GRABOVE, Ukraine - An Australian couple who lost their daughter in downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 visited the crash site on Saturday, the first relatives of victims to arrive at the scene, as Dutch and Australian forces prepared for possible deployment to secure the location in rebel-held east Ukraine.
A truce has been called in the immediate area around the site by both the Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists, but combat was raging just 60km away, with loud explosions heard at regular intervals in western and northern suburbs of rebel stronghold Donetsk.
Ignoring safety warnings, Jerzy Dyczynski and Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski travelled to the scene of the crash without any escort, saying they were fulfilling a promise to their only child that they would be there.
"She was full of life," said Angela of their 25-year-old daughter Fatima, an aerospace engineering student who died when the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur plane was shot down July 17, killing all 298 people on board.
She and her husband, who wore a T-shirt with the words "Fatima: We Love You" were overcome with emotion as they walked among the wreckage and scorched earth, and laid a large bouquet of flowers on part of the debris.
Angela said they did not have enough money for the journey but received donations from neighbours.
Her daughter, who was studying for a master's degree in aerospace engineering in Delft in The Netherlands, had wanted to be a pilot when she was a little girl.
The couple had arrived on a minibus at the separatist-held zone, ignoring their government's safety warnings, and said they reached the area thanks to a Ukrainian couple. Dyczynski, a doctor, was quoted by Australian media earlier saying he was hoping to find their child alive.
He said Fatima could have been flung out of the plane and had she still been strapped in her seat, this could have cushioned the impact of hitting the ground.
The MH17 tragedy has touched a nerve in Australia, which had 28 citizens and at least nine permanent residents aboard the flight.
The Dyczynskis first travelled to The Netherlands to provide medical and DNA samples to Dutch investigators examining human remains flown over from the site.
They then flew to Kiev and made their way to Donetsk and then on to the site without any armed escort.
Her father had told the newspaper The Australian that his hopes were raised by news reports that relatives who called the phones of loved ones on the flight had them answered by strangers.
"We go to the site where the aircraft was attacked," he was quoted as saying. "We want to search for her.
"Nobody speaks about survivors and there must be a reason for it. There is some evidence there are survivors still."
Dutch experts sought to travel to the site on Saturday but turned back because of safety concerns.
The rebels who are accused of shooting down the plane with a missile from Russia have signalled they are only open to allowing a small group of Australian and Dutch officers in.
But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stressed that it is a "humanitarian mission".
"It's the presence of unrecovered remains that makes it more important than ever that an international team be dispatched," he said.
"Others can get involved if they wish in the politics of eastern Europe. Our sole concern is to claim our dead and to bring them home."
The Netherlands is planning to send 60 officers and said troops had been consigned to barracks and had leave cancelled ahead of the planned mission.
Australia is sending 190 police along with a small number of its defence forces to the Netherlands in view of the mission.