Alireza Ghandchi is photographed in front of a portrait of his wife Faezeh, daughter Dorsa and son Daniel in Richmond Hill, Ont., Friday, January 1, 2021. Ghandchi lost his family after Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet on Jan. 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Alireza Ghandchi is photographed in front of a portrait of his wife Faezeh, daughter Dorsa and son Daniel in Richmond Hill, Ont., Friday, January 1, 2021. Ghandchi lost his family after Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet on Jan. 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Families of downed Ukrainian Flight 752 victims struggle with loss a year later

All 176 passengers on board the Ukraine passenger jet died in the crash on Jan. 8, 202

A broken cellphone and a muddied wallet were the only possessions Alireza Ghandchi received from Iran after his wife and two children were killed in a Ukrainian plane crash last year.

“No luggage, no dolls, no anything,” he said.

His son, Daniel, was eight-years-old and his daughter, Dorsa, was just three days shy of turning 16. The family from Richmond Hill, Ont., was returning home after spending the holidays in Iran when their plane — Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 — was shot down by the Iranian army.

Ghandchi says his last conversation was with his daughter about 90 minutes before the flight while his wife, Faezeh, was checking in.

Everything was fine, Dorsa told him.

Now, pictures of his family fill his walls and memories of them fill his heart. When it gets overwhelming, Ghandchi goes into his storage, smells his wife’s perfume, hugs his children’s clothes and cries.

Ghandchi says there are times when nothing at all can help him with the grief of losing his entire family.

All 176 passengers on board the Ukraine passenger jet died in the crash on Jan. 8, 2020. There were 138 people on board with ties to Canada.

A year later, families cling to memories of their lost loved ones along with a few mementoes they received from the Iranian authorities.

Not all of the passengers’ personal possessions were destroyed in the crash. There were reports of looting at the site of the crash and some of the victims’ families have accused Iranian authorities of withholding valuable items such as jewelry, cellphones and cash.

Ralph Goodale, who is Ottawa’s special adviser on the Ukrainian plane crash, blasted Iran in a recent report for its treatment of the victims’ families, including the “withholding of personal effects.”

For Amirali Alavi, who lost his mother, Neda Sadighi, in the tragedy, the past year has been “one devastating blow after another.”

He received her pristine boarding pass, a few crumpled rings, a destroyed laptop, a few credit cards and identification — but no wallet, no luggage, no carry-on. Most of her jewelry was missing as was the cash she carried.

“Some of these things don’t have monetary value, but they have a lot of sentimental value to the families,” Alavi said.

“It feels like psychological warfare.”

Alavi is not alone.

Several other families say they’ve received little to nothing of their loved ones’ possessions back from Iran, which further compounds their grief.

Most of the relatives have banded together to form the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims. With contacts throughout Iran, they’re doing their own investigation, Alavi said.

They’ve unearthed video of the crash site that shows officials going through passengers’ bags and sorting them into bins, he said.

“They’re separating the contents, taking them out without any effort of preserving them and tossing the bags in one box, belongings in the other box,” Alavi said.

“Nobody knows what happened to them.”

He said one family got back a laptop without its hard drive, while another received a leather bracelet without its gold pieces.

Tensions were running high on the day the Ukrainian plane was downed.

Hours before the crash, Iran launched an attack on U.S. military forces at two airbases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani, a feared general and head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Alavi, a law and business student at the University of Toronto, watched an online flight tracker as PS752 took off at 6:12 a.m. Tehran time, more than an hour late from its scheduled departure time. He felt a sense of relief when the site showed the plane making its way into Azerbaijan airspace.

He was excited to have his mother back. In 2010, Sadighi, an ophthalmologist, gave up her practice in Iran and moved to Canada with her husband, Farzad Alavi, a doctor, hoping for a better life for their son.

The tracking site Alavi watched that night was wrong. Six minutes after takeoff, the plane was hit by ground-to-air missiles and crashed into a children’s playground.

Iran said the takedown was human error, which many families do not believe.

