Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane to Malaysian experts, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
With body parts decaying in sweltering heat and signs that evidence at the crash site was mishandled, anger in Western capitals has mounted at the rebels and their allies in Moscow. Their reluctant cooperation will soothe mourning families and help investigators, but may do little to reconcile the East-West powers struggling over Ukraine’s future.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday it saw no evidence a missile was fired and denied involvement in the downing of Flight MH17 and suggested the Ukrainian military was at fault. President Vladimir Putin spoke out but showed no sign of abandoning the separatists as fighting flared anew near the site of the crash.
President Barack Obama accused the rebels of tampering with evidence and insulting victims’ families, warning of new sanctions. Europeans will consider their own sanctions Tuesday.
The bodies of the 298 victims, most from the Netherlands, have become a part of the conflict in Ukraine because they could hold evidence of what brought the plane down on July 17 as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Grief turned to anger as families begged to get the bodies of their loved ones back, while the separatists held on to the remains.
“Bodies are just lying there for three days in the hot sun. There are people who have this on their conscience,” said Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died on their way to a vacation in Bali, in an interview with The Associated Press in the Netherlands. “When I am in my bed at night, I see my son lying on the ground. … They have to come home, not only those two. Everybody has to come home.”