January 23, 2020

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Eight Winnipeggers, two U of M grads in Alberta among Canadians killed on Ukrainian jet

Manitobans are mourning the loss of friends and colleagues among the 176 people killed Wednesday in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet outside Tehran.

At least eight Winnipeggers and two University of Manitoba grads teaching in Alberta were aboard the Kyiv-bound Boeing 737 that crashed minutes after takeoff. It's believed 63 Canadian citizens were aboard Flight PS752.

Manitoba's provincial flag will fly at half-mast in Memorial Park in their memory, Premier Brian Pallister said.

"We mourn alongside the families and friends of the Manitobans who were tragically taken from us," he said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

Forough Khadem was among the 176 people killed in the crash. (Facebook photo)

Forough Khadem was among the 176 people killed in the crash. (Facebook photo)

U of M engineering Prof. Zahra Moussavi lost her good friend, Forough Khadem.

"She was full of life and her laughs is all I remember now," Moussavi said from San Francisco.

Khadem, 38, earned her PhD in immunology in 2016 at the U of M. The 38-year-old was described as a scientific, tech-savvy, cross-cultural communicator whose research helped protect mankind and animals against deadly infectious diseases.

She was a member of the New Media Manitoba board of directors, and worked at Mitacs non-profit national research organization since 2016 as a business development specialist.

U of M Iranian community gathers to mourn lost friends, colleagues

Morteza Tavalkoli, grieves the loss of his best friend, Amir Ghasemi, during vigil at UMSU on Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Morteza Tavalkoli, grieves the loss of his best friend, Amir Ghasemi, during vigil at UMSU on Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

By Maggie Macintosh

Before he boarded Flight PS752 in Tehran Wednesday, Amirhossein Ghasemi sent a text to his best friend venting about ongoing instability in Iran.

Tensions between Iran and the United States were high; hours earlier, Iran launched a missile attack against two U.S. military bases in Iraq in response to the targeted death of one of its top commanders last week.

“I told him, 'Once you are on the plane, you are safe and it’s going to be over,” said Morteza Tavakoli, translating one of the final messages he sent to Ghasemi. Longtime friends who first met in Iran 20 years ago before reuniting in Winnipeg, the two often communicated in Persian.

“I didn’t know that his life was going to be over.”

By Maggie Macintosh

Before he boarded Flight PS752 in Tehran Wednesday, Amirhossein Ghasemi sent a text to his best friend venting about ongoing instability in Iran.

Tensions between Iran and the United States were high; hours earlier, Iran launched a missile attack against two U.S. military bases in Iraq in response to the targeted death of one of its top commanders last week.

“I told him, 'Once you are on the plane, you are safe and it’s going to be over,” said Morteza Tavakoli, translating one of the final messages he sent to Ghasemi. Longtime friends who first met in Iran 20 years ago before reuniting in Winnipeg, the two often communicated in Persian.

“I didn’t know that his life was going to be over.”

Tavakoli, 32, was one of dozens of community members who gathered at the University of Manitoba Wednesday afternoon to mourn the deaths of the 176 people who were killed after the Ukrainian International Airlines jet crashed moments after it took off from Iran’s capital.

At least six Winnipeggers — many of whom had connections to the Fort Garry campus — and two U of M graduates now teaching in Alberta were aboard the Kyiv-bound Boeing 737 airliner.

A slideshow of photos of the Winnipeggers who died in the crash played in the U of M’s University Centre Wednesday afternoon. The university’s Iranian Students Association also organized trays of chocolates and dates, traditionally eaten in the community during periods of mourning.

Tavakoli pulled out a tissue as he watched the slideshow play in the hallway. He and Ghasemi spent so much time together that Tavakoli had a key to his friend’s apartment; he’s not sure what to do with it now.

Ghasemi was a physician before he moved to Winnipeg. He was working toward a master's in biomedical engineering at the U of M while he applied for permanent residency so he could practise once again. He was 32.

“He was very helpful to everyone he met — even strangers,” Tavakoli said.

A weeping Sahar Karimzadeh, 33, was among the people who found support on campus after learning of the loss of her friend and mentor, 38-year-old Forough Khadem.

Khadem was a well-respected scientist and cross-cultural communicator who offered her free time to tutor others as best she could.

“It’s like I’m seeing a dream and I want to wake up,” Karimzadeh said. “We have lost many talented scientists today. We have lost physicians and dentists.”

The U of M Iranian Students Association is organizing another, larger vigil for the crash victims Friday. The time and location have yet to be decided.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

None of Khadem's colleagues at the company that connects industry with post-secondary institutions to solve business challenges wanted to be interviewed Wednesday.

Chief business development officer Eric Bosco issued a prepared statement on behalf of Mitacs. He remembered Khadem as a "a passionate supporter of innovation in Manitoba," and extended condolences to her family and friends.

"We will remember Forough’s passion for Mitacs, enthusiasm for innovation in Manitoba, and her positive outlook on life. We will miss her humour, her kindness, and her warm spirit."

That "positive outlook" was what Mehdi Sadeghi, 44, Bahareh Haj Esfandiari, 41, and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, 10, brought when they immigrated to Canada in 2016.

"They were lovely people, and it was the classic Canadian immigrant success story," said Assiniboine Community College instructor Murray Oliver, who, along with his Iranian-Canadian wife, Dr. Afsaneh Oliver, and their daughter, Jozi, were family friends.

