HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and then loaded them onto refrigerated trains bound for a rebel-held city, officials and monitors said Sunday.
At the crash site Sunday morning, Associated Press journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.
Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a duty officer at the train station in Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site, said she saw emergency workers loading bodies Sunday into five sealed, refrigerated train cars.
She said the train was scheduled to head to the town of Ilovaysk, 35 kilometers (22 miles) further east toward the Russian border, but no instructions had been given about when it would leave or any possible destinations beyond Ilovaysk.
Russian news agencies said the bodies were heading to the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. Ukrainian officials say they expect to have the bodies eventually delivered to government-held city of Kharkiv, but it’s unclear if the rebels will agree to do so.
Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight — 283 passengers and 15 crew — were killed.
Ukraine says Russia has been sending sophisticated arms to the rebels, which Moscow denies. The crash site is close to the Russian border.