The West

MH17 victims step closer to home
MH17 victims step closer to home

A refrigerated train carrying the remains of Australian and other victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 has arrived in Ukraine's second-biggest city, Kharkiv, where it is expected to be met by senior Australian officials.

This will begin the process of Operation Bring Them Home in earnest.

The bodies will be offloaded at Balashovka cargo rail station, alongside an old industrial plant just southeast of the city centre.

Outside the guarded complex, where the bodies will be taken from the train, there were intense discussions between Dutch officials and members of the Special Malaysia Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team (SMART).

The Dutch, who are leading the identification and crash investigation missions, weren't able to allow all of the SMART team members into the controlled area. Just 20 were granted access. All journalists have been banned from entering the restricted zone, too.

One Malaysian reporter told AAP: “Why haven't they let us in?“

“It is out plane - we have to show the Malaysian prime minister.”

Dutch forensic specialists, while hopeful the bodies can be transferred relatively quickly to the Netherlands for identification, are aware they have a large task ahead of them.

A spokeswoman told AAP some of the remains could have to be repacked before being placed on a Dutch C130 Hercules military plane.

The bodies are also expected to pass through security scans.

Malaysian investigators have taken possession of the two black boxes from the flight, which will shed light on cockpit conversations and flight data in MH17's final moments.

Up to 39 Australian citizens and residents were among the 298 people killed when MH17 was downed, likely by a missile fired by Russia-backed separatists. The Netherlands lost almost 200 people on MH17.

The transfer of the bodies is expected to be observed by Australia's ambassador to Ukraine, Jean Dunn, and a defence attache from London.

Two other Australian consular officials are later expected to travel on the C130 Hercules to Amsterdam.

The plane will be greeted there by Australia's ambassador to the Netherlands, Neil Mules, and a defence attache from The Hague.

In Holland, forensic experts from Australia will assist in the identification process.

A number are already on the ground while many more are understood to be en route.

The identification process will likely involve using both DNA and dental records.

Canberra is hoping for a “speedy turnaround” with the Australian victims being repatriated on a RAAF aircraft.


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