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Shelling adds to MH17 nightmare for east Ukraine village

Three months after debris and bodies from doomed flight MH17 rained down on them, residents of the village of Grabove in eastern Ukraine still look fearfully to the sky - PHOTO: AFP

[Grabove] Three months after debris and bodies from doomed flight MH17 rained down on them, residents of the village of Grabove in eastern Ukraine still look fearfully to the sky.

Now they watch for missiles and mortars being fired by Ukrainian and rebel forces battling nearby.

"What worries us is over there," said a woman signalling a neighbouring village from where artillery blasts boomed.

"It's been like that for more than a month," she told AFP, refusing to give her name. "It's a nightmare, day and night." All around there still lie reminders of the fateful day in July when the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot out of the sky.

A huge chunk of fuselage sits next to a country road, several metres from a pair of passenger seats. Further away, a piece of engine lies in the middle of a field.

Personal belongings, from a set of playing cards to a half-burnt pair of pants or a vitamin box, are strewn around - haunting memorials to the 298 people who died on the plane.

"We see them every day, of course," said the woman. "We have seen a lot. A lot." The Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight was blown out of the air on July 17 as it flew over rebel-held territory, in an attack that Kiev and the West have blamed on pro-Russian separatists operating a Russian surface-to-air missile launcher.

The rebels and Moscow deny responsibility.

Meanwhile, life goes on amid the debris. Wheat fields have been harvested and the trees have turned brilliant shades of yellow and orange.

Craters from rockets and mortar shells now join the rural landscape.

"It's a frightful life," said Nadezhda, a local walking through the area with a cart of empty plastic bottles and dried herbs.

The 76-year-old peasant said she may be used to seeing the debris, but she trembles when talking about the daily bombing.

"When they bombed here, everything was shaking," she said. "I live alone and I'm scared." "The plane is still there," she added. "Of course it would be better if they came and took it away because it's where our cows used to graze." The shelling continues as a tattered ceasefire deal between Kiev and the rebels has failed to stop fighting in some flashpoint areas.

The recovery of remains and personal belongings from the MH17 site has meanwhile ground to halt.

A team of international investigators led by Dutch police were forced to suspend their hunt for clues and corpses in August when fighting flared around the site.

They managed to send hundreds of coffins of body parts to the Netherlands but some 26 people from the flight are still unaccounted for as their remains have not been identified.

It was not clear when - or if - the probe would resume and the local landscape would return to its once sleepy existence.

The probe "is on pause right now," Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told AFP. "Whether they (the experts) will be able to get there again before winter is questionable." OSCE monitors ventured into the area a few weeks ago in two armoured cars but shells landed so close to the vehicles that one of them had to be abandoned.

"The sites are vulnerable to man-made or natural factors," he said, adding that by the end of the month the ground could freeze over.

"The window is closing and it takes time to negotiate these things," he said. AFP