Dozens of people with ties to Canada were among the 176 who were killed when Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed after takeoff near Tehran, Iran.
Here is a look at some of the victims with ties to Ontario:
Mahdieh Haji-Ghassemi, Arsan Niazi and Arnica Niazi
Mahdieh Haji-Ghassemi quickly moved up from her job as an architectural intern at a firm north of Toronto to being owner Nitin Malhotra’s right hand. The burgeoning 38-year-old architect with the firm called n Architecture received an award for her talents from the city of Brampton, Ont., last month for her role in designing a unique Tim Hortons coffee shop, Malhotra said.
Haji-Ghassemi also had a hand in designing a banquet hall in Brampton, a church in Mississauga, Ont., and a hotel in Barrie, Ont., along with numerous plazas and other restaurants over her six years at the firm.
She also embraced a managerial role.
“She was very nurturing of newcomers,” Malhotra said. “I would be more critical. She was a very nice, humane kind of person and she was very involved in the social aspects: pot lunches, buying lottery tickets, organizing dinners together. And birthdays, she’d make sure a cake would be bought and make sure people felt special on their birthdays.”
Just before she left for Iran in mid-December, Haji-Ghassemi proudly spoke of going to visit her “other son,” a boy she sponsored there.
“Every time she would go back, she would meet this boy,” Malhotra said. “She was really proud.”
Haji-Ghassemi was on her way back to Toronto with her two children, Arsan Niazi and Arnica Niazi, to rejoin her husband after visiting family in Iran, Malhotra said. Her husband has gone to Iran to try to get their remains.
At first, Malhotra said, he and others weren’t sure she was on the plane because her name was spelled differently on the passenger list, but a phone call from her family in Iran confirmed their worst fears.
“Everyone kept asking, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?'” he said. “Sadly enough, the answer was yes.”
Mohammad Salehe and Zahra Hasani Sadi
Mohammad Salehe and Zahra Hasani Sadi made a great couple, said longtime friend Seyed Hossein Mortazavi.
Salehe was a talented scientist who grew up with a love of computer programming, while Sadi wanted to do her master’s at the University of Toronto.
After completing two degrees from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, and working as a senior software engineer at a tech company, Salehe started his PhD in computer science at the University of Toronto, Mortazavi said.
“Although he was usually quiet, he was very active in multiple social and religious communities, always trying to be there for his friends and neighbours,” said Mortazavi.
“Zahra was caring, devoted to her friends and family,” he said.
The two were on their way back from visiting family in Iran after the last school term.
Razgar Rahimi, Farideh Gholami and Jiwan Rahimi
Razgar Rahimi, Farideh Gholami and the couple’s three-year-old son, Jiwan, were preparing to welcome a new baby into their family whey they died, friends said.
Mariana Eret said Gholami was seven months pregnant and had already decorated a bedroom for the baby in the family’s southern Ontario home.
She said Gholami was a talented artist who designed jewellery. Last Halloween, Jiwan wanted to be an avocado so Gholami made him his own costume.
“Jiwan was an extraordinary boy. He was smart, cheerful and he loved reading books,” Eret said.
Toronto’s Centennial College said Rahimi was a faculty member in its School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science. He had earned a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Ontario Tech University, where he also was a sessional instructor.
“He was also a doting father and husband who spoke often of his young family and his many colleagues and friends both in Canada and in Iran,” Centennial College president and CEO Craig Stephenson said in a eulogy.
Mohammed Mahdi Elyasi completed a masters in mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta in 2017.
His friend, Rafat Jami, said he met Elyasi four years ago and immediately noticed that he always had a smile on his face.
“In almost no time, I realized he was a lot like me, especially our crazy routines,” Jami said during a memorial service in Edmonton. “Most people would leave the office at 5 p.m. but I’d tend to stay late and he was always there, too.”
Jami said they ended up spending a lot of time together in the lab, in the office or having lunch.
“We always talked about our research, our ideas, our relationships, our families and the things we wanted to do in the future,” he said. “I don’t think there was a single thing we never talked about. Before I knew it, in a short time, he became one of my closest friends.
“If I went through every good thing about Mohammed, it would take me days.”
