Ukrainian officials Saturday accused pro-Russian separatists of hiding evidence — moving the weapons thought to have shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and removing 38 bodies from the crash site — that will impede the investigation of the attack that killed 298 people.
Speaking at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center in Kiev, officials claimed that armed Russian separatists “forced Ukrainian officials from the Emergencies Ministry, the Interior Ministry and the procurator to leave the crash site,” according to a government news release.
“The Russian mercenaries then loaded the bodies into a truck and delivered them to a morgue in the city of Donetsk,” the statement said.
The reason was to remove missile shrapnel from the bodies, which would make it more difficult to prove that a Russian missile took down the plane, the Ukrainian statement alleged.
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said, “The cynicism of these bandits has exceeded any limits.”
Ukrainian Ministry of Interior adviser Anton Herashchenko posted on his Facebook page that Russia had removed the Buk anti-aircraft missile system that shot down the jet from Ukraine.
He contends that Russia has taken it back to Russia for destruction. The Buk system is central to any investigation.
In Donetsk, separatist leader Alexander Borodai denied that any bodies had been transferred or that the rebels had in any way interfered with the work of observers.
He said he encouraged the involvement of the international community in assisting with the cleanup before the conditions of the bodies worsens significantly.
Ukraine called on Moscow to insist that the pro-Russia rebels grant international experts the ability to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into the downing of the plane — echoing a demand that President Barack Obama issued a day earlier from Washington.
The Ukrainian government and separatist rebels accuse each other of shooting down the Boeing 777 with a surface-to-air missile. Many see the hand of Russia, either for its alleged support of the insurgents or perhaps firing the missile itself. The crash site is near the Russian border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in a phone call Saturday that the sides should enter talks and stop fighting, according to a Kremlin statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. counterpart John Kerry took a similar view, a Foreign Ministry statement said.
The location of the jetliner’s black boxes is unknown, and the separatist leadership remained adamant Saturday that it hadn’t located them.
A spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, which has a 24-member delegation that was given limited access to the crash site, also said he had received no information on the black boxes’ whereabouts.
Aviation experts, however, said not to expect too much from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders regarding the destruction of Flight 17.
The most useful evidence that’s likely to come from the crash scene is whether missile pieces can be found in the trail of debris that came down as the plane exploded, said John Goglia, a U.S. aviation safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board member.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian security ministry released a video in which officials contended that they have evidence proving pro-Russian separatists had the capability to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines jet that killed 298 people.
The video asserts that on Thursday, the day of the attack, Ukrainian counterintelligence received what it considered reliable information that separatists had received the Buk anti-aircraft system thought to have brought down Flight 17 and the Russian military staff that would know how to operate it.
The video begins by showing scenes of the wreckage and noting, “The Security Service of Ukraine has established certain circumstances of the terrorist act committed on July 17.”
The video goes on to note that “the available information allows to assert that the Boeing 777 was shot down by terrorists of the Donetsk People’s Republic with the use of Buk anti-aircraft missile system capable of hitting aircraft at high altitudes.”
The Ukrainian notes that at the time of the shooting, the presence of the Buk system in the hands of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern edge of Ukraine had not been fully confirmed.
Information gathered that day, before and after the plane crashed, offers the evidence needed to prove the involvement of both the separatists and the Russian Federation, the video asserts.
The video, the Ukrainians say, then shows a conversation between a leading separatist and an officer of Russian military intelligence at 7:12 p.m. Monday.
In it, the separatist leader notes, “We already have Buk. We’ll be shooting them down to hell.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.