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Frustration builds as Ukraine fighting prevents access to MH17 site

Amid a third day of heavy fighting, one member of the international team called the site 'one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world.'

Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS
Wreckage and debris still dot the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), in Ukraine's Donetsk region.

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For the third day in a row, heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented an international team of investigators from accessing the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, making it “one of the biggest open crime scenes in the world,” according to one investigator.

The passenger flight was brought down by shrapnel from a missile while flying over the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine 12 days ago, according to data retrieved from the plane’s black box in Britain this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights, despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a cease-fire,” said Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Sky News reported. The team trying to enter the crash site is made up of 200 unarmed Dutch and Australian police.

Ukrainian troops have stepped up their efforts to regain territory from pro-Russian separatists. Today’s fighting erupted one day after rebels acknowledged that government forces had control over part of the crash site. The remains of some of the 298 victims from the flight have yet to be found and repatriated. 

“Things are fluid at the moment. Someone who has control of it now may not have control in a few hours," said OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw.

“Pockets of insurgents are continuing to fire on Ukrainian positions from the towns of Snizhne, Torez, and Shakhtarsk," the Ukrainian military said today, referring to towns located within an 18-mile radius from the crash site.

An estimated 1,129 people have been killed in the fighting that has overtaken eastern Ukraine – not including the MH17 flight victims – and more than 3,000 have been wounded, a new United Nations report states.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, the fighting has taken a toll on infrastructure and public services as well.

“Deliberate targeting by armed groups” of public utilities, including water and electricity, has crippled the area while properties have been looted, banks robbed, and medical facilities have been forced to close. Over 100,000 Ukrainians have fled the areas affected by fighting. The Ukrainian government is currently estimating over $650 million will be needed for rebuilding and revitalizing the areas hit by fighting.

The Red Cross now classifies the Ukraine conflict as a civil war, which means the actions of those fighting could be considered war crimes. On Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the downing of the plane could fit this classification, demanding “a thorough, effective,” independent, and impartial investigation,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Leaders of the European Union today are weighing the expansion of sanctions against Russia, which many blame for fueling fighting in eastern Ukraine through the provision of weapons for rebel fighters.

But it’s not only international investigators who are frustrated with their limited access to the area where the Malaysian Airlines flight crashed. An in-depth report by The Wall Street Journal looks at how the lives of villagers have been affected by the crash, and how they have been waiting for someone with expertise to help remove the bodies and debris from the crash.

Flight 17 has gripped the world because of the deaths of 298 passengers and crew on the Boeing 777 and the geopolitical crisis triggered by the crash. But the disaster also includes the horror that has paralyzed three Ukrainian villages about 30 miles from the border with Russia. After the plane fell to earth, almost no one came to their rescue.

While most of the bodies have been removed from the crash site, the roughly 6,500 residents of the villages remain traumatized by what they saw, trapped by debris and passengers' belongings scattered across the local landscape. Pieces of other people's lives haunt their own.

The plane's cockpit and dozens of bodies plummeted into Rozsypne, about 2 miles from Petropavlivka. One body fell through a woman's roof….

Even Friday, an abandoned Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear still lay in a field between Hrabove and Petropavlivka. The sun is bleaching the pages of a Dutch-language version of Ivan Turgenev's novel "Fathers and Sons" in the 85-degree heat.

No villagers on the ground died, but they are scared of what they might find next. No one with crash or cleanup expertise has told [Petropavlivka mayor] Voloshina or the other mayors what to do about the crash debris.

 "We will keep trying [to access the crash site] every day," Mr. Bociurkiw from the OSCE said.

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