FILE PHOTO: People hold placards with images of the victims of the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was shot down near Tehran by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

By Natasha Phillips


Passengers who died on board Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8, 2020 — after Iran shot down the jet — will be commemorated at a Toronto-based ceremony on the second anniversary of the tragedy.

The commercial flight from Tehran to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was hit by two surface-to-air missiles launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The strike occurred during a period of heightened tension between Tehran and Washington, following the US’s assassination of IRGC commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani. 

The impact of the strike killed all 176 passengers on the plane, including: 82 Iranians; 63 Canadians; 10 Swedes; four Afghans; three Britons; three Germans; and the crew, who were from Ukraine.

Tehran admitted it shot down the airliner shortly after takeoff and said the strike had been a “disastrous mistake.”

A deadline given to the Iranian government to engage in discussions about the downing of Flight PS752 by Canada, the UK, Sweden and Ukraine lapsed on Jan.5, which could pave the way for a historic investigation.

In the event that Iran fails to respond, the case could be referred to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Such a referral would be the first time the ICAO has been asked to adjudicate on the downing of a plane.

Hamed Esmaeilion, the spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims (752AFV), told Kayhan Life that the Jan. 8 online ceremony was being held on Canada’s National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.

“We were going to have an in-person event but the recent COVID restrictions in Ontario prevented us from hosting a physical gathering. The last couple of years have not been kind to the families of the victims,” Esmaeilion said. “This day in Canada is for all Canadian victims of air disasters, and we will be commemorating not just those we lost on Flight PS752, but those who died on Air India Flight 182 in 1985 when it was bombed, and Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 which was shot down in 2014 by Russia.”

The event will also honor Canadian-Iranian dual nationals Zahra Kazemi, a photographer who was raped, tortured and killed by Iran’s security forces in 2003, and conservationist Kavous Seyed Emami, who died in mysterious circumstances in Evin prison in 2018.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford and Mayor of Toronto John Tory have been invited to attend the virtual event. Confirmed guests include Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and several hundred members of the public.

At the event, mothers will say the names of loved ones they lost on Flight PS752. In between the tributes, videos will be played to pay tribute to the victims of the three air disasters. Another video will highlight 752AFV’s work during the last two years.

Esmaeilion said he would speak on behalf of the association at the ceremony.

“Truth and justice are the most important things for the families. We are fighting for that and it’s going to be a long battle, but we are fighters,” he said.

A Jan. 4 video briefing by lawyers representing family members of those who died on the flight was interrupted by hackers who played loud music and posted violent images to the screen for more than two minutes. The call was ended and restarted without further interruption.

The incident took place just days after six family members who lost relatives on the flight were awarded $83.94 million by a court in Ontario. The judge ruled that the downing of the airliner had been deliberate.

A social media campaign launched on Jan. 1 by 752AFV in the run-up to the ceremony has seen Twitter users from around the world tweet the hashtag #IWillLightACandleToo.

The hashtag was blocked on Instagram on Jan. 4 after thousands of users posted pictures to commemorate the victims. Calls to unblock the hashtag were made on Twitter, with several accounts posting images with the caption “We call on @Meta @Instagram Mark Zuckerberg, remove restrictions on these hashtags immediately #IWILLLIGHTACANDLE #من_هم_شمعی_روشن_خواهم_کرد.”

The virtual ceremony will take place from 3pm to 4pm (EST) and registration to attend can be made through the association’s Eventbrite page.


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