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NEWS: U of T loses eight in plane crash (Feb. 2020)

February 27th, 2020 · No Comments

Community mourns the deaths of students, staff

U of T flies its flag at half mast to honour victims of the shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. BRIAN BURCHELL/GLEANER NEWS

By Tanya Ielyseieva

The University of Toronto has confirmed that eight members of the university community died in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, on January 8. 

The Kyiv-bound flight, which carried a total of 176 passengers including nine crew members and 15 children, was shot down shortly after taking off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6:12 a.m., local time. The plane crashed 15 km from the airport and the wreckage was strewn over a wide area, leaving no survivors. 

Hassan Rouhani, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, later called the firing of the missile that brought down the plane a “disastrous mistake”.

According to the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians as well as 10 Swedish, four Afghan, 3 German, and 3 British citizens were on board the flight. 

The Canadian government later lowered the number of Canadians killed in the plane crash to 57. The total number of victims remained the same, at 176.

The route from Tehran to Toronto via Kyiv is a popular route for Iranian-Canadians. The stop-over in Kyiv is only four hours long while others last more than eight hours, and the price is two times cheaper for Ukrainian Airlines than for any other airline. 

“Many of the passengers on this flight were university students, faculty, researchers, alumni, and other members of Canada’s academic community. This heartbreaking loss is truly a national tragedy,” said president of the University of Toronto Meric Gertler.

The released statement from the University of Toronto confirms the identities of these students:

Mojtaba Abbasnezhad was a first-year international student doing his PhD in engineering, as well as a teaching assistant for a second year course on digital systems. His friends called him Sorush.

Mohammad Asadi Lari, PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine, and his sister Zeynab Asadi Lari, who was in her fourth year pursuing a Bachelor of Science at UTM, both died on their way back to Toronto after visiting family. 

Mohammad was involved in numerous youth- focused activities through his efforts with the Canadian Commission of the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Canadian Red Cross. Zeynab was an advocate for mental, public, and global health; her friends recalled that she always followed up her ideas with action.

Mohammad Amin Beiruti, was a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science. Born in 1990, he was determined and focused on his academic goals but took the time to mentor undergraduate students and help them with their research projects. 

Mohammad Amin Jebelli MHSc was a candidate in the Faculty of Medicine’s Translational Research Program. He had practised medicine and served as a medic in Iran after graduating from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences with a doctorate in medicine. He was due to graduate from the U of T program later this year.

Mohammad Salehe, a PhD student and researcher in computer technology, and his wife, Zahra Hasani, also a U of T student, both died in the crash. 

Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi was studying MSc mechanical engineering and was a researcher at the U of T’s Institute of Aerospace Science.

“Many members of our university – and many across the GTA and Canada – have been directly affected by this tragedy,” Gertler said. “We are all heartbroken.”

The University of Toronto hosted vigils on campus and around the city to remember those who lost their lives in the Ukraine International Airlines crash. The Centre for International Experience held a support drop-in, where people could come together to remember and find support.

“Many people were touched by this kind of tragic loss. So, for us, this is a way of supporting our community in their grief and to offer the opportunity to come by, talk to somebody else who’s been affected. It’s just a way of showing that we care for and with each other,” said Katherine Beaumont, U of T’s Senior Director of Global Learning Opportunities and International Student Success.

The University of Toronto has launched the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

This fund will provide needs-based scholarships for both graduate and undergraduate students from Iran, or students from any background pursuing Iranian studies at U of T.

According to the University of Toronto statement, donations to the fund will be matched by the university. The first $250,000 will be matched at an effective rate of 3:1, with all funds beyond that threshold to be matched dollar-for-dollar.

“With the creation of this scholarship we hope to honour the memory of those we have lost by helping students from Iran pursue their studies at U of T and by supporting students of all backgrounds who are interested in exploring Iranian studies,” Gertler said.

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