ROZSYPNE, Ukraine — As fighting raged in eastern Ukraine, an international team of investigators on Thursday reached the crash site of the Malaysian Airline Flight 17 and got a first look at where it was brought down by a missile two weeks ago.
Clashes along routes to the wreckage site between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels had kept the delegation from reaching the area to retrieve bodies that have been lying in open fields where midsummer temperatures have hovered around 90 degrees for the last several weeks.
But the investigators were allowed early Thursday afternoon through a checkpoint leading to the crash site at the village of Rozsypne by a rifle-toting militiaman who then fired a warning shot to prevent reporters from accompanying the convoy.
The militiaman, who gave his name only as Sergei, said there was still fighting happening in Rozsypne as the Ukrainian army continues an offensive to take back swatches of territory from the rebels.
The team of police and forensic experts, which comprises members from the Netherlands and Australia, are expected to initially focus their efforts on retrieving bodies still on the site and collecting victims’ belongings.
As many as 80 bodies are still at the site, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation from Ukraine.
Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a “day of quiet” was declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
But Associated Press reporters near the crash site confirmed Thursday that clashes were still taking place in the immediate vicinity of where the Boeing 777 came down.
Reporters who attempted to reach the crash site by another route were warned by residents that some nearby roads have been mined and saw a mortar round land near Hrabove, another village around which fragments of the plane remain uncollected.
Thursday’s drive took the convoy of investigators and Organization for Security and Cooperation officials from the rebel-held city of Donetsk through the town of Debaltseve, which was earlier this week retaken by the government, and later back into rebel territory.
Armored personnel carriers and waving the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag could be seen in and around Debaltseve.
At one entrance to Debaltseve, local residents walked along a pontoon erected over the remains of a blown-up bridge.
A delegation from Russia’s state aviation body said Thursday it also hoped to visit the site, an agency spokesman said.
Sergei Izvolsky told the AP that a delegation of Russian specialists from Rosaviatsiya was due in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Thursday to work with Australian and Dutch investigators and examine the wreckage of the plane. Representatives of the Dutch and Ukrainian commissions would not comment on the arrival of Russian officials.
Ukraine’s parliament, meanwhile, voted not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Yatsenyuk had said last week he was resigning after two parties left the coalition supporting him and parliament balked at passing laws he said were essential to fund the country’s war against pro-Russian separatists.
While the confidence vote ensures some continuity in the country’s turbulent political system, President Petro Poroshenko has said he wants new parliamentary elections held soon.
The current legislature is a leftover of the period of rule of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in February. Before Yanukovych’s ouster, parliament was dominated by his Party of Regions, which has since lost many of its members to defection.
Associated Press reporter David McHugh in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.