EDMONTON — A series of commemorative events stretching over two days has begun to mark the one-year anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752.
At 9:42 pm EST — the exact moment the Ukrainian International Airlines flight took off from Iran — more than 1,000 people from around the world tuned in to a live stream to honour the 176 people on board who died.
More than 100 of the victims had ties to Canada, and at least 55 were Canadian citizens.
The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims group organized the service.
Voices of loved ones — some wishing to talk to those who died, others wanting to know their last thoughts — played over videos and photos of faces young and old.
Biographies of the victims were to be read throughout the night and outdoor rallies were to take place later in various cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.
The plane was bound for Kyiv on Jan. 8, 2020, when it was shot out of the sky shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Tension between Iran and the U.S. had been brewing. A few days earlier, a U.S. strike on the Baghdad airport had been ordered by President Donald Trump that resulted in the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s military had fired missiles at American forces in Iraq in retaliation.
Iran initially denied any involvement in the downing of the airliner, then admitted it was shot down by accident after mistaking it for a missile.
“Justice delayed is justice denied” was repeated in the comment section of the online memorial. It’s a sentiment the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims have said looms over their heads, as many still wonder when they will see accountability.
The Iranian government recently pledged to pay $150,000 to each of the victims’ families. But family members in Canada say they don’t care about compensation.
They want answers.
“Over the past year, after burying our loved ones and attending the funerals, families of victims started to work together,” said Javad Soleimani of Edmonton.
Soleimani decided to stay home to study during the holidays last year while his wife travelled to Iran to visit her family. She never returned.
Every day he hopes he’s living a nightmare and the love of his life will show up and embrace him, he said.
“The most valuable thing that many families of victims have at this moment is that we are all united in discovering truth and justice,” said Soleimani, who is also a member of the association.
“We need the truth. Compensation is not going to do that for us. We need to get the truth and justice punishing all those responsible for this heinous crime.”
Daniel Ghods-Esfahani, a medical student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said the last year has been difficult.
His girlfriend, Saba Saadat, her sister Sara, and their mother, Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, were on the flight.
He only recently started processing that a pandemic was happening in the world, he said.
“We wake up. We have a routine. We do certain things throughout our day now. But the feeling, like physically and mentally, is very similar to the first few days after we found out about the downing of the flight.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press