By Lauren Rearick
Like so many children, nine-year-old Reera Esmaeilion had magical ambitions — she was going to attend Hogwarts. Even after stepping foot onto the storied campus of Harvard, the student and pianist had repeatedly told her parents that her future was at Hogwarts. But Reera’s dream was cut short: She was among the 176 people killed in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on January 8.
As the The New York Times reported, the flight took off from the Iranian capital city of Tehran and was bound for Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It was struck by a missile launched by Iranian military and crashed shortly after takeoff. All of the passengers and crew on board were killed.
Iran claimed culpability on January 11, CNN reports. According to a tweet by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, the country’s military mistakenly believed the commercial flight was somehow connected to the United States military.
“The aircraft came close to a sensitive IRGC military center at an altitude and flight condition that resembled hostile targeting,” a statement from the Iranian armed forces said. “Under these circumstances, the aircraft was unintentionally hit.”
Tension in the region has been high for years but reached a new peak after an attack by the United States killed Corps Major General Qassim Soleimani, Iran’s senior commander in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Per NBC, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, tweeted that “human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”
After Iran admitted responsibility, thousands of protestors took to the streets of Tehran and called for their supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down, NBC News reports. Police reportedly detained some protesters and used tear gas to break up crowds, and some protest witnesses told The Guardian that police had used non-lethal live ammunition to disperse crowds; Hossein Rahimi, head of the Tehran police, denied those claims and insisted police were instructed to use restraint, NBC News reported.
Of those killed on Flight 752, 138 people were destined for Canada; 63 passengers were residents of the country, The Guardian notes. Nearly 210,000 Iranian citizens currently reside in Canada, the BBC reports, and many attend universities throughout the nation. The plane’s predominantly Canadian-bound passenger list was likely due in large part to students returning from holiday break and the lack of any direct flights from Canada to Iran. A memorial was held in Edmonton on Sunday.
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, confirmed that additional victims were from Iran, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Of the 11 Ukrainians killed in the crash, nine were confirmed members of the flight crew, BBC reports. Denys Lykhno, Mariia Mykytiuk, Valeriia Ovcharuk, Yuliia Solohub, and Kateryna Statnik served as flight attendants; Volodymyr Gaponenko, Serhii Khomenko, and Oleksiy Naumkin had been piloting the plane.
There are at least two GoFundMe campaigns, one spearheaded by the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, and another conducted in collaboration with the University of Alberta, to help family members and friends impacted by the crash. As next of kin are still being notified, not all of the names of those onboard have been released. Below are some of the stories of those that perished.
Siavash Ghafouri-Azar and Sara Mamani
The couple had traveled to Iran to get married; they had recently purchased their first home and intended to hold a housewarming party upon their return to Montreal, Ali Dolatabadi, a friend of the couple, told CTV. Another friend, Roxanne Dayyani, told CTV she was preparing to hold a post-wedding party for Mamani.
Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion
The mother and daughter were flying home to Ontario after visiting family in Tehran. Hamed Esmaeilion confirmed the death of his daughter and wife in a Facebook post. He called his wife “wonderful” and his daughter “amazing.” NBC News reported that Reera had dreamed of attending Hogwarts.
Sahar Haghjoo and Elsa Jadidi
An employee of the Toronto YWCA, Haghjoo worked extensively with immigrants and refugees coming to Canada, The Guardian reports. According to her coworker, Dolores Montavez-Ruz, Haghjoo was “bright, full of life, witty and funny and smart.” The 37-year-old had posed for a selfie with her 8-year-old daughter before takeoff.
The University of Ottawa PhD student was studying chemistry and had planned to work in the pharmaceutical industry, Ottawa Citizen reported. Andi Zahedi, Kashani’s roommate, remembered him as a brother, saying “he was the nicest person ever.”
Mohammad Asadi-Lari and Zeynab Asadi-Lari
The siblings were among six University of Toronto students killed in the crash, BBC reported.
According to BuzzFeed, Mohammad worked extensively with Canadian youth organizations and was remembered as an “incredible human being who worked tirelessly to advocate for peace, inclusive STEM education, equitable and just global health, meaningful youth engagement and social entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Elnaz Morshedi told the BBC that Zeynab “was full of dreams,” and confirmed that she was studying health sciences.
University of Toronto students Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, Mohammad Amin Jebelli, and Mohammad Salehe were also killed.
Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, and their daughters, Daria and Dorina Mousavi
Mousavi and Daneshmand were both professors at the University of Alberta and had been recognized for their work in engineering, BuzzFeed reported. The couple was returning home to Edmonton with their two daughters, 14-year-old Daria and 9-year-old Dorina. Hossein Saghlatoon, a friend of the family, called them sweet, kind people. "In the whole world, whomever is working in this field, they know them,” Saghlatoon said. “There is a void space that I cannot imagine anyone can fill."
Oladi was a PhD student attending the University of Ottawa. In a statement to CBC, Mohsen Zandimoghadam, a friend of Oladi’s, called the student nice and kind. She spoke of her friend’s desire to travel and experience new things; Oladi had just turned 27 and had flown home to Iran to spend her birthday with family, the Ottawa Citizen reports.
Pey was a father and the founder of MessageHopper, a texting app for businesses. Marie Tremblay, his partner, told the Ottawa Citizen that the two had high hopes for the new year, while Sergei Zadoyan, head of business development at MessageHopper, said Pey was playful and kind.
Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gourji
Pourzarabi and Gourji were students at the University of Alberta, BuzzFeed reported. The couple had married in Iran on New Year’s Day and were returning home to Edmonton.