A train carrying the bodies of victims from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed by a missile last week arrived Tuesday morning in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv after a 17-hour journey out of lawless territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
Pushed by a diesel locomotive, five gray refrigerated wagons and a red passenger car crawled into the grounds of a decrepit Soviet-era tank factory shortly after noon, completing the first and most difficult stage of a long journey home for victims of the crash.
Ukrainian workers had to clear the track of mud and weeds to allow the train to pass along a long-disused stretch of rail leading to the Malyshev Factory, built to manufacture the Soviet T-34 tank and other military equipment.
The train was met by police forensic experts and other representatives of countries that had citizens on the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Security guards kept reporters outside the factory gates, and it was not immediately clear whether the bodies would be kept in Kharkiv for preliminary examination or swiftly transferred to a nearby airport for transport out of Ukraine.
Mohammed Saleh, a member of a Malaysian rescue team in Kharkiv to help handle the repatriation of bodies, said the corpses would “most probably” be flown to Amsterdam later on Tuesday. Malaysia lost 43 citizens on the doomed plane.
The Netherlands, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the 298 passengers and crew aboard the plane, has sent a Hercules transport plane to Kharkiv. Australia has also sent a plane.
The rebels also handed over the black boxes to Malaysian authorities. Britain has agreed to a Dutch request for air accident investigators to retrieve data from the black boxes of the plane, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday. “We’ve agreed Dutch request for air accident investigators at Farnborough to retrieve data from MH17 black boxes for international analysis,” Cameron said on Twitter.
The two boxes may shed light on Western claims that flight MH17 was shot down with a Russian surface-to-air missile.