More than half of MH17 victims have been loaded onto a train by pro-Russian rebels, amid world outrage at the mistreatment of bodies and the possible loss of evidence.
A large number of MH17 victims were languishing in four refrigerated train carriages at Torez, after being removed from the crash site on Saturday.
According to Russian media outlet Russia Today, which has close ties to the Russian Government, the train may be headed for rebel-held Donetsk. Other reports suggest the remains are to be taken to a laboratory in Kharkiv, more than 250 kilometres north of the crash site and far from rebel-held territory.
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The destination of the train is unknown. The Telegraph predicted three possibilities based on local interviews.
Staff at the station told The Telegraph they did not know where the train was headed, but suggested that it would have to divert through Donetsk, the headquarters of the rebels.
“My guess is they’ll take them to Donetsk and work out what to do with them there,” one station worker, name withheld, told The Telegraph.
But self-declared leader of the rebels Alexander Borodai is quoted in the New York Times as saying that the four train carriages full of bodies will not be moved from Torez, however reports this morning contradict that view.
Abbott speaks to Putin
Tony Abbott has vowed to hold Vladimir Putin to his word on an investigation into the MH17 attack after the Russian president said “all the right things” in a phone call overnight.
The prime minister on Monday declined to divulge details of the leaders’ first conversation since Russia-backed rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board – including 37 Australian citizens and residents.
Mr Abbott has been a vocal critic of Russia’s response to the disaster, accusing Mr Putin’s government of trying to wash its hands of responsibility and failing to properly secure the crash site.
“He said all the right things,” Mr Abbott said of Mr Putin in an interview with Macquarie Radio. “And now we need him to be as good as his word. I will be speaking regularly to the Russian president to do my best to hold him to his word
Mr Borodai insists that rebels have not interfered with the crash site, but there are numerous reports to the contrary, including an exclusive interview with The New Daily.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in New York to assist in international efforts, has condemned the treatment, describing it as similar to a hostage situation.
“This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in a Russian-Ukrainian conflict,” Ms Bishop told the media at a press conference.
“It is an utter outrage that the site has been contaminated and that bodies have been removed and not been handed over to independent authorities,” she said.
The exact number of bodies loaded on the train is unclear. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman estimated 192, whereas European monitors at the site counted 198.
That number includes more than 30 bodies that were taken by rebel forces to Donetsk but then returned.
A second train will reportedly take away another 27 bodies and 20 fragments, along with any other bodies that are recovered.
Who moved the bodies?
It is also unclear who loaded the bodies. The Ukrainian Government said this was done by emergency services, whereas other world media reports say the rebels, some of them described as “drunken”, were responsible.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr said through a translator on Sunday that he did not know where the train was headed.
“We will inform you when we get it from them,” Mr Volodymyr told the media.
“Then international experts and Ukrainian experts will meet that train. When we have information we will tell you when, how and where to,” he said.
The train of dead bodies is a horrifying sight according to monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“I don’t want to be too gruesome but it’s a very, very difficult scene to watch,” Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for OSCE’s monitoring mission to Ukraine, said.
“Most of the body bags were intact – you could see some body parts visible, slightly torn but on the whole they were intact, but most crucially there is refrigeration finally because today is another quite warm day in this area.”
“Because of the conditions they were in you need professional protective equipment to go in there,” he said.
International pressure is building on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure proper treatment of the bodies and their safe return home.
The leaders of Britain, France, and Germany had spoken to Mr Putin by phone late Sunday, according to the Washington Post, urging him to use his influence with the rebels to speed up the repatriation of victims.