Jami said Elyasi moved to Toronto to continue his research at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Aerospace Science.
“He was always a dreamer but what made him different was that he never stopped trying for his goals,” he said.
Jami said Elyasi’s sisters and brother-in-law still live in Edmonton.
Shahrokh Eghbali Bazoft, Maryam Agha Miri and Shahzad Eghbali Bazoft
Shahrokh Eghbali Bazoft, his wife Maryam Agha Miri and their eight-year-old daughter Shahzad Eghbali Bazoft lived in Toronto and all died together, said Sharokh’s niece, Nadia Eghbali.
Eghbali said her uncle was a kind soul and a charismatic person.
“It was really hard not to like him because he was so kind. He had the best stories with funny voices and expressions that he would make,” said Eghbali, on the phone from Chicago. “He had everyone laughing including himself.”
“Maryam was a kind person, a devoted mother, wife and friend,” Eghbali said. “She always made us feel welcome, she made you feel loved.”
Eghbali said Shahzad had a creative mind.
“She had a great giggle and she just meant so much to her parents,” she said.
“They were a wonderful family and they’ll be truly missed.”
Pooya Poolad said his friend Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, 26, had lost his mother about two years ago.
Abbasnezhad missed her so much and went to Tehran to visit his family over Christmas, Poolad said.
The two friends had met up on Dec. 20 just before Abbasnezhad left for Tehran.
Poolad said he knew Abbasnezhad since they were undergrad students.
“He was very intelligent and bright minded, and always was among top students in our college,” he said. “I don’t remember anything but kindness from him.”
Abbasnezhad came to Canada last September to do his PhD, he said.
Poolad and another friend were texting with Abbasnezhad just before his plane took off, he said.
“Then couple of hours later I was browsing the web and saw the news and was shocked.”
The University of Toronto confirmed Abbasnezhad died in the plane crash.
Pedram Jadidi was in Iran to mark the first anniversary of his father’s death, his friend Mehran Eshaghi told a memorial service.
Jadidi had moved to Canada to study civil engineering at the University of Windsor shortly after his dad died and he went home to be with his family.
“Who would have thought this was going to be his last farewell to his mother?” Eshaghi asked. “Who would believe this beautiful family would lose a father and son in a year?”
Eshaghi said his friend was a strong student and more.
“He demonstrated to be an exceptional, enthusiastic researcher,” he said. “Outside of work space, Pedram was known by all of us as an approachable friend. He was a keen lover of movies, music and sport and was a skilled graphic designer.”
Jadidi’s PhD supervisor Shaohong Cheng said Jadidi was a promising young scientist.
“He brought all his passion, his expertise, to my group, to my lab,” Cheng said, recounting how Jadidi and a colleague had created a wind tunnel experiment.
“I still remember that moment when Pedram and his partner came to my office and proudly showed me the video of that test,” she said. “We were so excited. We cheered together for this milestone in my research group.”
Sahand Sadeghi, Sophie Emami, Alvand Sadeghi and Negar Borghei
Vahid Emami said his wife, Sahand Sadeghi, and five-year-old daughter, Sophie Emami, died in the crash, along with his brother-in-law Alvand Sadeghi and his wife, Negar Borghei.
Emami said his wife, 39, and daughter had been visiting family. He said he was feeling a bit worried about his family travelling back home to Toronto and before their flight spoke to his brother-in-law through WhatsApp.
He said Alvand told him there were no issues with their luggage and that Sophie was with them and they would see him soon.
He said Sophie was a “strong and happy girl” and known by all of her teachers.
Davi Rezende said he worked with Alvand Sadeghi, who was a web developer in Toronto.
“He was an amazing person, very cheerful and dedicated. I’m already missing him a lot.”
Rezende said he also knew Borghei, who studied in Montreal.
Borghei’s cousin Kimia Maleki, who is in Iran, said the family is in mourning and unsure if a funeral will be held. She said relatives and friends have been coming to Borghei’s parents home to drop off flowers and offer their condolences.
“We can’t believe it,” Maleki said.
