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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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July 23rd, 2014
06:24 PM ET

Long journey home for MH17 victims

(CNN) – In many of their hearts were dreams of beaches, tranquil vacations. Aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were 298 lives, taken in Ukraine, in a war they may have known little of.

After days of painful pleading with separatists, a train of five refrigerated wagons brought them closer to a resting place.

But behind closed walls, began the grim task of working out how many human souls were in the body bags on board.

A journey that began so unceremoniously, and could only grow in dignity.

A Dutch C130 carried 16 coffins, four loaded in silence. Ukraine's embattled Army honored them as they could, global opinion at one in sadness.

"We stand together today united in grief, with the families and friends who have lost people they cherish," Angus Houston, special envoy to the Australian Prime Minister, said in Ukraine.

It was as much dignity as could be afforded the bodies on perhaps the easiest part of their journey back yet to the Netherlands.

Forty coffins in total were carried out today, the rest they hope by Friday. Only then can forensic science begin to work out who, and how many they were.

As they landed in Eindhoven airfield, the noise of recrimination was drowned out by a more powerful silence of respect, and grief.

The Netherlands planes' briefly stopped flights; paused entirely for a minute.

They played the Last Post on the bugle – normally for fallen soldiers – instead for these, perhaps victims of a war crime.

The line of hearses – this for only one seventh of those killed – witness to how mammoth and sickening this loss is to the Netherlands.

Even when these processions end, the search for bodies may not, some perhaps left in that field in Ukraine.

Their families left with only time to help cope with loss, and forget how MH17 came to end.

CNN's Kim Berryman contributed to this report.

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