More remains found at MH17 plane crash site in Ukraine
(CNN) — Despite mortar fire echoing Saturday in the distance, the international team combing through the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine felt safe enough to carry out its recovery mission for a second consecutive day.
A respite from the fighting close to the July 17 crash site meant free reign for two cadaver dogs and 70 recovery team members. They scoured the debris field left by MH17, and they found human remains and personal belongings in and around a chicken farm near the village of Grabovo, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch recovery mission, said in a statement.
“We would like to thank all parties that have once again facilitated our access to the crash site,” Aalbersberg said. “This is of great importance to the international police officers, the experts and, especially, the victims’ families.”
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman had said government forces would try to maintain a halt in hostilities on the route to the crash site.
Because of the ongoing battles between pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian government, Saturday was only the third day that monitors and experts had unrestricted access to the site since Flight 17 was brought down by a suspected surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people aboard.
July 25 was the only date before Friday that a “full visit had been possible,” according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which escorted the experts to the crash site.
The pro-Russia rebels have denied allegations from Ukraine and the West that they shot down the commercial airliner, or that Russia supplied equipment used to shoot it down.
High-level negotiations between Ukraine and the rebels have been necessary to allow the team of Dutch and Australian experts and their convoy of vehicles to cross and re-cross front lines in order to get to the crash site.
The team has set up a new base in the town of Soledar, to the northwest of the debris field, Aalbersberg said. But the recovery mission still has personnel in the cities of Kharkiv and Donetsk, the latter a rebel stronghold that has seen fighting this week.
Fighting continues away from crash site
Around noon on Saturday, the OSCE escorts at the crash site heard mortar fire, but they determined it was too far away to pose a threat to the recovery team, so the mission continued without delay, Aalbersberg said.
On Friday, 10 Ukrainian paratroopers were killed near Shakhtarsk, less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the crash area, when their convoy came under attack from rebel forces, according to the Facebook page of Ukraine’s Counter-Terrorist Operation.
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a briefing Friday that Russia was “actively preparing firing positions for shelling Ukrainian territory” and has positioned 17 Grad rocket systems in its Bryansk region, about three miles from the border with Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s Ukrinform news agency.
Russia blasts EU for arms supply
Russia is accusing the European Union of lifting a ban on military supplies to Ukraine “on the quiet.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the European Union is using a “double standard” in lifting the ban, which was imposed in February during pro-European demonstrations in Kiev.
“We urge our colleagues in the EU to follow common sense and not just listen to Washington’s instructions,” the statement said. “It is still not too late to renew the ban now.”
On Friday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced about $8 million in new assistance to the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service.
It includes “engineering equipment for improving infrastructure along Ukraine’s borders, transport and patrol vehicles, surveillance equipment to extend the visual range of border security patrols, and small boats to conduct maritime patrol and interdiction operations.”
CNN’s Pavel Drotenko and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.