Clashes near crash site
FIGHTING flared up in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk yesterday, as investigators began to inspect the bodies of victims from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which crashed last week.
International inspectors got access to the remains of hundreds of victims stored in refrigerated railway wagons near the crash site.
The government in Kiev denied sending the regular army into the centre of Donetsk, which pro-Russian separatists captured in April, but said small "self-organised" pro-Ukrainian groups were fighting the rebels in the city.
Four people were killed in clashes near the railway station and close to the airport outside Donetsk, health officials said.
Artillery fire sent plumes of smoke skywards near the Donetsk railway station, around 60km from the crash site, in what the separatists said was an attempt by government forces to enter the city. The clashes quickly subsided.
Donetsk is at the heart of a rebel uprising against the Kiev government, and the fighting served as a reminder of the dangers the experts face working in a war zone.
Three members of a Dutch disaster-victims identification team arrived at the railway station where rebels said 247 bodies have been stored. About two-thirds of the crash victims were Dutch.
The head of the team inspected the storage of the bodies in the rail cars and, despite the overwhelming stench of decomposition when the doors were opened, said it was fine.
Citing the heat and the scale of the site, Peter van Vliet said: "I think they did a hell of a job in a hell of a place." His team went through the wagons dressed in surgical masks and rubber gloves.
Mr van Vliet said he had been told the train would be leaving the station at Torez soon, so that the bodies can be taken to where they could be identified and repatriated. He could not say where it was going.
Ukrainian officials said that as of yesterday, 272 bodies and 66 fragments of bodies had been found.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a televised address, said the downing of the airliner must not be used for political ends and urged separatists to allow international experts access to the crash site.
Malaysia Airlines said yesterday that it would make an initial payment of US$5,000 (S$6,200) to the families of passengers as a goodwill gesture.
The airline re-routed a Kuala Lumpur-to-London flight over Syrian airspace on Sunday, after its usual route over Ukraine was closed, flight tracking data showed.
The change highlights the challenge that airlines face in finding conflict-free passageways on the congested routes between Asia and Europe.