The 192 bodies found after the Flight MH17 plane crash, have been bundled into black body bags and unceremoniously loaded into large refrigerated train cars, bound, it is understood, for the rebel heartland.
Rebel leader Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, claims that he has the bodies – which have been decomposing since Thursday - held in the train cars in the rebel-held city of Torez, 15 kilometres from the crash site.
Mr Borodai has given the unexpected explanation of removing the bodies from the site of the crash, where they have been lying rotting and exposed to the baking Ukrainian heat, “out of respect for the families,” and because “it is becoming inhumane in these conditions”.
“We couldn’t wait any longer because of the heat and also because there are many dogs and wild animals I the zone,” he told reporters, a statement that jars with reports from the crash site of the rebels blocking investigations and even allowing the bodies to be looted.
Mr Bordai claims the bodies will not be moved “until the experts arrive,” and that the plane's black boxes will also be handed over to the Civil Aviation Authority.
But armed separatists in Torez have told the Guardian that they did not know when the train would leave. The train driver said he had no idea as to the destination of the train.
The bodies were reportedly moved by Ukraine’s emergency services who were working for the rebels under duress on Sunday.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman told a news conference that 27 more bodies, along with 20 fragments of bodies, have since been recovered from the site. He said the bodies that had been loaded into the refrigerated train wagons were being held before being sent home for burial.
The family members of those killed in the Malaysian Airlines MH17 crash were dealt a new blow as reports emerged that their loved ones’ bodies had been guarded by drunk rebels, looted, left exposed to the elements and even dragged around, before they were unceremoniously removed from the site on Sunday.
International anger is rising at the lack of dignity with which the bodies have been treated, while families of the victims continue to call for the bodies to be returned home.
For days the bodies from the crash scene were reported to have been left to rot in the sunshine, exposed to nearly 30C heat and occasional downpours of rain after their plane was shot down on Thursday.
“Some of the body bags are open and the damage to the corpses is very, very bad – it is very difficult to look at,” said Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the investigators at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Saturday.
“It basically looks like the biggest crime scene in the world right now, guarded by a bunch of guys in uniform with heavy firepower who are quite inhospitable,” he told reporters at the time.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the rebels' treatment of the bodies "downright disgusting," saying: "Shocked by images of totally disrespectful behaviour, downright disgusting. Absolutely urgent now is the rapid repatriation of victims," on Twitter.
On Friday Mr Bociurkiw said the officials, who have made on-going efforts to recover the bodies, were continually hampered with some of the rebels guarding the scene appearing drunk.
Ukraine’s officials had already accused the rebels of destroying evidence at the site and of allowing the victims to be robbed of their cash and credit cards, while the fighters stand accused of failing to provide full access to the scene to international observers, and of tampering with crucial evidence.
Mr Borodai denied the rebels had interfered with the crash investigation.
The Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans condemned reports of how the dead have been treated, 193 of which were Netherlands nationals.
“We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly… People are angry, furious,” he said on Saturday.
But it is little comfort to the families left behind, and the relatives of the 10 Britons who died on the flight. Speaking to the Telegraph, Barry Sweeney, 52, from North Tyneside, whose 28-year-old son Liam was one of the passengers on the plane, said: “I am sickened by reports of what has been happening over there and I just want Liam home.”
On Sunday Malaysia Airlines released a full list of the passengers on Flight MH17, though the names of the Britons on the flight had already been released. John Allen, a lawyer and Andrew Hoare, a banker, died on the flight with their wives and five children. Robert Ayley, a father of two who lives in New Zealand and was travelling alone, was also on board.