To the ghastly crime of shooting down 298 civilians aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine added the unspeakable insult of preventing immediate access to the crash site by forensics experts and aviation investigators. Even worse, they allowed the bodies of the victims to fester in the summer heat for two days before finally piling most of them into refrigerated train cars.
“The victims’ remains have been subject to indignities rarely seen in the aftermath of civilian airline crashes,” The Wall Street Journal reported. There were numerous accounts of passengers’ personal belongings being looted. Credit cards and cash disappeared from wallets. Sky News even aired footage of its own reporter rifling through a victim’s suitcase.
There is no justification for such disgraceful and disrespectful abuse of the passengers’ remains, nor for the unconscionable delay in permitting outside inspectors to document the carnage and gather evidence.
Most of the dead were European citizens — 193 from the Netherlands — but when monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe arrived in the aftermath of the disaster on Friday, rebel gunmen blocked them from seeing the site. It wasn’t until yesterday that monitors were finally given unfettered access to the bodies that had been recovered. At the same time, according to Reuters, pro-Russian separatists agreed to a deal, brokered by Malaysia’s prime minister, for the victims’ remains to be transported to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and from there back to the Netherlands for identification.
There is no telling how much evidence the rebels managed to destroy or remove from the site, or how compromised any investigation may prove as a result. But there is no shortage of evidence that the attack on MH17 occurred, as US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the UN Security Council, “in the context of a crisis that has been fueled by Russian support for separatists through arms, weapons, and training.” Bringing that crisis to an end is of the utmost priority. Russia’s support for separatist aggression in Ukraine will not end until the free world, led by Washington, forces the issue through greater sanctions and tough diplomacy, backed up by credible threats of expanded assistance to the Ukrainian military. If that wasn’t obvious before 298 civilians were murdered over Ukraine last week, it is now.