As if the heartache couldn’t get any worse, families of MH17 victims were today greeted with the most undignified scene imaginable – their loved ones in black body bags being lined up on the side of a road and thrown into the back of rubbish trucks.
Almost 200 victims were piled high in the sweltering heat on eastern Ukraine before being carted off to a refrigerated train after their passenger jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
For three days the 298 victims of the attack were left where they fell, in a field near the village of Grabovo in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Russian rebels, widely suspected of shooting the plane out of the sky on Thursday afternoon.
Over the weekend a chaotic clean-up operation finally began, where bodies were wrapped in black plastic and lined up along the roadside before being heaped onto dirty trucks to be taken to the train at a station nine miles away. In a further blow, it was claimed the refrigeration on board the carriages has not been working.
A chorus of outrage has been building over the treatment of the bodies, which victims’ relatives have called ‘degrading’ and ‘inhumane’. Today rebels promised that the train would be allowed to move on in the afternoon so the bodies could be examined by experts and eventually sent home
The chaos surrounding the handling of the crash has compounded the grief of families bereaved by the crash, who have been left unable to arrange funerals or properly mourn their dead.
Repercussions from the disaster were today being felt around the world, as Western powers become increasingly certain that Russia is at least partly to blame for the attack.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip, as well as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have spoken of imposing economic sanctions on Russia as punishment, while Vladimir Putin spoke in a television address today warning his critics in the West against using the disaster for ‘narrowly selfish political goals’.
Victim’s relatives have made emotional appeals for the bodies to be returned as soon as possible, amid reports that the refrigeration in the carriage has only been inconsistently working.
Today relatives of Glenn Thomas, a 49-year-old press officer from Blackpool who was on MH17, begged for the return of his body, saying he and other victims had been ‘degraded’
His nephew, 22-year-old Jordan Withers, said: ‘It’s hard one to swallow – that’s my uncle and everyone else’s loved ones are there and they are being degraded and treated inhumanely.
‘They deserve a lot more respect than that. All we want now is my uncle back. I’m sure every other family who’s been involved in this tragedy that’s all they want.
‘It needs to be done as quickly and as peacefully as possible.
Tracey Withers, Mr Thomas’s twin sister, added: ‘We just want them to show some compassion and let people in to try and get the bodies back and the personal possessions.
‘We’re just hoping we’ve got personal possessions that can be brought back, anything that was Glenn’s – even a pen, a letter, a book – anything that resembles what Glenn would have had.’
Barry Sweeney, whose son Liam, 28, caught MH17 on his way to a Newcastle United game in New Zealand, also called for the bodies’ return.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the 52-year-old father of seven said: ‘Without going into politics because I think the Government have to sort that out, I just want them basically to bring the 298 people who need to be brought home for this to close.
‘I have seen a little bit of the news, I try to stop watching it only because it is upsetting, especially when you see body bags but I’m hoping Liam is in one of those because I don’t want him to be lying there somewhere where there’s nobody there to give him a good cuddle, you know.’
‘I think I’m getting through it because I can talk to people, as long as I’m talking, I’m fine; when I stop, the tears come.’
Silene Fredriksz, who yesterday begged president Putin live on air to return her children, today repeated her call for the remains of her son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy Ohlers.
She said: ‘No words can describe it – Bodies are just lying there for three days in the hot sun. There are people who have this on their conscience. There are families who can never hold the body of a child or a mother.’
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte echoes the calls today, telling parliament: ‘If the train finally gets going and the bodies get to Ukraine-controlled territory then we would prefer – and a Hercules is ready at Kharkiv airport – to get the bodies back to the Netherlands as soon as possible’.
The Ukrainian government, based in Kiev, today accused the rebels of holding up the trains at the station. A statement from a government committee investigating the disaster said that the return of the victims has been delayed because because ‘terrorists are blocking its exit.’
However, today the head of a Dutch forensic team on the scene said the train should set off later today where ‘we can do our work’.
‘The train is going. We don’t know the time and we don’t know the destination. We got a promise: today it is going.’
‘I just want the train to go to a place where we can do our work. And that is in the interest of everybody, especially the families of the victims.’
Meanwhile Russian president Vladimir Putin hit back at his critics, and accused them of taking advantage of the MH17 disaster to further their own political goals.
Yesterday he said: ‘There are already representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk [the rebel factions] working there, as well as representatives of the emergencies ministry of Ukraine and others. But this is not enough…. we need a fully representative group of experts to be working at the site.’
‘In the meantime, nobody should and has no right to use this tragedy to achieve their narrowly selfish political goals.
‘We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table. I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.’
It did little to appease his foes in Ukraine’s government, whose prime minister hit back by saying the Russian leader is ‘on the side of the devil’.
Arseny Yatseniuk said today: ‘I do not expect anything from the Russian government. They supplied weapons, they sent in fighters. Putin should understand that it’s enough already. This is not a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It is an international conflict.’
‘Russia is on the dark side, on the side of the devil.’
Inside: Investigators wearing face masks were seen walking through the carriage containing the massed corpses [Photo Credit: Reuters]
Clambering in: Monitors were allowed in on Monday, as forensics experts were promised the train would be on the move by afternoon [Photo Credit: Reuters]
The chaotic rescue effort continued ahead of an expected vote later by the U.N. Security Council on a resolution demanding international access to the crash site and a cease-fire around the area.
The pressure has been growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the U.S. and others say has backed and armed the rebels, to rein in the insurgents in Ukraine and allow a full-scale investigation. The rebels have been blamed around the world for Thursday’s downing of the Boeing 777.
This morning local rescue workers had piled 21 further black body bags by the side of the road at the crash site. It was unclear how quickly they would be transported to refrigerated train carriages in the nearby town of Torez, where the other bodies are being held.