Dutch experts yesterday prepared to fly out bodies recovered from downed Malaysian flight MH17, as Europe moved to punish Russia for fanning the rebellion in east Ukraine that it believes led to the crash.
A train carrying the remains of the victims arrived in the government-held Ukrainian city of Kharkiv five days after the jet was brought down, after rebels controlling the crash site finally released the bodies and plane's black boxes under intense international pressure.
But that was only the first leg of the long journey home for many of the 298 crash victims, with the bodies to be flown today first to the Netherlands, which had 193 citizens aboard the doomed flight and is taking the lead in investigating the disaster.
It would also be the start of a complex investigation and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that the identification of the bodies alone could take months as experts from the Netherlands said they were only sure 200 bodies had been delivered so far.
Experts from Malaysia, reeling from their flagship carrier's second disaster in only four months after flight MH370 went missing in the Indian Ocean, said the black boxes were "intact with only minor damage."
A truce has been declared by rival sides around the impact site, but close by fighting raged on as government troops pushed on with an offensive to wrest control of east Ukraine's industrial heartland from the pro-Moscow rebels.
In Brussels, European foreign ministers decided to prepare defence sector sanctions against Moscow, accused of arming the rebels who allegedly shot down MH17 and the EU was due to announce a new list of sanction targets, including Russian personalities and entities, tomorrow.
After intense international focus on what world leaders denounced as a "shambolic" situation at the crash site, rebels handed over two black boxes, which record cockpit activity and flight data, to Malaysian officials.
The rebels followed Kiev in announcing a ceasefire around the impact site in a move that should help international investigators examine the vast area, a forensic minefield littered with poignant fragments from hundreds of destroyed lives.
The sanction decision came as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has borne the brunt of international fury, yesterday pledged to "do everything" to influence the separatists and ensure a full probe into the crash.
Moscow had earlier slapped down accusations that it had supplied the missile system allegedly used to attack MH17, with a senior defence official intimating that Kiev may have been responsible for its downing.
Russia is already suffering the consequences of several rounds of sanctions imposed by the West, with the latest set unveiled less than a week ago.
But more pain is still to come as Austria's foreign minister Sebastian Kurz said the European Commission "will be tasked to prepare targeted sanctions in the sectors of key technology and military."
Britain said an arms embargo would send a "very clear message" to Moscow. Lithuania backed the proposal with its Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius saying of the downing of MH17: "We are talking about a terrorist act."