She says Borghei married Sadeghi, a professional musician and industrial engineer, in 2018 and moved to Canada. Borghei was doing a master’s in human nutrition-dietetics credentialing at McGill University in Montreal.
Niloufar Sadr, 61, was returning to Toronto after a visit with family in Iran.
Sadr had lived in Montreal for many years but moved to Toronto a few years ago to be closer to her adult children and grandchildren, said Elahe Machouf, a longtime friend.
She described Sadr as someone who was full of life and had managed an art gallery in Montreal.
“She was very involved in the cultural field,” Machouf said. “Recently, she moved to Toronto because her children had moved there and she followed them, as many mothers do.”
Machouf said Sadr’s father was Ahmad Sayyed Javadi, a prominent Iranian lawyer, politician and political activist, who died in 2013.
Sadr’s ex-husband Reza Banisadre, a Montreal architect, said Sadr visited Iran every year.
“She was very joyous. She had lots of friends,” Banisadre said. “She loved life.”
Sadr leaves two daughters and a son, as well as three grandchildren.
Sheyda Shadkhoo, 41, was a chemist who worked as a control substance co-ordinator at SGS Corp. in Markham, Ont., a Swiss company that helps inspect, test and verify that products on the market meet various government standards.
Her husband, Hassan Shadkhoo, said his wife phoned him Wednesday, just before the plane took off, because she was afraid to fly. The conflict between Iran and the United States and the missile attacks had alarmed her.
He said he is gutted that he reassured his wife it would be OK. Twenty minutes after they got off the phone, the plane crashed.
“I wasn’t there,” he said, sobbing. “I should have been there with her.”
The couple was married for 10 years. Sheyda was in Iran to visit her mother.
Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian
McMaster University released a statement that said it believed two of its students, Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian, were among the victims.
The school said Aghabali and Eshaghian were both PhD students in the faculty of engineering.
“McMaster is a tightly knit community and there will be many faculty, staff, colleagues, friends and fellow students who need our support and caring at this tragic time,” said president David Farrar.
The McMaster Iranian Student Association also paid tribute to the two.
“Mehdi and Iman were two kind souls who always celebrated Iranian traditions with our community,” the association said.
“It is devastating for the entire McMaster community to hear the painful passing of young students who left behind their families and motherland in hopes of a better future career.”
Ali Mazaheri said his best friend Eshaghian would have turned 25 in a week.
He said Eshaghian had been seeing friends and family and was on the flight because it was the cheapest route back to Canada.
Mazaheri said the two last saw each other 11 days ago and went shopping, visited a teahouse and took photos.
“When we said goodbye he told me maybe I can’t see you again, so if I can’t, goodbye,” Mazaheri said.
Ali Pey, 48, was an entrepreneur and CEO of the tech startup Message Hopper in Kanata, Ont. He had two daughters and two stepdaughters.
Pey’s father in Iran had taken ill several weeks ago and Pey went to visit him, said Ayat Tadjalli, a close friend and work associate.
When his father seemed to recover, Pey returned to Canada to spend the holidays with his children. But he got a call from his family in Iran saying his father had once again been taken to hospital.
“Ali said, ‘This time I need to go and see my father, maybe for the last time.’ And he went to visit his father in hospital,” Tadjalli said.
He said he was in shock when he found out about the plane and saw his friend’s name on the list.
Pey’s partner, Marie, didn’t want to believe it at all, Tadjalli said. She had spoken with him just a few hours before he boarded his flight.
“She told me, ‘I’m waiting for someone to call me and tell me Ali wasn’t on that plane,'” Tadjalli said.
Tadjalli first met Pey when he started a group for Iranian parents to help foster the Persian language.
“He was really good with kids, he was really enthusiastic about playing with kids, teaching them.”
Zahra Naghibi was a colleague of Jacqueline Stagner at the University of Windsor. Stagner said she was informed by the head of the lab where Naghibi worked that she was on the plane.
“She was very helpful and warm,” Stagner said.
Naghibi was a part of Windsor’s Turbulence and Energy Lab, where she worked on issues related to solar energy.
Stagner said when one of her students — just starting graduate work and new to Canada — needed help, Naghibi stepped in.
