Grieving Russians piled flowers high at St Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport on Sunday (1 November), mourning their compatriots who died as they flew home over Egypt. Thousands flocked to the square in front of the Hermitage museum, lit candles and released 224 white balloons in the air, one for each of the crash victims.

The Airbus A321 came down in a mountainous area of central Sinai on Saturday as it carried holidaymakers from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg, killing all 224 people on board.

"Of course there are no personal acquaintances (among those who died), still it is a big loss for everyone. We are the residents of this city, they were our compatriots. It is all very hard, it was simply impossible for us not to come here in order to honour their memory. May they rest in peace," said one resident of St Petersburg.

"Many children died, (I feel) such empathy. That is it. Of course tears come into my eyes, I feel very sorry for everyone," said another mourner, called Yaroslava.

President Vladimir Putin declared Sunday a national day of mourning for the victims of the latest in a string of disasters to afflict the Russian aviation industry. Russian football matches began with a minute's silence and the names of the deceased passengers, which are believed to have included 214 Russians, were shown throughout the day on state-run television.

Memorial events took place across the country, with flags flown at half-mast. The candles forming the flight number 7K-9268 were placed on the steps of Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.

"Today all the young men and women, everyone who is willing can come and light a candle in the memory of the victims, of those who died, and lay flowers, pray for them and thus offer their condolences to the relatives and families of the victims," said Stanislav, one of the event organisers.

An official of a Moscow-based aviation agency said the Airbus of the Kogalymavia airline broke up in mid-air but stressed it was too early to draw conclusions from this.