KIEV - The remains of the last nine victims of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH17 may never be recovered from the Ukrainian battlefield where their plane was downed four months ago, the Dutch foreign minister said Saturday, as fighting rumbled on in the east of the country.
Foreign Minister Bert Koenders made the grim assessment in the city of Kharkiv, where he attended a memorial service for five more sets of human remains collected from the site of the disaster and flown to The Netherlands.
Another ceremony attended by some 1,600 friends and relatives was planned to take place in The Netherlands on Monday.
"We cannot say at this moment in any certain way ... at what moment, and even if, we can recover the last nine victims," he said of the air crash that killed all 298 on board, including 193 Dutch.
The shooting down of the MAS Boeing 777 on July 17 was one of the worst tragedies of a war in which an estimated 4,000 people have died. So far, the remains of 289 of those victims have been identified.
Ukraine and the West blame Russian-backed separatist fighters using surface-to-air missiles for the catastrophe, while Moscow has pointed the finger at Kiev's forces, in an incident that galvanised international shock over the chaos in a country bordering the European Union.
Ukraine reported more bloody fighting, with eight of its soldiers killed in the last 24 hours, as Moscow denied claims it had sent tanks across the border.
Ukraine's military said one of those killed was a paratrooper shot by a sniper in Donetsk international airport, where government forces are defending a pocket of territory near the biggest rebel-held city.
Seventeen other soldiers were wounded in shelling of government positions around the conflict zone, according to updates from the military. The fighting rumbled on in the industrial east despite a two-month-old ceasefire deal that has halted significant offensives, but failed to stop shelling at strategic flashpoints.