Locals recall bodies ‘falling from the sky’ on Flight MH17 anniversary

The victims of Flight MH17 are remembered
The victims of Flight MH17 are remembered

Residents of the Ukrainian village where a Malaysian airliner was shot down with 298 people on board a year ago began a procession to the crash site today, while the Australian prime minister remembered the "savagery" of the disaster by unveiling a plaque set in soil from the place the plane went down.

The two ceremonies came amid an escalating war of words over who was responsible for destroying the plane.

Ukrainian and Western authorities say the plane was downed by a missile fired either by rebels or Russian troops who allegedly back them.

The rebels and Moscow say it was hit by a Ukrainian war plane or a Ukrainian-fired missile.

In Hrabove, villagers carrying flowers gathered in the church in the centre of the village at the start of a procession to the site in nearby fields.

Some villagers recalled the horrific scenes as bodies fell from the sky.

“People came out of their houses to see a boy without a head, who was lying there,” said one villager.

“Then I saw a girl. She was coming down from the sky, whirling in the air. Then she fell into my neighbour’s vegetable patch.”

The commemoration, organised by local leaders and the Russia-backed separatist rebels who control the area, will include the dedication of a small stone with a plaque in the field.

The passengers included 38 Australian citizens and permanent residents who were among the 298 people on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 2014, when it was shot down.

In Canberra, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott unveiled a plaque inscribed with the names of Australian victims, which is set in soil that a police officer brought back from Ukraine.

"He knew that the place where MH17 came to rest was sacred and that a piece of it should come back to Australia," Mr Abbott said. "It was a humane and decent thing for him to know and do. It was a contrast to the savagery that brought down the plane."

Mr Abbott and his wife then lay a wreath at the base of the plaque. Dozens of family members of the victims followed, many in tears as they lay flowers alongside the wreath in honour of their loved ones. Some kissed the bouquets before they placed them down, while others kissed their fingers and pressed them against the plaque.

Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine have asked the United Nations Security Council to establish an international criminal tribunal to prosecute those responsible for shooting down the plane.

Russia, however, is opposing a proposed resolution to establish a tribunal for the crash, and has veto power in the Security Council.

In Hrabove the procession mainly consisted of women and children, who carried icons and chanted Orthodox liturgical music.

The perimeter of the procession was guarded by men in Soviet military uniforms. About 100 people carried the flags of the countries of the victims as well as the separatist flags, and stood by a small stone at the crash site which bore a plaque saying: "To the memory of 298 dead, innocent victims of the civil war."