Dozens of people lit candles in Winnipeg to remember the 298 people who were on board a Malaysia Airlines plane when it was reportedly shot down near the Ukraine-Russia border.

Malaysia Airlines

A candlelight vigil was held July 17 on the steps on the Manitoba legislative building to honour those on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was reportedly shot down near the Ukraine-Russia border. (Lindsay Tsuji/CBC)

About 40 people, including members of the local Ukrainian-Canadian community, laid about 300 candles on the front steps of the Manitoba legislature on Thursday evening.

"What I heard I couldn't believe [at] first, I couldn't believe," said Maryna Prystaiko.

Organizers said they took to social media to spread the word about the Winnipeg event after seeing photographs of other vigils taking place around the world.

The event aimed to "pay a moment of silence and just say a last goodbye to all the fallen victims," said Ivan Marynovsky, one of the organizers.

​"[The]

candle symbolizes our respect for the victims and just hopefully we can send a message to the families that we are together and we send our sympathies."

Other Winnipeggers reacted with shock and sadness to the crash as well, including one of the city's scientists involved in the fight against HIV and other infectious diseases.

Flight MH17, a Boeing 777-200ER carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew members, was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down in Eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Several U.S. news agencies reported that according to senior U.S. officials, the plane had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

However, the officials were not sure who had launched the missile.

In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was "shocked and saddened" to learn that all on board were killed.

"We understand from reports that a Canadian citizen is among the dead. On behalf of the Government of Canada, Laureen and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends of the victims of this outrageous act," he said.

“While we do not yet know who is responsible for this attack, we continue to condemn Russia’s military aggression and illegal occupation of Ukraine, which is at the root of the ongoing conflict in the region."

Harper also said Canada stands ready to "provide whatever support it can" to determine the cause of the crash.

Winnipeg's Lloyd Axworthy: 'An international criminal act' 

Former Canadian foreign affairs minister and outgoing University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy, who was in Ukraine ahead of elections in May, said he, like many others, couldn't believe the news of the crash when it first broke.

"Like everybody, it was unbelievable," he said. "And when you realized just how tragic it was, it's really hard to comprehend just how awful and criminal the act was."

Axworthy said he came away from his experience helping to set up Ukraine's elections this spring with strong admiration for Ukrainians' commitment to rid their country of corruption and establish democracy.

He said though what happens next is anyone's guess. 

"It's going to depend very much on what the evidence shows, but it's certainly leaning towards the fact that the shooting came out of the separatist areas and was likely using Russian equipment," he said. "I can't say that for sure but that seems to be the strong evidence so far. If that happens then it just changes the dymanic totally. [Russian president Vladimir] Putin can no longer play this game of two faces, one face saying, 'I'm all for peace,' and the other face fomenting a real revolt, a real conflict inside of eastern Ukraine." 

Axworthy said he hopes the tragedy will lead to an international investigation. 

"Ultimately, this is an international criminal act and depending on how far it's to be pushed or investigated, those who are responsible could be charged with international crimes," he said. "I hope that this will toughen the spines of a lot of people." 

He also said the world can no longer ignore the conflict in Ukraine. 

"It's kind of woken people up to the fact that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has major implications for the rest of us," he said. 

"This conflict in Ukraine is a very special one because you've got a major power stirring the pot. It's rattling the chains. It's providing resources. It's a clear Putin strategy to totally destabilize Ukraine... But now the violence has led to the tragic killing of very large numbers of innocent people and that really changes the stakes of the game."

With files from Reuters, The Associated Press