“Zahra was giving her advice, helping her out, letting her learn from her own work and what she’d discovered — helping her along, the next generation of researchers. She was very welcoming.”
Hamidreza Setareh and Samira Bashiri
Hamidreza Setareh, 31, and Samira Bashiri, 29, fell in love as teenagers in Iran and had built a successful life together in Windsor, Ont., said friend Rachel Smith.
The husband and wife had been in Canada for about a year and Bashiri had just recently completed her citizenship exam. The couple — who some friends nicknamed “Sami and Hami” — were in Iran for a month-long visit with their families, Smith said.
She said Setareh was working on his PhD in engineering, taught at the University of Windsor part time and had a dog-grooming business on the side. Bashiri worked in a lab trying to find cures for diseases.
Smith remembers them as generous and said they worked hard to raise funds for a church mission to help orphans in Kenya.
They would give without ever expecting anything in return, she said.
“They just want friendship and they just want to show their love to people,” she said. “They were blessed and they were blessings. It was really an honour knowing them.”
Smith said the couple learned English by watching the TV-sitcom “Friends” and teased him when they learned she’d never seen the show. Smith bought a “Friends” T-shirt online as a joke about a month before the crash, and it arrived in the mail the day afterwards.
She wore the shirt at a memorial at the University of Windsor.
Roja Azadian was supposed to travel to Canada for the first time with her husband, who has been studying at Algonquin College in Ottawa, but a mix-up over his ticket meant he could not get on the plane with her.
“He was thinking, I’m going to send her and then I’m going to be back on the next flight,” said Leila Hojabri, a friend of Azadian’s husband.
He called a friend in Ottawa, asking if he could pick Azadian up at the airport and ensure she was safe. Instead, her husband remains safe in Iran and she died aboard Ukraine International Airlines flight PS 752.
“She wasn’t sure if she should come to Canada and he was just building here and getting ready for her to join him and it’s just a really, really tragic story,” Hojabri said.
Fereshteh Maleki came to Ottawa as a skilled worker and, despite early challenges as a single mother in a new country, Maleki had finally started to succeed, said her friend Saeideh Shabani. She recently landed a promising new job and was making plans to renovate her home.
Her constant positivity and energetic nature was inspiring, Shabani said.
“She was a superwoman. She was a single mom. When she got her house, she did a lot of renovations in her house by herself,” Shabani said.
“When I think about how she was excited about everything here in Canada, I feel bad for her. Because for the first couple of years, when you are coming as a newcomer, it’s very hard … but after that it becomes better. And she passed all that. And when she was talking about her life, she told me four weeks ago, ‘Now it’s a good time in my life.'”
Maleki was in Iran for her daughter’s wedding. She was excited leading up to her journey and had happily texted photos of the ceremony to friends. The pictures showed the smiling faces of Maleki and her daughter.
Shabani said Maleki and her daughter Deniz were inseparable and now her daughter is heartbroken.
Farhad Niknam, 44, moved to Winnipeg five years ago with his wife and daughter after running a dental practice in Iran for 15 years, said Sanaz Valadi, his friend of 20 years.
About three years ago, after having a son, the family moved to Toronto. Niknam took his dental equivalency exam and began to train other foreign dentists.
He had recently settled the family in a new condominium and registered to be a dentist in Toronto.
Valadi said they spoke on the phone only three days ago and Niknam was excited to come back to Canada to start a new phase of his career. Instead, Valadi spent the hours after the crash with Niknam’s grieving wife.
Niknam and his wife, Mojgan, had been married for 15 years. Valadi said she will never forget how much they glowed as they danced at their wedding.
Now Mojgan is alone with her daughter Yana, 7, and son Yuna, 3.
Niknam’s family flew back to Iran on Wednesday to have DNA tests done so they can retrieve his body.
Marzieh (Mari) Foroutan
The director of Global Water Futures said they lost a rising star in the crash.
Marzieh (Mari) Foroutan, who was working on her PhD at the University of Waterloo, was confirmed dead in the crash by the university. John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures, said he saw Foroutan’s student ID in photos of the crash site. He was then able to confirm she had gone to Iran to visit family.
