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Train carrying bodies from MH17 arrives in Kharkiv

Jul. 22, 2014 - 08:47PM   |  
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Under mounting world pressure, pro-Russian rebels handed over data-filled 'black boxes' from the Boeing 777 downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian officials who met the train in Donetsk early Tuesday. (Damien Simonart / AFP)

TOREZ, UKRAINE — Four refrigerated rail cars carrying the bodies of 282 of the 298 victims of a downed Malaysian jetliner arrived in the city of Kharkiv, controlled by the Ukrainian national government, en route to Amsterdam.

Under mounting world pressure, pro-Russian rebels handed over data-filled "black boxes" from the Boeing 777 downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian officials who met the train in Donetsk early Tuesday.

A senior separatist leader, Aleksander Borodai, gave the data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 77 to a delegation from Malaysia. "Here they are, the black boxes," Borodai said at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Reuters reported.

Col. Mohamed Sakri of the Malaysian National Security Council told the meeting the two black boxes were "in good condition."

The train headed on to Kharkiv, 180 miles northwest of Donetsk, and outside the area where separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting.

The data recorders were sought by investigators for clues to what happened to Thursday's flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that ended in fields controlled by pro-Russian separatists. All 298 people aboard were killed.

A United Nations Security Council resolution passed Monday calls for a halt to all military activities around the site and for Russian-backed separatists to allow international investigators complete access to the crash site.

The Netherlands said 193 of its citizens were on the flight.

Separatist groups controlled the crash site area for five days and have given international investigators limited access to the area. After leaving bodies in the field for more than two days, the rebels organized teams over the weekend to begin moving the bodies to the refrigerated train car in Torez.

At the White House, President Obama called on Russia on Monday to get separatists to stop hampering the crash investigation and allow international experts free access to the crash site.

"The Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation," Obama said. "The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question: What are they trying to hide?"

Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin had "a direct responsibility" to compel the separatists to cooperate with the investigation. "That's the least they can do," he said.

Putin said Monday that his government was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He criticized the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev for reigniting fighting with rebels.

"We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table," Putin said. "I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn't have happened."

Donetsk came under fire Monday as fighting broke out close to the airport and the train station. A large plume of smoke rose from near the train station north of the city center. The separatist group said up to six civilians had been killed. That number couldn't be verified.

In Torez, less than 10 miles from Donetsk, Dutch investigators, led by Peter Van Vilet, climbed aboard to inspect the rail cars, surrounded by armed rebels. The Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team — which specializes in victim recovery and identification — pressed for rebels to seal the train cars. The team was barred from traveling with the bodies to keep them secure.


Welch reported from Los Angeles. Contributing: The Associated Press

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