The Associated Press reported on Sunday that pro-Russian rebels forced emergency works to surrender custody of 196 bodies recovered from the wreckage of the downed Malaysian airliner at gunpoint. Ukrainian officials and monitors said on Sunday that militants loaded the bodies onto refrigerated train cars and sent them off to an unknown location.
“Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry said its workers were laboring under duress and forced to hand over the bodies,” the AP reported.
Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a duty officer at the train station in Torez, 9 miles from the crash site, said she saw emergency workers loading plane victims’ bodies Sunday morning into five sealed, refrigerated train cars. Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts Sunday morning, told the AP the he and other workers had no choice but to hand the bodies over to the rebels. “They are armed and we are not,” Pilyushny said. “The militiamen came, put the bodies onto the trucks and took them away.”
This report is one of several indicating that rebel forces are preventing an impartial investigation into the plane crash from taking place. On Sunday, a pro-Russian separatist leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that rebel forces had recovered the plane’s black boxes, as several prior reports indicated, but that he planned to hand them over to an international aviation forensic organization.
On Sunday, the Ukrainian Security Service released audio purportedly of pro-Russian rebels which indicates that they were ordered by Moscow to remove the flight recorders from the scene of the crash.
Khodakovsky – Do it really quick. Urgently. Moscow asks where the boxes are… Who is there besides you? Are there Strelkov’s guys?
“Oleksiy” – I don’t know. Just now OSCE people came.
Khodakovsky- So, first of all they are interested in the fate of ‘black boxes.’ They must be under our control. Please, do this task, ok?
“Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the ‘black boxes.’ I mean people from Moscow,” the rebel identified as Khodakovsky later said.
On Sunday, via CNN, Reuters released video footage featuring an unidentified individual at the scene of the crash removing a black box from the wreckage:
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry severely criticized the rebels over their stewardship of the scene of the crash of MH17.
“Drunken separatist soldiers are pulling bodies into trucks unceremoniously,” Kerry said. “We need full access, and this is a moment of truth for Russia.”
“What’s happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything that President Putin and Russia said they would do,” the secretary told Meet the Press host David Gregory.
Borodai reportedly claimed that the bodies of those his forces took from emergency workers would remain on a refrigerated train car until investigators with the International Civil Aviation Organization could take custody of them.