no reasonable person” could object to its wording.
Fighting flared again between the separatists and government troops in the eastern rebel-held city of Donetsk, just 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the west of the crash site. City authorities said battles took place Monday near the town’s airport. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from that direction.
After the train with the bodies left the town of Torez, two military jets also flew overhead and black smoke was seen rising in the distance.
There is great concern in the Netherlands about the bodies, since 192 of the plane’s 298 victims were Dutch and another was Dutch-American. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority.”
An Associated Press reporter saw the train with the bodies leaving Torez, a rebel-held town 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the plane crash site, and overheard rebels saying it was heading for the rebel-held town of Ilovaysk. The Ukrainian government later said the train was eventually heading to a crisis center in the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv.
In farm fields near the eastern village of Hrabove, Peter van Vliet, leader of the group from the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team visiting Ukraine, said seeing the crash site gave him goose bumps despite the heat. Workers recovered more bodies from the site Monday, bringing the total to 282 bodies, according to Volodymyr Groisman, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister.
The Dutch team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — saw some victims’ remains still rotting in the fields of the crash site. They also inspected piles of passenger luggage, suggesting that they be put in a container and shipped out.
At the Torez train station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and their hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect the train cars, surrounded by armed rebels.
AP journalists said the smell of decay was overwhelming at the Torez train station and many with the inspectors wore masks or pressed cloths to their faces on the sunny, 84 degree Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) day. A Ukrainian train engineer told The Associated Press that a power outage had hit the rail cars’ refrigeration system for several hours overnight.