Mahmoud Zibaie also tracked the flight online. He even took a video of the tracking technology to later show it to his computer-savvy 15-year-old daughter, Maya, who was on the plane with his wife, Shahrzad Hashemi.

A few minutes after takeoff, he left to brew some tea. By the time he returned to his computer, the plane had vanished from the screen. He soon saw reports of the crash on social media.

His pain and anguish remain fresh and he is overwhelmed at times by feelings of guilt. Zibaie was supposed to be on that plane with his family, but he came home a few days earlier because he worried about taking too much time off from his new job.

“It’s very, very, very tough still, the wound is fresh. And I believe that it will take a very long time to heal,” he said.

Like several other families, Zibaie has channelled much of his grief towards building a school in an impoverished part of Iran.

Zibaie still looks at Maya’s first email she sent when she was four years old — a painting she made on the computer — for comfort. His wife was a decorative painter and his daughter had inherited her talents.

He applied to immigrate to Canada in 2006 when Maya was two years old. They landed in Toronto in 2016. Four years later, he buried his wife and daughter in Tehran.

Zibaie found he could no longer live in the same home in Toronto so he moved to Ottawa.

“Every place I went was a memory,” he said. “It was too hard.”

He, too, wishes for more of his family’s belongings back.

He has gotten back his daughter’s burned passport and some of his wife’s banking cards.

“That’s all I’ve gotten back,” he said. “It hurts.”

READ MORE: Iran allocates payment to families of Ukraine crash victims

Arman Abtahi was relieved when his brother’s remains arrived in a sealed coffin so the last memory of him would be of the final time the family had seen him — smiling and waving goodbye.

He had hoped the Iranian authorities would send back his brother’s ring so their mother could have something of her 37-year-old son.

“We didn’t get back anything,” he said. “Not his luggage, not his watch, not his ring, we just got his body.”

Abtahi’s brother was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of British Columbia. He had gone to Iran to celebrate his first wedding anniversary because his wife’s visa to Canada was rejected.

The last thing Abtahi told his brother was that he would pick him up at the airport.

“Instead, I went to the airport to go back to Iran to bury him,” he said.

Liam Casey and Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Flight 752 crash in Iran

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Cariboo Recreation Centre. Jen Blyth photo
CRD to apply for grant to install high-def cameras, audio at ice arenas for streaming

The cost of the project is estimated at $250,000 for installation at all three recreation facilities

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in South Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) as COVID-19 positive cases rise in the Williams Lake region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.’s rapid response paramedics deployed to Williams Lake as COVID-19 cases climb

BC Emergency Health Services has sent a Major Incident Rapid Response Team to the lakecity

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was appointed to the NDP cabinet as minister of social development and poverty reduction after the October 2020 B.C. election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. job training fund increased for developmentally disabled

COVID-19 has affected 1,100 ‘precariously employed’ people

B.C. driver’s licence and identity cards incorporate medical services, but the passport option for land crossings is being phased out. (B.C. government)
B.C. abandons border ID cards built into driver’s licence

$35 option costing ICBC millions as demand dwindles

sdf
2nd in-school violence incident in Mission, B.C, ends in arrest

RCMP notified of local Instagram page with videos (now deleted) showing student assaults, bullying

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP say ice climber seriously injured after reportedly falling 12 metres near Abraham Lake

Police say man’s injuries were serious but not life-threatening

U.S. military units march in front of the Capitol, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021 in Washington, as they rehearse for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, which will be held at the Capitol on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden aims for unifying speech at daunting moment for U.S.

President Donald Trump won’t be there to hear it

Williams Lake physician Dr. Ivan Scrooby and medical graduate student Vionarica Gusti hold up the COSMIC Bubble Helmet. Both are part of the non-profit organization COSMIC Medical which has come together to develop devices for treating patients with COVID-19. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Group of B.C. doctors, engineers developing ‘bubble helmet’ for COVID-19 patients

The helmet could support several patients at once, says the group

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

Most Read