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A local resident stands among the wreckage at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane in Grabovo in rebel-held east Ukraine on July 19, 2014. / Alexander Khudoteply, AFP/Getty Images

HRABOVE, Ukraine - Local residents near the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet laid flowers and teddy bears at a makeshift memorial Saturday as they continued to try to make sense of the tragedy.

Residents say they have only now been able to absorb what happened after witnessing the fireball, bodies and plane pieces raining down amid thick clouds of smoke when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down Thursday, killing all 298 on board.

"I have digested all of it, more or less," said Alexander Ivanovich, who lives nearby and witnessed the crash. "It shocked me. Only now can I fully understand it."

Hrabove residents held a special mass for the victims Saturday afternoon, with a procession through town following the ceremony. On the road near the crash site, locals left small items and lit candles in honor of the victims. Miners went to the scene to assist with the ongoing search for items and bodies.

Retired miner Alexander Vasilovich said he saw the plane "fall from the sky" and came to the scene Saturday to offer his condolences as his daughter cried next to him.

"What happened here is a tragedy," he said.

On a dirt road near the site Saturday morning, separatist officials from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic's ministry of internal affairs began moving bodies in what appeared to be an unorganized and ad hoc operation.

At one point, about 15 bodies had been laid out on the rural road.

"Experts are removing the bodies," a separatist soldier who identified himself only as Commander Ugriumny and seemed to be in charge told reporters. "Where we will move them, we will wait and see."

Locals here say they feel lucky the plane and its debris missed their homes, with some attributing that good fortune to a clergyman who came by a few days before the crash and blessed their houses.

Elena Alexandrova Brashenko says she hears explosions regularly and has gotten used to them, but the massive explosion Thursday caught her attention.

"I ran out into the street to see what's going on, saw huge fireball, I went to see if next house (was) OK and saw pieces had crashed onto the roof," she said, recalling two separate explosions. "It's incredible how none of our houses were damaged, that we survived."

"I have no idea who is responsible," she added. "This is terrible."

Ugriumny told reporters not to forget what is going on in the region.

"Of course this is a tragedy," he said. "But wasn't it a tragedy when Ukrainian army bombed here and killed many children? Why didn't you come here when they shelled these towns?"

Bhatti reported from Berlin.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Witnesses to Malaysia crash try to make sense of tragedy

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