By Jason Hanna and Jethro Mullen
(CNN) — The European Union on Friday stepped up pressure against Russians and others it blames for fomenting the crisis in Ukraine, banning visas and freezing the assets of 15 more people and 18 more companies and organizations.
The EU’s move, which aims to punish those supporting a months-long pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine, comes as international pressure stepped up on the rebels in a related issue: the discovery and return of more victims’ remains from last week’s crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in rebel-held territory.
Details about who was sanctioned Friday weren’t immediately available. But the EU and the United States previously have targeted Russians and Ukrainians they say have assisted the rebellion and Russia’s annexation in March of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea — such as Vladimir Shamanov, commander of Russian airborne troops.
The move brings the total number of EU sanctions in the Ukraine crisis to 87, and the number of entities to 20. The EU on Friday also widened its criteria for future sanctions, saying it would now look to punish not only those who are aiding the rebellion, but also those benefiting “from Russian decision makers responsible” for it.
Dutch families keep airport vigil
As diplomats worked on the larger Ukrainian conflict, Dutch officials were stepping up efforts to find more Flight 17 victims’ remains, many of which still are believed to be scattered in eastern Ukrainian fields more than a week after the crash.
And accusations over who was responsible for bringing down the passenger jet continue to be traded by the Ukrainian government, pro-Russian rebels and officials in Moscow and Washington.
Flight 17 was downed on July 17 by a suspected surface-to-air missile over eastern Ukraine, where groups of pro-Russian rebels are fighting Ukrainian government forces. The rebels have denied allegations from Ukraine and the West that they brought down the commercial airliner using equipment supplied by Russia.
More than 200 body bags have been transferred by train from the crash site, and some of them have been heading back to Netherlands since Wednesday. Dutch citizens comprised 193 of the 298 people aboard the downed flight, which was headed from Amsterdam to Malaysia.
At Netherlands’ Eindhoven airport Friday, Silene Fredriksz and other victims’ relatives held vigil for a third day, watching the coffins come in but not knowing whether they contained their loved ones.
“When they’re here on the Dutch grounds, I (will) feel safe,” Fredriksz told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday. “After all the horrible things I’ve seen that happened there in the Ukraine fields, it’s a big, big nightmare for us, but … when everybody’s here, I feel safe.”
Fredriksz’s son, Bryce, was on the flight with his girlfriend, Daisy Oehlers, bound for a Bali vacation. Fredriksz said she’ll be at the airport, watching the military cargo planes come in and the coffins come out, until they stop coming. As the coffins have been brought off, they have been received in solemn ceremonies.
“It’s very emotional, but also beautiful that they’re finally home,” she said.
The bodies’ arrival in Netherlands contrasts starkly with their initial treatment at the crash site, where they were left exposed to the elements for days, and in some cases, according to Dutch officials, stripped of personal belongings.
The transfer of the remains to Netherlands that were brought to Kharkiv, Ukraine, is expected to be completed by Saturday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Thursday. The work to identify them, by at least 200 international experts, is likely to take weeks or even months.
Dutch press for more MH17 remains; international team again tours site
Meanwhile, Netherlands is stepping up efforts to ensure that the remains of all the crash victims return home from Ukraine, the Dutch Prime Minister told CNN.
“We will increase our effort to bring home all the victims of this disaster,” Rutte told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday. “We will send into the crash site a large number of people from the Netherlands — experts, forensic experts, people from the police who are trained to deal with this type of work.”
He said the Dutch officials would begin their work Friday and from Sunday onward would have around 50 personnel at the site.
On Friday, a team of international officials again toured the crash site, possibly indicating a trend of increased access in an unstable area controlled by rebels whom the United States accuses of shooting down the plane.
The group included observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and investigators from Australia and Netherlands, the OSCE said.
A day earlier, CNN’s Phil Black was with a similar OSCE team as it looked for the first time beyond the grassy fields where much of the wreckage came down.
They pushed into a dense forested area, where they found small scattered pieces, but also the largest single piece of MH17’s fuselage to be discovered so far.
Black reported there appeared to be no ongoing effort Thursday to find and retrieve victims’ bodies. OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said the group saw human remains among the debris Thursday, for the second day in a row.
Crash site tensions
Tension and confusion had reigned at the crash site, which is in an unstable area controlled by pro-Russian rebels whom the United States accuses of shooting down the plane.
Officials accused the rebels who control the crash area of preventing recovery workers Thursday from searching for more bodies.
On Friday, Jan Tuinder, head of the Dutch police team, said he hoped better access could be negotiated between the rebels and the Ukrainian government.
“I just want to get in,” Tuinder said.
Sergey Bochkovskiy, the head of Ukraine’s State Emergency Services, said Thursday that “terrorists” cut off access to the area after a train carrying remains from to the city of Kharkiv left a nearby station earlier this week.
Australia sending police
Rutte told CNN that Netherlands aims to “rebuild our capacity in the field at the crash site to recover the remaining remains and, as much as possible, their personal belongings.”
Australia, which had 27 of its citizens on board the plane, says it has 90 police officers in Europe and is sending another 100 with a view to their joining a planned international deployment to provide security at the crash site.
“Australia is close to finalizing an agreement with Ukraine for the deployment of Australian police, some of whom could be armed,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference Friday.
“What we want to do is claim our dead and bring them home,” he said.
Netherlands has said it is sending 40 unarmed military police to Ukraine, and they’re expected to arrive Saturday.
CNN’s Alan Duke, Nick Paton Walsh and Brian Walker contributed to this report.
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