'There is always that void': Families of Flight 752 victims still grieving, searching for answers
One year after plane was shot down killing all on board, families say Iran hasn't been held responsible
Dressed in black, Kimia Pourshaban Oshibi projects calm thoughtfulness — and hard-won wisdom that seems too great for a 20-year-old — as she reflects on the one-year anniversary of her parents' death.
Her mother Firouzeh Madani and father Naser Pourshaban Oshibi, were both aboard the ill-fated Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which was shot down by Iranian forces as it took off from Tehran in the early morning hours of Jan. 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board.
On board were 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and 53 others who were on their way to Canada, via Kyiv, that fateful day. Many were university students, some doctors, engineers or newlyweds returning from holidays.
At least 15 people on that flight had ties to B.C.
"All of our lives, as families and survivors of this incident, have changed," said Pourshaban Oshibi.
"We are now different people, we have different sentiments, different life routines, because when you lose someone so close to you, they're always in the back of your mind ... there is always that void," she said.
Pourshaban Oshibi had gone to Iran with her parents for a two-week visit in late 2019. She came back a few days earlier to attend classes at Simon Fraser University where she is an undergraduate student.
Now in the last year of her bachelor's degree, she is pursuing medical school with a goal of eventually working in the Downtown Eastside in the field of emergency psychiatric medicine. She's following in the footsteps of her parents, both doctors, who were unable to practice in Canada because their foreign credentials weren't accepted here.
"People at my age struggle to find their place in the world, [this] has made it more clear for me what my place in the world is, that's what keeps me going partly," she said.
WATCH | Oshibi talks about coping with the loss of her parents:
Keeping herself immersed in her studies, sports and cooking has been key to passing what has been a difficult year, compounded by the pandemic.
"One year can be very long, they say the first year goes by the slowest. I don't think for us, the families, that is necessarily true. The grief that we feel is sort of akin to the existential crisis of the pandemic. It's not just regular loss or grief, it's also part of the change, the blow to our world view, it's hard to cope ... One year is also, as someone going through grief, to say to yourself, I made it through one year," she said.
But the search for answers and accountability from the Iranian government still remains.
WATCH | The stories of the people with ties to B.C. who were lost on Flight 752:
Hoping for justice, but not optimistic
Arman Abtahi, who lost his older brother Mehran, is also searching for answers and justice.
His brother, a 37-year-old postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, was researching how to remove micropollutants from water and had designed a wastewater management facility in Iran.
"He was truly kind and caring. He was obsessed with environmental issues," said Abtahi.
His brother had gone to Iran to celebrate his first wedding anniversary with his wife, after she was denied a visa to visit Canada.
"It was a tough year," recalls Abtahi, "COVID particularly made everything even harder, made it even lonelier."
It has been difficult for families to get together and has left his parents who are still in Iran unable to seek professional counselling.
"It's been a year since the tragedy and we haven't had any closure. We are not even close to justice and I'm not optimistic about it," said Abathi.
Both Abtahi and Pourshaban Oshibi say they're grateful for the work the Canadian government has done in trying to get justice and accountability from Iran, but say Canada's role is limited by circumstances.
"They don't answer to the families, why would they answer to foreign countries they don't have relations with?" said Abtahi.
Canada doesn't have access to the crash site or the evidence gathered by Iranian authorities. But it has created its own team to piece together the sequence of events.
Former federal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale is the prime minister's special adviser on the destruction of Flight PS752. He said Canada is fact-checking Iran's version of events because it has good reasons to doubt Iran's credibility.
Iran originally denied any responsibility for the crash. Only after mounting evidence did it admit its military "mistakenly" shot down the passenger plane.
Belongings never returned
Regime officials barred the families from planning their own funerals and arranged state ones instead. This was the case for Abtahi's brother.
"That was really hard, because we knew they were responsible for my brother's death and still they were in our lives. We were seeing them, we still see them everyday on TV bluffing," said Abtahi.
His brother's wedding ring was never returned.
"My mom was really looking for that ring as a memory for her. But we didn't have anything, we didn't have his luggage, his cellphone or laptop. Nobody had the cellphones. They just bulldozed everything after the crash," he said.
WATCH | Abtahi says his family didn't get back any of his brother's belongings:
It was the same for Pourshaban Oshibi. The only items returned were her mother's credit card and medical association card. The rug they had bought as a family, the many laptops and cellphones, never returned.
"They do have sentimental value, but the difficulty and frustration is in that you know they have been found, so first of all, the deceit and then ... just why?"
The road to justice is a long one. Iran said it has set aside $150,000 in compensation for each victim's family. But the families say they haven't received it nor is monetary compensation a priority.
"That is the least of our demands, we want justice first to be served," he said.
True justice for him would be if Iran was tried in international court, as he doesn't trust the Iranian regime to hold itself accountable.
Pourshaban Oshibi said Iran has not made amends.
"So far they have adhered to the bare minimum. But there is a difference between bare minimum and doing a professional honest investigation and I think Iran is far away from that," she said.