Skip to main content

Deemed too dangerous, search for MH17 victims in Ukraine halted for now

By Nick Paton Walsh and Susanna Capelouto, CNN
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Search for MH17 victims was halted because of fighting near the crash site
  • Ukrainian government forces are closing in on pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk
  • Russia asks Security Council for hearing on humanitarian crisis in Ukraine
  • Russian troops could portend an intervention under the banner of a peacekeeping operation

(CNN) -- Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine has forced authorities to suspend the search for victims who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky.

"The Dutch mission at the crash site of MH17 has stopped," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Wednesday.

Search teams plan to return to the plane crash site, Rutte said. But he didn't give a date of when that might happen.

"We have done what we could do in the current conditions," Rutte said. "Everyone will agree with us that we should not expose our people to unnecessary risk."

Putin issues retaliatory ban on food imports

NATO: Russian troops could move quickly
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in mid-July in eastern Ukraine. Here, a woman walks with her bicycle near the crash site on Saturday, August 2. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed in mid-July in eastern Ukraine. Here, a woman walks with her bicycle near the crash site on Saturday, August 2.
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Violence on the rise in Donetsk
Reporting in Ukraine as fighters close in

Constant shelling was heard north of Donetsk on Wednesday evening.

And small-arms fire came very close to the investigation team at the crash site Wednesday, forcing them to withdraw from the site, said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the recovery mission.

Searchers are disappointed they haven't been able to complete their mission, he said. But he said they did make significant headway, recovering human remains and personal belongings like photo albums, diaries and toys.

"We aim to return to the crash site as soon as we have the opportunity to work there for a longer period under stable conditions," he said.

Uptick in Donetsk violence

Ukrainian forces continued their attempt to take back control of the restive city of Donetsk from pro-Russian separatists Wednesday.

Russia's Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement Monday that the Ukrainian military was firing missiles and using multiple rocket systems in and around the city.

It accused Ukraine's government of wanting to continue the war and called for talks to find a political solution to the crisis.

With escalated fighting and Ukrainian forces making gains, the Russian deployment at the border could portend an intervention under the banner of a peacekeeping operation.

Russia asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday for an emergency hearing on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine

Russian troop buildup

The buildup of Russian troops along the Ukraine border is raising concerns that Moscow might be contemplating another intervention similar to the one that annexed Crimea earlier this year.

According to a NATO official, Russia now has about 20,000 troops stationed "in an area along the entire border with eastern Ukraine." The buildup nearly doubled the troop deployment in the past week by adding 8,000 more forces to 12,000 already there, the official said.

In addition, Russia's Defense Ministry is staging a week of military exercises involving air troops and anti-missile defense forces. The exercises are taking place in Russia's southern Astrakhan region, roughly 500 miles from the border with Ukraine.

Similar military exercises preceded Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, which escalated the Ukraine conflict after the ouster of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych a month earlier.

Refugees flee conflict

The ongoing fighting has killed close to 1,400 people -- civilians and combatants -- and more than 4,000 people have been wounded in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, according to U.N. officials.

The fighting has also forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and seek shelter either elsewhere in Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Tuesday that the Russian authorities estimate that around 730,000 Ukrainians have sought sanctuary in Russia this year under a visa-free travel program. This includes more than 168,000 who have reported to Russia's Federal Migration Service.

UNHCR's European director, Vincent Cochetel, told journalists in Geneva that about 80% of the Ukrainians who have fled to Russia are staying in border areas, while others are with friends or family in other parts of the country.

Many people in eastern Ukraine are Russian-speaking and have strong ties to Russia.

At the same time, nearly 118,000 people are reported to be internally displaced, most of them from eastern Ukraine, based on information given to the UNHCR by Ukrainian authorities and local NGOs.

"In the past seven days more than 6,200 people have been forced from their homes," Cochetel said.

Many have fled with limited possessions, some driven out by the destruction of homes and infrastructure, while others say they fear being caught in the crossfire or suffering persecution.

John Ging, operations director of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, called on all sides Tuesday to allow people to move freely and safely.

"The humanitarian situation is deteriorating, and the worrying increase in violence in urban areas puts a greater number of people at risk.

"Until violence is ended, we will continue to see an increase in human suffering, and in the number of people displaced. Immediate action is required to prevent this crisis from worsening," he said, according to prepared remarks.

Who are Ukraine's pro-Russia rebels?

CNN's Mick Krever and Anna Maja Rappard contributed to this story

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1258 GMT (2058 HKT)
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of "high-energy objects" from outside, according to a report.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1140 GMT (1940 HKT)
The report into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 says everything. And yet it says nothing about the cause of the plane's crash and the criminals.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
"There were many scenes that defied logic," writes OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw, who was one of the first international observers to arrive at the site.
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2255 GMT (0655 HKT)
During the last four months, the people of Ukraine have been fighting for their freedom, independence and European path in a war started by Russia-backed terrorists and their accomplices.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1857 GMT (0257 HKT)
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
The mother of two brothers killed in the MH17 plane crash has spoken of her regret at not taking her youngest son's fears over the flight seriously.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
A long line of hearses, accompanied by police, carried the remains slowly toward a Dutch military base, where forensic investigators will begin the grim work of identifying them.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Seeing the images of the mangled wreckage of an aircraft after a crash is difficult for any flight attendant.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2304 GMT (0704 HKT)
The United States and its allies are angrier at Russia now over Ukraine, but will they do anything more about it -- especially Europe?
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0700 GMT (1500 HKT)
When passengers boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, they couldn't have known they were about to fly over a battlefield.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
The horrifying crash has put the pro-Russia rebels center stage -- and raised all kinds of questions about who they are, what they want and who's in charge.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1704 GMT (0104 HKT)
Aerial photos show the scale of the crash site and help investigators to answer lingering questions.
ADVERTISEMENT