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

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Nechako Figure Skating Club Canskate members Aubrie Sholer (from left), Renee Janzen, Alina Borno, Presley Stuckless, Sophia Reid and Layla Whittaker skate during a recent practice at the Vanderhoof Arena. (Photo submitted)
Nechako Figure Skating Club awarded local sport relief funds

“It will definitely help us recover from this and help us go on for another year.”

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

New three-storey seniors housing complex being builton the corner of Church Avenue and Victoria Street in Vanderhoof. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Housing availability a top priority for district: mayor

In Vanderhoof, 146 properties sold in 2020 worth $42.7 million

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

(Pixhere photo)
B.C. dentists argue for COVID-19 vaccine priority after ‘disappointing’ exclusion from plan

Vaccines are essential for dentists as patients cannot wear masks during treatment, argues BCDA

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

Most Read