GRABOVE: Around 200 Ukrainian villagers gathered Friday on a field that was cleared of the scattered charred remains and personal belongings of 298 people killed aboard Flight MH17 one year ago.
The locals — nearly all of them bused in by pro-Russian separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine — waved flags of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and carried banners accusing Kiev of killing innocent people in the ongoing battle with the rebel forces.
“Kiev — hold your fire,” read one banner.
“You were killed. But we are still being killed,” said another.
Local representatives said relatives of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash — most of the Dutch — had made private visits to the rebel-controlled crash site in the past few weeks.
No formal events were organised by foreign governments in the still-volatile industrial war zone.
Embassies of the affected countries planned small ceremonies in Kiev while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was to attend an organ concert organised jointly by the Dutch and Australian governments.
Most of those who gathered on the fields that were recently covered with parts of the Boeing 777 and the wallets and slippers of the victims rejected the idea that rebel commanders were to blame for the downing of the jet.
They paid respect to the memories of those who died by releasing white balloons handed to them by rebel leaders and waving the orange and black flags of the militia command.
“We are ready to provide all the help necessary to those who can finally prove the criminal Ukrainian regime’s responsibility for this tragedy,” Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko told the crowd.
He later unveiled a granite stone monument dedicated to the “298 innocent victims of (Ukraine’s) civil war”.
But not everyone in attendance was ready to accept the rebels’ denial of responsibility and Russia’s blaming the downing on Ukrainian government forces.
Kiev and the West point the finger at the separatists, saying they may have used a BUK surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia to down the plane.
“A year has passed and no one has been held to account for the crash,” said a 15-year-old boy who identified himself only as Alexei.
“I think that we need an international tribunal.”