വിമാനാപകടത്തിന് ഇരയായവർ 'ഞങ്ങളിൽ ഏറ്റവും മികച്ചവരായിരുന്നു ’
In the aftermath of the deadly Ukraine Flight PS752 crash, Canadians are left to mourn not just the loss of life but the bright futures snatched away, write Jessica Murphy and Robin Levinson-King.
In a small room inside a student housing complex at the University of Toronto, more than a hundred people gathered to mourn, pray and share stories of the loved ones they lost in Ukraine Flight PS752.
The space, which is typically used as a student common area, had been transformed into a kind of funeral parlour, decorated with candles, white bouquets and photos of the victims. Most of the service was in Persian, and tea and sweets were served.
Like many being held across the country, the vigil Wednesday evening was an impromptu event, quickly put together in the hours after the plane went down earlier that morning.
Many were still in shock from the news, less than 24 hours old.
“She was full of dreams, and now they’re gone,” Elnaz Morshedi told the BBC between sobs. Her friend, University of Toronto student Zeynab Asadi Lari, was killed in the crash.
Ms Morshedi says Ms Lari, who was studying health sciences, had wanted to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders next semester.
“She was studying all the time, but she wanted to live, she wanted to have fun, to fall in love. And she doesn’t have time for this anymore.”
Ms Lari’s brother, Mohammad Asadi Lari, also died in the crash. He was the co-founder of STEM fellowship, a youth-run charity that helps students in the maths and sciences.
“They were the best of us,” Ms Morshedi says.
All 176 people on board the flight were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Iran.
Sixty-three of them were Canadian nationals, but many more called Canada their home, at least temporarily.
They lived in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. Many were students or professors, working on important research in their fields.
US sanctions have made it increasingly difficult to travel between Iran and Canada, and the Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev and then to Toronto is popular because it is one of the most affordable options for the journey, said Younes Zangiabadi with the Iranian Canadian Congress.
The deaths have cast a pall over university campuses across the country.
“You look at the odds of such a thing happening to you,” said Seyed Hossein Mortazavi with disbelief, “but I suppose that’s fate.”
“They definitely didn’t expect this. None of us did. But I think it’s just a burden the whole community has to carry.”
Canada is home to a large Iranian diaspora, with some 210,000 citizens of Iranian descent, according to the federal census. But Mr Mortazavi said that on campuses the community feels small.
“Nearly anybody in our community knows someone on that plane, through friends, through family,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to ensure the cause of the crash was found.
“Canadians have questions and they deserve answers,” he told media in Ottawa on Wednesday evening.
Mr Trudeau said Canada would work closely with its partners to ensure the crash is thoroughly investigated – and would be requesting the presence of Canadian officials in Tehran to assist families seeking consular assistance, as well as to participate in any investigation into the cause of the incident.
To those who lost family members and loved ones, he said “your loss is indescribable”.
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy. While no words will erase your pain, we want you to know that an entire country is with you, we share your grief.”
It was truly a national tragedy, leaving families and loved ones in mourning across the country.
And each story was a tragedy in itself.
In Vancouver, Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamidi, Niloofar Razzaghi, and their teenage son Kamyar were on the flight, confirmed family friend Kei Esmaeilpour, with the Civic Association of Iranian-Canadians.
Mr Esmaeilpour said the family were in Iran for a short vacation, and that his friend Ardalan had expressed concerns to him before leaving about the security situation there, but eventually decided to go on the trip.
He said people who knew the family were asking how something like this could have happened.
Two separate couples were killed on the way back from their weddings in Iran.
Engineer Siavash Ghafouri-Azar was returning home with his new wife, Sara Mamani, when the plane crashed.
The couple had just bought their first home near the Canadian city of Montreal, and were looking forward to throwing a house-warming party, said his former thesis supervisor Ali Dolatabadi, an engineering professor at Concordia University.
“It is a great loss,” Mr Dolatabadi told the BBC. “He was very intelligent, a gentleman. He had a kind and a gentle soul.”
The couple had met a few years earlier at Concordia and both went on to work at top engineering firms in Montreal. They had decided to get married in Iran because they wanted to celebrate with family, Mr Dolatabadi said.
Newlyweds Arash Pourzarabi, 26, and Pouneh Gourji, 25, were graduate students in computer science at the University of Alberta and were also returning to Canada from their wedding.
The crash also claimed the lives of two young girls, Daria and Dorina Mousavi, aged 14 and 9, along with their parents, Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, who taught at the University of Alberta.
Payman Parseyman, an Iranian-Canadian from Edmonton, said the community was devastated as they learned that many from the city’s Iranian diaspora, as well as foreign Iranian students who had been studying there, had been on flight PS752.
“It’s mostly been shock, disbelief,” he told the BBC.
He said many Iranian-Canadians were already glued to their televisions or the internet watching for news about the ballistic missile strikes launched by Iran on air bases housing US forces in Iraq late on Tuesday evening, and ended up watching early reports on the plane crash in real time.
People were quick to begin connecting via the Telegram messaging app, seeking information and finding ways to support the families and loved ones of those killed.
Canada has not had diplomatic representation in Iran since 2012, when it closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
Officials said a number of allies, including France, Italy, and Australia, have offered Canada assistance on the ground in Iran.
“We’ve been having such a split as a community these past few months,” says Mr Mortazavi, who attended the vigil at the University of Toronto.
“I hope this acts as a turning point for all of us, so that people start reflecting about each other, about the friendships.”