Dutch forensic experts on Monday began examining the bodies from the MH17 plane disaster, as world leaders denounced the “shambolic” state of the crash site left in the hands of pro-Russian rebels.
Kiev’s prime minister said the remains of some 250 victims of the 298 killed when the flight went down last week, apparently shot by a surface-to-air missile, had been recovered and moved to train cars, and could be transferred to the Netherlands.
But the bodies are in rebel-held territory where Kiev holds no sway, near the city of Donetsk where intense shelling broke out again on Monday.
The UN Security Council is expected on Monday to adopt an Australia-backed resolution demanding that pro-Russian separatists grant unrestricted access to the crash site for international experts.
Patience was wearing thin over Moscow’s stance, even as President Vladimir Putin pledged Russia would do “everything in its power” to resolve the Ukrainian conflict and to open access to the site.
The under-fire Russian leader appeared to seek to temper world fury after Washington said it had overwhelming evidence the missile system used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines jet was transferred from Russia to the rebels.
Watch: Rebels move bodies from MH17 site as world urges probe
After speaking with Putin, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott noted he had “said all the right things” but that he would “hold the president to his word”.
“That is certainly my intention, and it should be the intention of the family of nations to hold the president to his word,” Abbott said, as concerns rose over tampering with evidence including the victims’ remains and the plane’s black boxes.
Twenty-eight Australian nationals and nine residents were among the passengers from a dozen countries on the doomed flight.
At the Torez station, close to Donetsk, an AFP reporter witnessed the Dutch investigators, wearing masks and headlights, open each of the train wagons holding the remains of recovered bodies, amid an overpowering stench.
Even as Putin pledged to work toward dialogue between the Ukrainian rivals, intense shelling rained down in the rebel stronghold Donetsk, just 60 kilometres from Torez where the bodies are being held.
Insurgent fighters had closed off the roads in the area on the edge of the city and terrified civilians were fleeing the fighting in minibuses and on foot.
A rebel fighter told AFP that government troops had attacked their positions close to the transport hub at around 10 am (0700 GMT).
“They came within about two kilometres of the station,” insurgent gunman Volodya told AFP.
Even as Dutch teams were inspecting the bodies, international investigators have yet to gain access to the actual crash site in Grabove, with debris spread out for kilometres.
“As anyone who has been watching the footage will know, this is still an absolutely shambolic situation,” Australia’s Abbott said.
Malaysia’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai has also expressed concerns that “the sanctity of the crash site has been severely compromised”.
Only a team of conflict monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were allowed briefly to access the main crash site.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has slammed as “grotesque” the manner in which “drunken separatist soldiers” were allegedly “unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies, as well as evidence, from the site”.
Insurgents defended their actions, with a rebel chief saying they had moved scores of bodies “out of respect for the families”.
Washington has pointedly blamed Moscow for supplying rebel with the missile system used to shoot down the passenger jet.
Kiev on Sunday released fresh recordings of what it says are intercepted conversations between rebels organising to hide the flight’s black boxes from international monitors.
And the US embassy confirmed as authentic recordings released by Kiev of an intercepted call between an insurgent commander and a Russian intelligence officer as they realised they had shot down a passenger jet.
The Washington Post said Ukraine’s counterintelligence chief had photographs and related evidence that three Buk M-1 anti-aircraft missile systems moved from rebel-held territory into Russia less than 12 hours after the crash.
However, top Russian officials and state media have suggested that Kiev’s new leaders staged the attack to blame the rebels.
The UN Security Council votes at 1900 GMT on Monday on a resolution demanding that armed groups controlling the area “refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site... and immediately provide safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the site and surrounding area for the appropriate investigating authorities.”
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany also signalled they could ramp up sanctions against Russia as early as Tuesday - barely a week after the last round of toughened embargoes.
The separatists’ violent bid to join Russia is the latest chapter in a prolonged crisis sparked by Kiev’s desire for closer ties with the EU - a sentiment many in the Russian-speaking east do not share.