By RFE/RL.A Ukrainian soldier watches from an armored vehicle with a Ukrainian flag in front of OSCE vehicles at a checkpoint in the village of Debaltseve, in eastern Ukraine, on July 31.
A large team of international experts has gotten to work recovering bodies at the crash site of Malaysian airliner MH17 in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.
The Dutch Justice Ministry said in a statement that “Dutch and Australian experts arrived at the crash site on Friday morning….The 70 experts will conduct search operations in several places at the crash site.”
All 298 passengers and crew were killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down by what Ukrainian and some Western government sources say was a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists.
Western officials have accused Russia of giving the separatists the missiles capable of shooting down the plane.
Russia denies supplying the separatists with weapons, funds, or fighters.
Breakthrough For Investigators
Efforts to recover remaining bodies from the crash site have been hampered by fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.
More than 200 coffins have been sent back to the Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens in the July 17 crash, but many victims’ remains have yet to be recovered amid the fighting.
Ukrainian soldiers with their humvee stand guard on July 31, 2014 near the convoy of the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) during their mission to reach the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine.
A small group of experts visited the crash site for the first time on July 31, after Ukrainian forces declared a “day of quiet” in response to a call for a cease-fire from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Dutch and Australian experts arriving at the site on August 1 were accompanied by officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Australian officials have said they believe up to 80 bodies may still remain at the crash site. International observers have said that evidence at the site has been tampered with.
Intense Fighting, Senior Separatist Said Killed
Ukraine’s military said 14 people, including at least 10 soldiers, were killed in an ambush by pro-Russian separatists near the town of Shakhtarsk, close to the crash site, on August 1.
The military said 13 soldiers remained unaccounted for after the attack.
Government forces have intensified their military offensive against the rebels since the downing of the plane, forcing the rebels out of several towns they had held around their last two big strongholds, the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Meanwhile, reports suggest a senior official of the breakaway, self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” was killed in fighting in the Luhansk region.
Proselkov was the de facto deputy foreign minister of the breakaway Ukrainian region and an aide to its self-proclaimed leader, Pavel Gubarev.
Ukrainian military officials said Proselkov was killed by “friendly fire” from militants and mercenaries from the breakaway “Luhansk People’s Republic.”
A Facebook post by Russian Eurasianist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin on August 1 says 32-year-old Aleksandr Proselkov was killed by gunfire the previous day as he “accompanied a convoy of humanitarian aid” to Donetsk.
Dugin speculated Proselkov may have been killed by supporters of rival Russian nationalist political adviser Sergei Kurginyan because of his support for the breakaway regions’ military commander, Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov).
With reporting by AFP and Reuters