In Wake of MH17 Crash, Civilian Casualties Mount in East Ukraine

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In Wake of MH17 Crash, Civilian Casualties Mount in East Ukraine

International observers confirm they have accessed site and remains of crash casualties

Shelling of the Russian-owned Lisichansk oil refinery in Ukraine. (Screenshot via UkrStream.tv)

While much is being said about the remains of downed Malaysia Airline flight MH17 and the location of the 298 casualties of the crash, little is being reported on the mounting civilian deaths in eastern Ukraine as government troops have escalated their attack on the rebel-held region in the days following Thursday's tragedy.

According to international journalist Harriet Salem, the Red Cross in Luhansk is reporting that 44 civilians have been killed in the past two days as a result of the heavy shelling of the region.

On Friday, the BBC reported that Ukrainian government troops had captured the southeastern section of the city and had surrounded the airport. Electricity and water supplies were both cut off in much of the city and the Russian-owned Lisichansk oil refinery was set on fire.

“The shells are bombarding practically all the residential districts of the city, including its center," the Luhansk People’s Republic press service reported Friday.

On Sunday, officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that they had accessed the crash site in eastern Ukraine, the ITAR TASS New Agency reports.

According to OSCE spokesman Michael Bochurkiv, the international observers were brought by armed guards to the crash site as well as to a railway station in the town of Torez where they were shown "3-4 refrigerator railroad cars used to keep the bodies of the crash victims." He added that at that time they were unable to verify how many bodies had been collected.

Denying earlier reports that the observers were not allowed to access the crash site, Alexander Borodai, Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic told Ekho Moskvy radio, that the observers had been restricted because of the proximity of the crash zone to "Ukrainian machine guns."

Borodai said that patrolmen "proposed" that the observers not enter "for one simple reason: that if they had come under Ukrainian machine gun fire, responsibility would be shouldered on us.”

The rebels on Sunday confirmed that they had retrieved the plane's black boxes and said they would turn them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization, although it was not specified when that would occur.

According to reports, the UN Security Council is currently contemplating a draft resolution demanding that "armed groups in control of the crash site and the surrounding area refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site and immediately provide safe, secure, full and unfettered access to the site and surrounding area."

The draft resolution also "insists that the bodies of the victims are treated in a dignified, respectful and professional manner."

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