Shelling in central Donetsk claims at least four lives and sows panic among residents

Ukraine’s rebels allow transfer of plane crash bodies and “black boxes”

Armed pro-Russian separatists stand guard near the train transporting the remains of victims from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane before its departure, with bags and suitcases of passengers seen in the foreground, yesterday. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Armed pro-Russian separatists stand guard near the train transporting the remains of victims from the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane before its departure, with bags and suitcases of passengers seen in the foreground, yesterday. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:01

“Everyone on the buses! Everyone still here should get on a bus and get away!”

As the lady screamed at her neighbours to flee shelling that had already killed four people living near Donetsk’s central railway station, Irina and her husband scurried between the waiting minibuses and made for their car.

Irina moved as quickly as she could, considering that she had recently left hospital and was cradling her tiny daughter in her arms. “Dariya is three days old,” she said, lowering herself gingerly into the back of the car as the baby slept in a white blanket.

“We are escaping to the Odessa region. How could we stay here?”

The humid air over this heavily populated district of Donetsk periodically shook with brutal, rapid thuds from Grad multiple rocket launchers and single, heavy blows apparently struck by artillery guns or mortars.

In the courtyard of an apartment block a few hundred metres away, a pair of old black shoes lay beside a hole gouged by a shell and the smeared blood of a woman who was killed when it struck yesterday morning.

Terror of war

The violence brought the terror of war closer to the heart of Donetsk, a rapidly emptying industrial city that was formerly home to one million people, and is now being dragged into the epicentre of fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels.

The deadly shelling also complicated a bid to move the bodies of most of 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines disaster out of eastern Ukraine, and jeopardised efforts by international experts to investigate the Boeing 777’s fate.

The remains of passengers on last Thursday’s Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight which disintegrated over eastern Ukraine were yesterday briefly examined by Dutch forensic specialists at a train station in the small town of Torez, about 80km east of Donetsk.

Wearing masks and using torches, they opened some of the refrigerated wagons that had been sitting on the platform since the early hours of Sunday, waiting for agreement between Kiev and the separatists about where they would go.

“I think the storage of the bodies is of good quality,” said Peter Van Vliet, leader of a Dutch team whose work was watched by dozens of rebel gunmen. “Now we hope that the train will leave so that we can do the necessary analyses.”

Mr Van Vliet said he had been given a “promise” that the train would depart, but he did not know when or where it would go.

Just after 7pm last night, the train and its grim cargo did pull out of the tiny station, but officials in Kiev could not confirm its destination.

Ukraine’s new pro-western leaders, who came to power after a revolution that ousted Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in February, want the bodies taken to the government-controlled eastern city of Kharkiv, where a crisis response centre has been created.

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