Black boxes, MH17 victims begin to leave Ukraine combat zone

A train carrying the first remains of Malaysia Airlines passengers reached Kharkiv today, and separatist rebels handed over the plane's black boxes to Malaysia authorities.

Sergei Chizavkov/AP
A refrigerated train loaded with bodies of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 departs Kharkiv railway station, Ukraine. The train carrying the remains of people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash arrived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday on their way to the Netherlands, a journey which has been agonizingly slow for relatives of the victims.

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Recovery and investigation efforts into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 finally began to gain traction today, as the first bodies of victims reached the city of Kharkiv for transport to the Netherlands, and separatist rebels handed over flight recorders to Malaysian authorities.

A train carrying the bodies of the victims out of rebel-held territory reached the city of Kharkiv, after days of international condemnation of both the rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The bodies will be taken to the Netherlands for forensic investigation. The New York Times reports that both the Netherlands and Australia have already sent planes to Ukraine.

The downed plane’s black boxes were also handed over by the leader of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai. They were given to Malaysian officials in Donetsk following talks between Mr. Borodai and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The BBC reports that Mr. Razak said that behind-the-scenes talks were necessary to gain access to the bodies, “In recent days, there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel and that I feel. But sometimes, we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome.”

An Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) spokesperson told the BBC that parts of the plane had already been tampered with and cut.

The new progress on the crash investigation follows days of traded accusations between Ukraine and the West, and the separatists and Russia. Western powers have blamed the rebels for shooting down the plane, and accused Russia of having supplied both the missile that brought down MH17 and the expertise needed to fire it. Russia has denied that it provided weapons systems to the rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine, and still tacitly blames Kiev for the flight's downing.

An analysis by an expert from IHS Jane's, a defense and security consultancy, told the New York Times that based on photos of some of the wreckage, he agreed with US officials who said that an SA-11 missile was responsible for bringing down the plane.

Despite the split of opinion over the responsibility for the plane's shooting down, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation.” But as the BBC’s Nick Bryant points out, Russia’s support of the resolution may not parallel realities on the ground. “Raising a hand in support of a resolution at the UN is different from lifting a finger to help, and the test of this resolution will come from its implementation on the ground,” Mr. Bryant writes.

Amidst international moves to address the MH17 crash, fighting continues in Ukraine,  with Ukrainian military and volunteer militias trying to further rout rebels who are now mainly concentrated around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Local officials in Donetsk told Reuters that five people were killed in fighting near the airport and railway station close to Donetsk. A Ukrainian official said a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint without giving further details.

Ukraine’s parliament approved a presidential decree allowing the call-up of more military reserves and men under 50. And Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy, appearing in parliament, accused Russia of building up forces along the border again, according to Reuters.

European Union officials are scheduled to meet today to discuss further sanctions against Russia over its support of rebel fighters.

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