KYIV - The first of the caskets bearing the bodies of victims of the Malaysian airliner were flown to the Netherlands for identification. At a short, solemn ceremony in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, Dutch diplomat Hans Docter addressed the victims directly.
"Today your journey home begins. It will still be a long journey. We have a painful identification process to go through that will take time.”
More than half the people on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were Dutch citizens, and the Netherlands is leading the international investigation.
(A complete list of the passsengers aboard MH17)
Most of the bodies delivered to Kharkiv by train on Tuesday are still being processed there and will go to the Netherlands on later flights. Officials cast doubt on initial reports the rebels in eastern Ukraine sent all 298 bodies, or at least parts of them.
Rebel fighters control the site, and it is not clear whether local officials would be allowed to resume the search. International investigators have been kept out, except for three Dutch experts.
U.S. officials say the plane was probably brought down by pro-Russian separatists firing a Russian surface-to-air missile. They say that "ill trained" rebels likely shot down the plane by mistake.
Meanwhile, Britain says it has taken delivery of two flight data recorders from the plane, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says it is ready to help facilitate movements of specialists to the site, which is still under rebel control. The Red Cross also has sent a representative to Ukraine to discuss the effects of the conflict on the citizens of eastern Ukraine.
Dutch Safety Board takes over investigation
The Dutch Safety Board said on Wednesday it had taken charge of an international investigation into the crash last week.
In a statement, the authority said it would coordinate a team of 24 investigators from Ukraine, Malaysia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia and the International Civil Aviation Organization. It said four Dutch investigators were operating in Ukraine.
The authority said it would look at whether the Boeing 777's black box flight data recorders had been tampered with. It said it would also conduct separate investigations into the decision-making processes behind flight routes and the availability of passenger lists.
There was confusion about how many bodies from the Malaysian airliner crash were collected for transport to the Netherlands. Pro-Russian rebels said Monday that they had released 282 bodies and the parts of 16 others. But Dutch forensics officials said the refrigerated rail cars used to transport them away from the crash site contained only 200 bodies.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday some of the victims may have been left behind at the crash site. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in televised comments Wednesday that Ukraine will allow the Netherlands to head the crash investigation.
"We are delegating the investigation into this air crash to the Netherlands to provide a completely independent and transparent process," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte agreed Tuesday during a telephone call that the priority must be on securing the crash site to allow for a full and transparent investigation. They also agreed that the European Union and the United States must remain united over events in the Ukraine. Both the EU and the U.S. have slapped sanctions on Moscow for its role in backing the separatists.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Tuesday to do everything in his power to influence separatists controlling the crash site to allow a full investigation into the disaster. But he said such efforts would be inadequate without additional pressure on Kyiv to end the hostilities.
Ukrainian jets shot down
Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down over eastern Ukraine Wednesday, as fighting intensified in the same area where a Malaysian passenger jet with 298 people on board was shot down last week.
Details remained sketchy Wednesday, as rebels claimed responsibility. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said the fighter pilots were thought to have ejected near the Russian border, as military operations against pro-Russian separatists advanced in the region.
Ukraine and Western intelligence agencies say rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane last week from a much higher altitude, but the Russian-supplied system they used was returned to Russia.
Although Lysenko said the missiles that hit the fighter jets came from across the border in Russia, he said he was not making an accusation. He said his statement was based on “preliminary data,” and is only one theory of what might have happened. He promised to provide further evidence as the investigation continues.
Lysenko also claimed Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian drone over rebel-held territory.
Washington has accused Moscow of supplying the rebels with weaponry and training.
EU foreign ministers decided Tuesday to draw up a list of increased sanctions against Russia, in an effort to convince it to stop supporting the separatists and help convince them to give international investigators access to the Malaysia Airlines wreckage.
But the plan does not go as far as some ministers had wanted, and Ukrainian spokesman Lysenko says sanctions have not had an impact.
Lysenko said the main indicator of the sanctions' effectiveness will be seen when Russian troops stop firing at Ukrainian forces across the border. He said cross-border shelling is nearly constant at night in some areas. He also accused Russian forces of staging high-speed moves toward the border as if they are going to invade, and then turning away just before crossing.
But he says the Ukrainian military is making good progress in areas farther from the Russian border, significantly shrinking the territory the rebels control in recent days.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters