1 year after Iran shot down Flight PS752, the pandemic makes grief even worse for victims' families

For the families of victims of Flight PS752, it has been a year of suffering and loneliness, in many cases greatly intensified by the worry and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relatives fight for justice after Iranian missiles struck Ukrainian commercial jet, killing 176

Shahin Moghaddam, right, pictured here with his son, Rosstin Moghaddam, and his wife, Shekiba Feghahati. (Submitted by Jalal Mortazavi)

For the past year, Shahin Moghaddam has left his son's bedroom just the way it was.

There are toys and Lego sets ready to play with. Photos of the smiling boy still hang on the wall. The room is full of memories, but there's also a void.

"I couldn't go to his room. It's something, it's heavy. I can't stay inside it," Moghaddam said in an interview from his home in Richmond Hill, Ont.

"I feel empty. So empty."

Moghaddam's 10-year-old son, Rosstin, and his wife, Shakiba Feghahati, 39, were both killed on Flight PS752. The Ukrainian International Airlines jet was struck by Iranian missiles shortly after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard, including 138 people with ties to Canada. Friday marks exactly one year since the tragedy.

Rosstin Moghaddam was 10 when he was killed. He went to school at Beynon Fields Public School in Richmond Hill. He was in Grade 4. (Submitted by Jalal Mortazavi)

For the families of victims, it has been a year of suffering and loneliness, in many cases greatly intensified by the worry and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everybody has a plan, hope, a future. They took it from us. Now it's like we're passing through a tunnel, a dark tunnel," Moghaddam told CBC Toronto.

'The pandemic made it worse'

"The pandemic made it worse," he added. 

"Everyone got separated. Less gathering, less meeting. I just have a few friends. Some of my family comes. It's very short, every once in a while."

In the weeks between the tragedy and the onset of the pandemic, Moghaddam says it was easier for other family members and friends of the victims to support each other.

Moghaddam says, like him, many of the victims' close family members are not working, whether by choice or due to pandemic shutdowns. Recreational settings are also closed down. With few distractions, they turn inward. 

"That makes us go back to the memories. And this is not good for us," he said.

"It's harder to just let it go."

A year ago, Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps fired two surface-to-air missiles at Flight PS752, killing everyone onboard. (Reuters)

Still, the support from the community of victims' families continues virtually. The group is tightly connected online and has built a sophisticated website about the tragedy and the victims. 

An online memorial event began Thursday evening on the group's YouTube channel.

Memorial events

The main event marking the memorial is a Friday afternoon march and ceremony in downtown Toronto. It will include speeches and musical performance while following pandemic-related physical-distancing measures.

Hamed Esmaeilion's wife, Parisa Eghbalian, and the couple's nine-year-old daughter, Reera Esmaeilion, both died on Flight PS752.

The Toronto dentist says the alliance forged by the community of victims' families has helped him get through the past year.

Esmaeilion says the bond formed quickly after the tragedy, as many travelled to Iran in the immediate aftermath. It continued upon returning to Canada with the memorial services. 

"We knew the only people who would understand how we feel are other family members. Like for me the other fathers, the other brothers, the other parents," Esmaeilion said in an interview.

Hundreds gathered to honour Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion at a memorial in Vaughan, Ont. on Sunday. (Chris Glover/CBC)

Demanding justice

As the time passes, the communal support has evolved into a common purpose: demanding justice.

On the group's website, along with uniting families, it says its mission is to "uncover the truth and find out why a commercial flight was shot down by [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] missiles.

"They have the same feeling, the same rage that I have. And we can stand together," Esmaeilion said.

The association of family members has enlisted aviation and military weapons experts to help its fact-finding mission.

The Iranian government first denied any responsibility, but later claimed human error and miscommunication led to the tragedy.

A recent report from Canada's special adviser on Flight PS752, Ralph Goodale, stated that Iran should not be investigating the incident internally.

"The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret," the former cabinet minister said in the report.

For Shahin Moghaddam, a trial at the United Nations International Court of Justice will uncover the truth about why his wife, son and the rest of the victims were killed.

"We need to see those responsible in court," Moghaddam said.

"This is the only hope that we are thinking about and living for."


Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español.