Five refrigerated wagons containing 200 body bags reached the city of Kharkiv after pro-Russian separatists agreed to hand over the plane’s black boxes to Malaysian authorities and the bodies to the Netherlands, where many victims had lived.
The train slowly rolled into the grounds of an arms industry plant, where the remains are due to be unloaded and flown to the Netherlands for the lengthy process of identification. A spokeswoman for a Dutch team of forensic experts in Kharkiv said departure was not expected before Wednesday.
A representative of the OSCE European security watchdog said there were still human remains left where the Boeing 777 hit the ground in eastern Ukraine last Thursday. “We did not observe any recovery activity in place,” spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said after his group inspected the site earlier in the day.
The jet was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down near Donetsk, a stronghold of pro-Russian rebels, where fighting with Ukrainian troops flared again on Tuesday.
Western governments have threatened Russia with broader sanctions for what they say is its backing of the militia. However, they are struggling to agree a response, and European Union ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday delayed action for a few days.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would urge the separatists to allow a full investigation which the Netherlands said it would lead. Malaysia said it would send the black boxes to a British lab for analysis.
“Here they are, the black boxes,” separatist leader Aleksander Borodai told journalists at the headquarters of his self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as an armed rebel placed the boxes on a desk.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaking to parliament in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, maintained his stand that blame should not be apportioned pending an investigation.
“A few hours after MH17 crashed, officials in the U.S. and Ukraine claimed it was shot down,” Najib said.
“If that is true, we criticize the party believed to be responsible. However, we are not pointing fingers at anyone at this stage, until evidence has really been obtained.”
Najib’s cautious approach enabled him to work through intermediaries to reach Borodai and broker a deal to retrieve the black boxes and secure the release of the bodies.
A small group of Malaysian air crash experts became the first international accident investigators to reach the site on Tuesday, escorted by a convoy of international monitors and heavily armed separatist fighters.
As they went about their work, loud explosions were heard on the outskirts of Donetsk, some 60 km (40 miles) from the site One shell was sticking out from a hole outside a residential block with a pool of blood next to it.
“A woman was killed here, her son was sitting next to her crying,” said Tamara Lelyk, a 73-year-old cleaning lady.
The shooting down of the airliner has sharply deepened the Ukrainian crisis, in which separatist gunmen in the Russian-speaking east have been fighting government forces since pro-Western protesters in Kiev forced out a pro-Moscow president and Russia annexed Crimea in March.