KHARKIV, Ukraine — A Dutch military plane loaded with coffins left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv for the Netherlands on Wednesday, the first in a long series of flights to repatriate the bodies of 298 passengers and crew killed last week when a missile downed a Malaysia Airlines jet.
At a ceremony before the departure of the Hercules transport on the sun-swept tarmac of Kharkiv International Airport, Ukrainian officials and foreign diplomats mixed solemn tributes to the dead with angry demands that those responsible for the shooting down of the jet be found and bought to justice.
“This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions,” an Australian representative, Angus Houston, told the gathering, flanked by a Ukrainian military honour guard dressed in black uniforms.
“Those who are guilty for this terrorist act will be punished,” the Ukrainian vice prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, said. “We are today sending off innocents who were killed.”
Officers from the Kiev Military University carried four coffins into the plane, which took off at noon bound for the Netherlands with 16 bodies on board. A second plane from Australia was due to take 34 more bodies later on Wednesday.
Although foreign officials at the ceremony called for justice, they did not assign blame. That stood in contrast to Mr. Groysman, who denounced what he called “Russian aggression” against Ukraine.
As the plane carrying the first bodies took off, a Ukrainian woman waved a hand-drawn sign reading “Judge Putin in the Hague,” a reference to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
The woman, Alexandra Kharchenko, a 39-year-old designer who lives in Kharkiv, said the Russian president should be called before an international tribunal. She accused Mr. Putin of encouraging and arming the pro-Russian separatists whom Ukraine and the United States have accused of firing the surface-to-air missile that downed the passenger jet.
“I just want to draw attention to who is ultimately responsible for this crime,” Ms. Kharchenko said.
The Kremlin and the rebels have repeatedly denied any role in shooting down the plane, which was en route to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from Amsterdam, and have said the blame lies with Ukraine.
A representative for the Dutch government at the farewell ceremony called for patience in assessing exactly what happened. He cautioned that even identifying the bodies — a task that will be carried out by Dutch specialists at a laboratory in the Netherlands — would be a long and laborious process. [eap_ad_2] The bodies, held for days by the pro-Russian rebels who control the crash site, were delivered to Kharkiv by rail on Tuesday, along with the data and voice recorders from the doomed plane. It will take at least several days for experts to unload five refrigerated railway cars at a Soviet-era tank factory in Kharkiv, place the bodies in coffins and transport them by air to the Netherlands.
“Today your journey home begins. It will still be a long journey. We have started a process that will take time,” said Hans Docter, the Dutch representative. “We have to do this right. The eyes of the world are upon us.”
In Britain, the Department for Transportation confirmed in a statement Wednesday that both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 had been delivered by Dutch investigators to the department’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
Representatives of the Dutch Safety Board, who have been asked by Ukraine to lead the technical investigation into the crash, received the recording devices known as black boxes from Malaysian officials who obtained them from rebels on Monday and put them on the train carrying bodies to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city. The Dutch delivered them to Britain early Wednesday.
The Netherlands, which had the largest number of citizens aboard Flight 17, took formal control of the inquiry later on Wednesday, following negotiations with the governments of Ukraine and Malaysia, as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations.
Under international rules, Ukraine, as the country where the accident took place, would normally be first in line to lead the inquiry, followed by Malaysia, as the country in which the aircraft was registered. Both governments exercised their authority to delegate the responsibility to another country. (NY Times)[eap_ad_3]