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Updated: Wed, 23 Jul 2014 05:31:49 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Ukraine pays tribute to victims



Honour guards take part in a ceremony with coffins of some of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine before they are being loaded on to a transport plane heading to the Netherlands at Kharkiv airport July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (© UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TRANSPORT DISASTER)

Honour guards take part in a ceremony with coffins of some of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine before they are being loaded on to a transport plane heading to the Netherlands at Kharkiv airport July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TRANSPORT DISASTER) - RTR3ZRRI Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Ukraine began a departure ceremony Wednesday for the bodies of Malaysia Airlines passengers and crew who became victims of fighting raging far below them on the plains of eastern Ukraine.

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Deputy Prime Minister VolodymyrGroysman said Wednesday's ceremony was set to begin at 11 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) at the airport in Kharkiv, but it started slightly later than originally planned. Dutch officials say at least 200 bodies had arrived there in refrigerated railroad cars a day earlier.

The number of bodies that made it to Kharkiv was significantly less than the number originally reported by separatist rebels in Ukraine's east, who said that more than 280 bodies has been loaded onto the refrigerated cars for transfer. 

The Dutch government declared a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon. The crash on Thursday killed all 298 people — most of them Dutch citizens — aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

- WATCH | Dutch victims' families share grief, anger

Dutch government spokesman Lodewijk Hekking said about 60 coffins were expected to arrive Wednesday afternoon on two military transport planes, one Dutch and one Australian.

Hundreds of relatives were expected to travel to Eindhoven air base where Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte will wait for the flights.

On Wednesday morning, the Ukrainian government's special investigation commission said that the downed jet's black boxes arrived in the U.K. to be analyzed. 

U.S. finds no direct link to Russia

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

The plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, the intelligence officials said, citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

But the officials said they did not know who fired the missile or whether any Russian operatives were present at the missile launch. They were not certain that the missile crew was trained in Russia, although they described a stepped-up campaign in recent weeks by Russia to arm and train the rebels, which they say has continued even after the downing of the commercial jetliner.

Despite the fuzziness of some details, however, the intelligence officials said the case that the separatists were responsible for shooting down the plane was solid. Other scenarios — such as that the Ukrainian military shot down the plane — are implausible, they said. No Ukrainian surface-to-air missile system was in range.

From satellites, sensors and other intelligence gathering, officials said, they know where the missile originated — in separatist-held territory — and what its flight path was. But if they possess satellite or other imagery of the missile being fired, they did not release it Tuesday. A graphic they made public depicts their estimation of the missile's flight path with a green line. The jet's flight path was available from air traffic control data.

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