“She’s a remarkable individual,” he said, noting he met her when she was getting her master’s degree at the University of Calgary.
Foroutan was studying remote sensing and climate change as part of the Global Water Future’s Transformative Sensor Technologies and Smart Watersheds Project at the University of Waterloo.
Her supervisor, Prof. Claude Duguay, said in a statement that “Mari was a kind-hearted, passionate and brilliant researcher who cared deeply about environmental issues. She had a bright future ahead of her. She will be truly missed.”
Amir Ovaysi, Asal Ovaysi and Sara Hamzeei
Amir Ovaysi, 42, is remembered as a proud family man who would often show his colleagues videos and photos of his six-year-old daughter, Asal, and his wife, Sara Hamzeei, 34.
His manager, Troy Futher, says the three were in Iran to visit Ovaysi’s aging parents. Ovaysi left in mid-December, joining his wife and daughter, who had arrived in November. It was their first visit home since they came to Canada about two years ago.
Futher said he hired Ovaysi at his heating, ventilation and air- conditioning company, Smith Energy Inc., in June. Ovaysi had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He worked out of the company’s Mississauga, Ont., office, but had a house in Newmarket, Ont.
“He was genuine. He was a super person — a brilliant mind, an astute student,” said Futher, who added it was heartbreaking to have to inform staff that Ovaysi and his family were on board the flight.
“A lot of the employees took it extremely hard,” he said. “It’s been a sombre day, a very difficult day.”
Hadis Hayatdavoudi saw beauty in things that others take for granted.
The PhD student at Western University in London, Ont., studied the effects of hydrogen on copper at the Electrochemistry and Corrosion Science Centre. Its goal is to examine how corrosion affects nuclear waste containers.
As a byproduct of Hayatdavoudi’s research, the copper she pumped with hydrogen was melted down into tiny balls, which would normally be thrown away, her supervisor said.
“She saw beauty in these little tiny beads of copper, and she was saving them because she thought that she could maybe employ them in making jewelry or something like that. I have a little box of these things that were saved from her work,” Jamie Noel said, shaking the box so the beads clattered together.
Noel said Hayatdavoudi had spent a month in Iran with her family — her first time back home since she moved to Canada on her own in September 2018. He said she was on the flight so she could be back in Canada in time to act as a teaching assistant for one of his courses.
“She found Canadians were very welcoming to her, coming from so far away, all by herself, a single woman in a strange country, with a different language,” said Noel, who noted that she quickly found community with other Persian students in his lab.
Parinaz Ghaderpanah and Iman Ghaderpanah
Parinaz Ghaderpanah was a branch manager at a Toronto RBC.
The bank confirmed to employees that she and her husband, Iman Ghaderpanah, were on the doomed flight. He had also worked at the bank for a time.
In a note to bank staff, she was remembered as a strong and dedicated leader.
“She embodied the best of RBC and we were incredibly lucky to have known and worked with her for the past nine years,” the note read.
“Her presence on the ship will be sadly missed, and she will be missed dearly by her branch, the Toronto northeast market and all of the lives she touched in RBC.”
Neda Sadighi, an optometrist with a new practice north of Toronto, was among those killed, her colleagues confirmed.
Joe Belden, who worked alongside Sadighi at Optical Eyeworks in Richmond Hill, Ont., said office staff were aware of Sadaghi’s travels to Iran and had learned of her death directly from her family members.
Belden said clinic staff were struggling to come to terms with the death of their only doctor, who he described as an amazing person.
“She was really helpful to disadvantaged people,” Belden said. “She treated everybody with respect no matter their background. She was kind all the way around.”
Alma Oladi was a PhD student studying mathematics at the University of Ottawa. Students and staff who knew her turned her desk into a makeshift memorial on Wednesday, with white flowers and cards placed next to a picture of her signature smile.
“She always had this smile on her face,” said Mohsen Zandimoghadam, who was a friend of Oladi.
“She was a nice and kind girl. She always wanted to explore places and discover new things in life and new places … she had so many plans for her life in Canada.”
Ghanimat Azdahri and Milad Ghasemi Ariani
The University of Guelph identified two victims as Ghanimat Azdahri, a PhD student in the department of geography, environment and geomatics, and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, a PhD student in marketing and consumer studies.
