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World mourns MH17 crash victims as body recovery continues

Published time: July 20, 2014 02:28
Edited time: July 20, 2014 06:52

Flowers and plush toys are left at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, eastern Ukraine, on July 19, 2014. (AFP Photo / Dominique Faget)

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Malaysia MH17 crash victims are being mourned around the world as well at the gruesome site of the tragic accident. Rescuers in the meantime continue removing bodies from the wreckage monitored by OSCE observers.

LIVE UPDATES: Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane crash in Ukraine

The fragments of Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight and the bodies of victims in the tragic crash were scattered over a space of several square kilometers including residential area in eastern Ukraine. Local residents were among those sharing the shock and burden of having to deal with the bodies, and many adorned the site of the crash with flowers on Saturday.

“By 7 am on July 19, 186 bodies have been found. The area that needs to be checked stands at 25 square kilometers. Eighteen square km have already been checked,” Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, announced on Saturday.

Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry transport a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014. (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

The operation to recover bodies continues with renewed speculation that anti-Kiev forces controlling the region both have interfered with the investigation and not sealed off the area. OSCE observers at the scene complained about over vigilant self-defense fighters at the scene, but admitted they were providing some security.

“What we see here is that there is certain security as you witnessed yourself at the perimeter, and that there is now also work being done on the bodies, they are being collected, being brought to the road,” Alexander Hug, Deputy Head of OSCE mission told AP.

Refuting reports of interference with the crash site, Donetsk People's Republic PM Aleksandr Boroday said locals adhered to international demands to leave the site intact, but added that there was an urgent humanitarian need to take care of decomposing bodies.

The leadership of the self-proclaimed republic has, according to Boroday, been irritated by the international experts not coming to the plane crash scene sooner.

We are interested in the most comprehensive and objective investigation,” the PM said. “But we don't feel like there is enthusiasm among the international community and experts. Several dozen experts are currently in Kiev. Can they please come here faster? We are surprised and frankly angered that we have to keep the area untouched while we are waiting for them for so long”.

Indeed, locals have said there is a smell coming from the debris. “Now you can smell this odor over here – there are no words to describe it,” local Dmitry said, while some others earlier admitted carrying body parts to the crash site.

While Kiev accused anti-government forces of virtually ransacking the crash site and transferring corpses to Donetsk , suggesting they were trying to “get rid of evidence,” local emergency workers were loading them on trucks on Saturday – to be sent to Mariupol, where they can be stored in refrigerators.

As the international aviation inspectors are due to arrive at the crash site, the whereabouts of the plane’s flight recorders has still not been confirmed despite earlier unverified reports that they had been recovered.

Worldwide grief

All on board the MH17 flight – 298 in total – died in the tragedy, among them 193 Dutch nationals and 43 Malaysians. As pictures and passenger possessions have been collected from around the wreckage, among them an “I love Amsterdam” t-shirt and a child’s toy monkey, a cross-border outpouring of grief from the relatives and friends of victims gripped the world.

People gather during a candle-light vigil for the victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2014. (AFP Photo / Manan Vatsyayana)

Alongside the victims from the Netherlands and Malaysia, families from eight other countries were left mourning – including , Australia, Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, Philippines, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

The Malaysian airport has been the site of a great deal of mourning already this year, being four months since the disappearance of MH370 on March 8 2014. However, by Saturday, crowds had begun to disperse. “Inside…nothing speaks of the horrible tragedy of Thursday – it works without disruptions,” said RT’s Aleksey Yaroshevsky from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“This is different to the situation in March when the other Malaysian airlines jet went missing – relatives of those on board were literally besieging the Malaysian airlines offices,” he said.

On Saturday however a group of some 30 people lit candles and set placards in a vigil for the families of those in the tragedy.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on Saturday that his step-grandmother had been aboard the plane. “I personally share the grief of the families on board MH17,” Najib wrote in a Tweet. “My step-grandmother was one of the passengers.”

Malaysia said on Saturday that Russia was trying its best to ensure unhindered access to the site of the crash. “They are trying their level best to assist Malaysia to ensure we have a safe site,” Najib told reporters.

People hold candles during a candlelight vigil for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, in Kuala Lumpur July 19, 2014. (Reuters / Athit Perawongmetha)

Meanwhile, some 50 former high school classmates of a flight attendant, Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh, gathered at a mosque Saturday in Putrajaya, a district just outside Kuala Lumpur, to pay respects to the victims.

“From the ages of 13 to 17, we did everything together,” Nik, the organizer of the gathering told AP. “We're all like sisters. May God bless her and others on the plane.”

At the same time in the Netherlands where the flight originated from, people continue to flock outside of Schipol airport, to pay their condolences to a total of 189 Dutch people who were among the dead.

As flowers lay outside the Dutch capital's main airport, dedicated to the airplane crash victims, condolences were made in ink as people signed a book which has been left open for anyone to sign their commiserations in.

A memorial service was held at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia for the 298 victims of the MH17 air disaster.

The number of Australians killed in the crash rose from 28 to at least 36 on Sunday as the names of eight people from overseas who had chosen to make Australia their home were added, Associated Press reports.

International investigation pending

The international community has been expressing concerns over the crash site’s integrity, with Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, during a Meeting with Ukrainian president on Saturday, expressing his “shock” over reports of mishandling of the victims’ bodies and “the site not being treated properly.”

Russia in the meantime has encouraged the safe access of international experts to the site of the tragedy. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have agreed that “it is necessary to provide a totally impartial, independent and open international investigation into the disaster."

A piece of wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured on July 18, 2014 in Shaktarsk, the day after it crashed. (AFP Photo / Dominique Faget)

“Clarification of the circumstances of this incident should be organized under the leadership of ICAO and with the participation of all who are willing to help in establishing the truth,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In the meantime only the team of OSCE inspectors were working at the scene two days after the crash. A team of at least 10 investigators, including forensic experts and air accident investigators are in Ukraine to investigate the crash site, the Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed on Saturday. France, Germany and the UK have also dispatched forensic experts to Ukraine while Interpol and Europol have sent their staff to help identify the victims.

Leadership of the Donetsk's Republic can guarantee the safety of international experts if Kiev stops its “anti-terrorist operation” in in the vicinity of the Boeing crash site, Deputy PM of DPR Andrey Purgin announced on Saturday evening.

“We declare that we will guarantee the safety of international experts on the scene at the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement with Kiev,” Purgin said as cited by RIA Novosti. “We invite Kiev to immediately conclude such an agreement with the DPR, at least for the duration of the specialists' visit to the crash site.”

Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors stand at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)