The bodies and ashes of 20 Malaysians killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in July have arrived home.

Friday's repatriation of the victims comes as Malaysia continues its search for the disappearance of Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew earlier this year.

It has been a long and painful wait for the families and friends of the passengers and crew on board MH17.

Malaysia Airlines Statement

It is the first day of national mourning in the country's history.

"Last month, 43 Malaysian lives were taken over Eastern Ukraine. Today we mourn the loss of our people," Prime Minister Najib Razak said.

"Today, we begin to bring them home. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. Today we stand with you, united as one."

The victims were carried on a specially chartered Malaysian Airlines jet and received in a solemn ceremony on Friday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, AP news agency reported.

The coffins were draped in the Malaysian flag and carried by teams of eight soldiers to waiting hearses before being taken to private funerals.

The government has urged people to wear black and observe a minute of silence and prayer to honour the victims.

All 298 people on board died when the plane was shot down over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists as it flew to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam.

The victims included 43 Malaysians and 195 Dutch nationals.

Malaysia has been spared many of the natural disasters that regularly strike other countries in Asia, but the downing of Flight 17 was the second tragedy to hit the national airline this year following the disappearance of Flight 370 on March 8.

A stunned nation

Al Jazeera's Rob McBride, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, said the country was struggling to cope with the twin disasters.

"It is the double tragedy which still baffles people here. People are left stunned that they would be so fated to have two tragedies so close together.

"This day of mourning is also, in a way, for people to remember the victims of MH370, the families of victims from that aircraft of course get no sense of closure." 

The government was heavily criticised for its response to the missing jet, but Prime Minister Razak won domestic praise for brokering a deal with the pro-Russian separatists to allow for the return of all the bodies on Flight 17 and ensure international access to the black box flight recorders.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said it was "deeply saddened by this devastating tragedy".

"It has been a long and painful wait for the families and friends of the passengers and crew on board MH17," the statement added.