Azdahri worked with an organization called the ICCA Consortium, which helps Indigenous communities preserve land that supports traditional lifestyles. In a tribute on its website, the consortium called Azdahri “a true force of nature.”
Azdahri worked with many of Iran’s nomadic tribes, the tribute said, documenting their traditional territories and world views.
“She was always smiling, wherever she went, and generously shared her experience, knowledge and powerful energy. A strong activist and advocate for the global indigenous peoples movement, this is not only a loss for our ICCA Consortium family but also for many communities, organizations and movements worldwide.”
University president Franco Vaccarino said his thoughts go out to the two students’ families.
Mohammad Hossein Asadi Lari and Zeynab Asadi Lari
Parsa Shani was looking forward to meeting his friends Mohammad Hossein Asadi Lari, 23, and Zeynab Asadi Lari, 21.
The siblings were returning to Toronto after spending Christmas with their family in Iran, said Shani, who had known them for about six years.
“They frequently travel solo. It just so happens that this time the two of them were on the same flight,” he said.
The brother and sister were students at the University of Toronto, and had moved from Vancouver about 1 1/2 years ago.
Shani said he found out about their deaths through a flood of text messages and posts.
He described Mohammad as a “role model, an inspiration” and “a friend in a time of need.”
“In his 23 years Mohammad achieved more than most people do in their lives,” Shani said. “I really believe that.”
Mohammad was enrolled in the prestigious MD/PhD program at the University of Toronto and was partway through his third year, said Nishila Mehta, a fellow medical student.
The pair met through the school’s medical society, a student government body in the medical program.
“Most people describe him as genuinely compassionate, caring and very uplifting,” Mehta said. “He would make you believe in yourself even if you didn’t. Everyone would immediately feel at ease around him.”
Fiona Rawle, a biology professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said Zeynab stood out in a class of 1,000 students.
“She was exceptionally sharp, a hard worker, fiercely competitive with herself, but also incredibly collaborative with everyone else,” Rawle said.
“She was a fierce advocate for mental health and decreasing the stigma for mental health.”
Relatives said Fareed Arasteh, a PhD student in biology at Carleton University in Ottawa, was in Iran to marry his fiancee over the school holiday. Their wedding was just three days ago.
Golnaz Shaverdi, cousin of Arasteh’s wife, said the family is devastated by news of his death, especially his new bride, Maral, who remains in Iran.
“She’s devastated,” Shaverdi said. “He was such a nice guy. Everyone in the family really loved him. He was young and very kind. Everyone is, of course, devastated and they are also very worried for his wife, because she’s going through a very hard time now.”
Shaverdi spent a weekend with Arasteh before he left Canada and helped him pick out his wedding outfit.
“He was a very kind and very honest person. He was thinking about his fiancee, was glad that he was going to go and see her and that they were going to be married,” she said, breaking down into tears. “He talked about all their plans and their dreams about life.
“He was young. It’s not fair that it happened to him.”
Maya Zibaie, a Grade 10 student at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, was identified by the principal as one of the passengers who died.
In a letter to parents, Adam Marshall said Zibaie was new to Canada and excited about her future.
“Maya was kind, happy and well-liked by her peers,” he wrote.
“Maya will be sorely missed. Our entire school community is in shock and some of our students are understandably upset.”
The union representing Ontario’s high school teachers said employee Alina Tarbhai was among those killed.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said Tarbhai worked at the union’s provincial office in Toronto, but it offered no other details about what took her to Iran.
“She was respected and well-liked by all. Her passing represents a profound loss for all of us who worked with her,” the federation said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Parisa Eghbalian and Reera Esmaeilion
A dentistry in Aurora, Ont., confirmed that Parisa Eghbalian, a dentist, and her daughter Reera Esmaeilion died.
Eghbalian’s husband, Hamed Esmaeilion, is also a dentist at E&E Dentistry, but was not travelling with his wife and child.
Eghbalian first immigrated to Canada in 2010 and lived with her husband and daughter in Richmond Hill, Ont., said her biography on the dentist office’s website.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020
The Canadian Press