Effort To Secure MH17 Crash Site On Hold Amid Fresh Fighting

Fighting in Ukraine near the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 has international investigators staying away. NPR's Arun Rath talks with OSCE's Michael Bociurkiw about the investigation.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath sitting in for Rachel Martin. In Ukraine, an international effort to secure the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is currently on hold. Inspectors called off their work today as fighting between pro-Russian separatists and government troops broke out in the area. Earlier efforts to reach the site where a missile brought down the plane had also been hampered by heavily armed pro-Russian rebels. So far, most of the bodies of the 298 victims have been sent to the Netherlands to be identified. We reached Michael Bociurkiw in Donetsk. He's with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW: Well, things have changed quite dramatically for us in the past few hours. We were ready to deploy before we tried to set off at around midday here. We were receiving reports of crashes in the area of the crash site. Now it's unclear how close it is. We're getting some conflicting reports, but all the channels of information were enough for us to take a decision to not deploy today and stay put in Donetsk.

RATH: Wow. So has the OSCE been able to get to that crash site, the debris field at all?

BOCIURKIW: Oh, yes. We've been able to go there for seven or eight consecutive days. And then with the exception of the first day, the access was actually quite good in terms of the amount of time we could spend out there and also the geography that we covered.

RATH: Now as it gets farther away from the actual downing of the plane, you know, 10 days now, how hard does that make it for investigators to do their work?

BOCIURKIW: Our role here is really to document and record what we see day after day. In addition to that, we help facilitate access to the site by the experts. A lot of this, I should point out - is negotiator agreed to it in Kiev. It's called the tripartite contract group, which includes senior representatives of the Russian administration, Ukraine and the OSCE to determine an office. They have been using established channels with the rebel group here to negotiate things like access. They also spoke to them quite a few days ago about providing care and dignity to the bodies and human remains, that sort of thing.

RATH: And so how is that being balanced now? I mean, how much is still a recovery effort involving the bodies and the task of finding out exactly what happened?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah. We have, you know, located some small parts of human remains. But really, of course, the most obvious thing in front of our eyes when we get there are the huge pieces of debris. There's a huge each piece of fuselage in a wooded area. And I should also point out that at some of the sites, there's a lot of toxicity there, if I can put it that way. So, you know, some of the work there will require (unintelligible), that sort of thing. And in addition, for any debris to be collected, clearly heavy equipment will be needed.

RATH: Prior to the security situation - the problems that you were describing when we first started speaking - prior to that, had you had greater cooperation from the rebels?

BOCIURKIW: Well, you know, we've been on the ground here for three months in the initial monitoring mission. We're in 10 cities in Ukraine with close to 300 monitors. So, yeah. We have established channels of communication with them. You know, and there was a period - a difficult period of one month not long ago where eight of our colleagues were being held captive, and then they were released. This has certainly helped in, you know, facilitating access to the crash site not only for us, but, of course, for the experts who are arriving here day after day.

RATH: Michael Bociurkiw is with the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Thank you very much.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure.

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