A refrigerated train carrying the remains of Australian and other victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has arrived in Kharkiv amid tight security.
The safe arrival of the bodies in Ukraine’s second-biggest city marks the beginning of Operation Bring Them Home.
The first remains are now expected to be flown to the Dutch city of Eindhoven on Wednesday.
The refrigerated train, which had travelled from the rebel village of Torez, was taken to the Malyshev military plant just southeast of Kharkiv’s city centre.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte subsequently announced the first group of MH17 victims would be flown on Wednesday to the Netherlands, where their identification could take months.
“Preparations will be made in Kharkiv so that identification can be done in the Netherlands as well as possible,” Mr Rutte said.
“As soon as a victim is identified, first and foremost, the family will be informed and no one else. That can take weeks or months.”
Outside the guarded Malyshev complex earlier on Tuesday, there were intense discussions between Dutch officials and members of the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART).
“Why haven’t they let us in? It is our plane – we have to show the Malaysian prime minister.”
The Dutch, who are leading the identification and crash investigation missions, weren’t able to allow all of the SMART team members into the controlled area. Just 20 were granted access.
All journalists have been banned from entering the restricted zone, too. One Malaysian reporter told AAP: “Why haven’t they let us in?”
“It is our plane – we have to show the Malaysian prime minister.”
Dutch forensic specialists are aware they have a huge task ahead of them.
A spokeswoman told AAP some of the remains could have to be repacked before being flown to the Netherlands. The bodies are also expected to be put through security scans.
Malaysian investigators have taken possession of the two black boxes from the flight, which will shed light on cockpit conversations and flight data in MH17’s final moments.
Up to 39 Australian citizens and residents were among the 298 people killed when MH17 was downed, likely by a missile fired by Russia-backed separatists.
The Netherlands lost almost 200 people on MH17.
The transfer of the bodies in Kharkiv is expected to be observed by Australia’s ambassador to Ukraine, Jean Dunn, and a defence attache from London.
Two other Australian consular officials are later expected to travel with the Australian bodies to Eindhoven.
The plane will likely be greeted there by Australia’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Neil Mules, and a defence attache from The Hague.
In Holland, forensic experts from Australia will assist in the identification process. A number are already on the ground while many more are understood to be en route.
The identification process will likely involve using both DNA and dental records.
Canberra is hoping for a “speedy turnaround” with the Australian victims being repatriated on an RAAF aircraft.
Malaysia to hold MH17 black boxes
Malaysia says it will “securely” hold the black boxes of crashed flight MH17 before handing them over to an international investigation team, to be led by the Netherlands.
Pro-Russian rebels controlling the eastern Ukraine crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had handed over the black boxes, which record cockpit activity and flight data, to Malaysian officials following intense international pressure.
“The Malaysian team have taken custody of the black boxes, which appear to be in good condition,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement, referring to officials sent to Ukraine in the aftermath of the disaster.
“They will be held securely in Malaysian custody while the international investigation team is being formalised,” he said.
“At that time, we will pass the black boxes to the international investigation team for further analysis.”
Flight MH17 was carrying 298 people, including 193 Dutch and up to 39 Australian citizens and residents, with all on board killed.
The jet is believed to have been downed by a surface-to-air missile.
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed on Tuesday that his country would lead the crash investigation, which normally would have fallen to Ukraine even though it does not control the area around the crash site.
Malaysia’s deal with the rebels capped an official response praised at home as swift and clear, in contrast to the government’s widely mocked handling of missing flight MH370 in March.