The first relatives of victims on the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 have arrived at the crash site, as Dutch and Australian forces prepare for possible deployment to secure the location in rebel-held east Ukraine.
A truce has been called in the immediate area surrounding the site by both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists, but fierce combat is raging just 60km away, with loud explosions heard at regular intervals in two suburbs of rebel stronghold Donetsk.
Ignoring safety warnings, an Australian couple travelled to the scene of the crash without any escort, saying they were fulfilling a promise to their only child that they would be there.
“She was full of life,” said Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski about their 25-year-old daughter Fatima who died when the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur plane was shot down nine days ago, killing all 298 on board, including up to 39 Australian citizens and residents.
She and her husband Jerzy Dyczynski broke down in tears as they walked among the wreckage and scorched earth, and laid a large bouquet of flowers on part of the debris.
A complex investigation into the downing of flight MH17 has been hampered by the violence plaguing east Ukraine, which claimed at least nine lives in the last 24 hours in insurgent holdout Lugansk.
Dutch forensic experts sought to travel to the site on Saturday but turned back over safety concerns. They were due to try again later.
The deadly insurgency is also raising questions over the viability of the Dutch-led international mission to secure the site where the airliner crashed.
The rebels who are accused of shooting down the plane with a missile from Russia have signalled that they are only open to allowing a small group in.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stressed that it’s a “humanitarian mission”.
“Plainly there are unrecovered body remains in the area. And it’s the presence of unrecovered remains that makes it more important than ever that an international team be dispatched to the site,” he said.
“Others can get involved if they wish in the politics of eastern Europe, our sole concern is to claim our dead and to bring them home.”
Dutch authorities leading the probe said a total of 227 coffins have been flown to the Netherlands.
But many more victims’ remains lie in the sweltering heat on the vast crash site alongside the burnt-out wreckage of the plane.
After a few days when little activity was seen, recovery efforts appeared to have restarted again on Saturday, reporters at the scene said.
It remains unclear if the international security forces will gain access, as OSCE monitors said rebels controlling the area were only ready to accept between 25 to 35 members of foreign delegations.
Ukraine’s parliament, which needs to formally approve any international deployment, is only due to broach the issue at a special session on Thursday.
The Netherlands, which lost 193 of its citizens, said troops had been consigned to barracks and had leave cancelled ahead of the planned mission.
Australia is sending 190 police along with a small number of its defence forces to the Netherlands in view of the mission.