"They just bought a new home after living in an apartment," Oliver said of the Winnipeg family killed in the jet crash. "They were both tireless workers."

Mahdi Sadeghi (left), Bahareh Haj Esfandiari and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, are among the 176 people killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. (Facebook)

Mahdi Sadeghi (left), Bahareh Haj Esfandiari and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, are among the 176 people killed in the crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines jet moments after takeoff from Tehran, Iran Wednesday. (Facebook)

The engineers from Iran took low-paying entry-level jobs to get a foothold in a new country, he said. "They were working their way up — they moved here for their child to have a beautiful life."

The family had just bought their first home in Whyte Ridge when they went to Iran for a visit.

"Mehdi was really concerned to see his family progress and advance," Oliver said. "Bahareh had a very light spirit and a wonderful smile. They were a perfect counterpoint to one another and Anisa. She was a a lovely kid... It's such a loss for Manitoba.

"I think of all of the folks who died," he said, "they were all people of such great promise whose lives were cut short in the most senseless tragedy."

Mojgan Daneshmand (left) and Pedram Mousavi, University of Manitoba grads and professors at the University of Alberta, were killed in the crash along with their daughters Daria and Dorina.  (Twitter)

Mojgan Daneshmand (left) and Pedram Mousavi, University of Manitoba grads and professors at the University of Alberta, were killed in the crash along with their daughters Daria and Dorina. (Twitter)

Two other U of M grads turned professors at the University of Alberta — Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand — were also killed along with their two children, said family friend Mahsa Pourazad, who lives in Vancouver.

"Pedram did his PhD (at U of M) and Mojgan did her masters then moved to Alberta," said Pourazad, a civil engineer and fellow Iranian-Canadian. "Both were professors at the engineering department of U of A."

U of M Iranian Students Association board member Amir Shirzadi identified four other crash victims from Winnipeg: Amirhossein Ghasemi, 32, Amirhossein Ghorbani, 21, Farzaneh Naderi, 38, and her son, Noojan Sadr, 11.

Ghasemi had gone to Iran see his fiancée, said Pourazad, who was struggling with the loss of so many people she knew. "My mind does not work right now."

Dirsa Bachgri, with University of Manitoba Iranian Students Association (UMISA), carries red roses and figs which were part of the vigil at University Centre Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Dirsa Bachgri, with University of Manitoba Iranian Students Association (UMISA), carries red roses and figs which were part of the vigil at University Centre Wednesday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Pembina Trails School Division lowered its flags to half-mast in honour of two of its students at two different schools who died in the plane crash. The children were in grades 5 and 6, but the school division would not confirm their identities.

"(Our) student services team, including social workers and psychologists, are working diligently to support the needs of students," the division posted online.

The University of Manitoba is also offering counselling to those affected by the loss of colleagues and mentors, said president and vice-chancellor David Barnard.

"It's a shock and there's a terrible sense of loss and disappointment — and a sense that something that seemed in the first instance to be at a distance turned out to have an impact right here, where we live and work, and there's a shock that comes with," Barnard said in an interview Wednesday.

Students at the University of Manitoba grieve the loss of friends killed on the jetliner when it crashed in Iran. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Students at the University of Manitoba grieve the loss of friends killed on the jetliner when it crashed in Iran. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

He mourns the province's loss of potential.

"The University of Manitoba attracts people from many parts of the world and, through their studies and research activities, some stay and help build the local economy," he said.

Ukrainian community mourns amid holidays

The Ukrainian community has the families of the 176 people who died Wednesday's Kyiv-bound airliner crash in their prayers over the holidays.

Every person on board the Ukrainian International Airlines jet that crashed moments after it took off from Tehran was killed. Among passengers and staff, there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons.

The Ukrainian community has the families of the 176 people who died Wednesday's Kyiv-bound airliner crash in their prayers over the holidays.

Every person on board the Ukrainian International Airlines jet that crashed moments after it took off from Tehran was killed. Among passengers and staff, there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons.

“We all should remember the victims of this event in our prayers and to not take for granted the people around us,” said Yurij Kalistchuk, metropolitan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada.

“We should value people within our families and communities and realize that people are trying to do the best for their family and for their community — and to pray for peace in the world.”

The Boeing 737 crash occurred amid celebrations in Ukrainian households across the world. Carolling and celebrations in the Orthodox Ukrainian community are underway, a day after Orthodox Christmas (Jan. 7), which is based on the Julian calendar.

Maria Bosak, former editor of the Ukrainian Voice newspaper, said she was devastated when she heard the news amid what should be a joyful time. Holding back tears, she said she found it difficult to express feelings about the extent of the tragedy.

“We have to pray for them. That’s what we have to do. We have to pray for them and their families,” Bosak said.

Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs put out a statement Wednesday, in which it said the country is committed to investigating the cause of the disaster.

Iranian authorities initially suggested technical problems were the reason for the crash, although an investigation is ongoing.

Maggie Macintosh

The U of M also lowered its flag to half-mast.

In his statement, the Manitoba premier said: "On behalf of all Manitobans and all members of the Manitoba legislature, I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you during this very difficult time."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 12:50 PM CST: Updates victim name

7:57 PM: Updates headline

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