The bodies of the 11 Ukrainian citizens who died when a passenger plane was accidentally shot down by Iran this month were brought back to Ukraine on Sunday in a solemn ceremony at Kiev airport.
- Nine of the Ukrainian on board the plane were crew members
- Ukraine International Airlines staff were waiting on the tarmac
- Iran denies it will send the downed plane’s black boxes abroad for examination
All 176 on board the Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev were killed when the Boeing 737-800 was shot down on January 8, at a time when Iran was on high alert for a US attack.
Most of those on board were Iranians or dual nationals. Canada had 57 citizens on board.Nine of the Ukrainian citizens were crew members.
“Today at Boryspil Airport the bereaved families and the whole nation have an opportunity to pay their respects to the Ukrainian crew and passengers of #PS752 who are now home,” Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko wrote on Twitter.
“Deeply grateful for the messages of condolence and solidarity that we have received from around the world.”
With President Volodymyr Zelenskiy looking on, coffins draped in the Ukrainian flag were carried one by one from a Ukrainian military plane to waiting hearses at the airport.
Soldiers held up flags to represent the different nationalities of those who died.
Relatives came to the airport carrying bunches of flowers. Airline staff, some in tears, were waiting on the tarmac. Some knelt down as the coffins passed them.
No plan to send black boxes abroad
Meanwhile, Iran has denied reports it will return the downed plane’s black boxes to Ukraine, saying it is trying to analyse them itself, the state IRNA news agency reported on Sunday.
“We are trying to read the black boxes here in Iran,” Hassan Rezaifar, a director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told IRNA.
“Otherwise, our options are Ukraine and France, but no decision has been taken so far to send them to another country,”
Mr Rezaifar had been quoted by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the black boxes could not be decoded in Iran and would be sent to Ukraine after Kiev’s repeated requests.
It was not immediately clear what prompted Mr Rezaifar to backtrack.
The Boeing 737-800 was en route from Tehran to the Ukrainian capital. Most of those on board were Iranians or dual nationals.
Ukraine has previously said it expected the recorders to be handed over, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said France was one of the few countries with the ability to read information on the recorders.
France’s air accident agency BEA said on Saturday it was awaiting an official request for assistance.
Plane downing “unforgivable error”
The downing occurred as Iran was on high alert for possible retaliatory action following its strikes on Iraqi bases housing US troops.
The action was in retaliation for the killing of Revolutionary Guard commander General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
American allies have avoided blaming the Trump administration, but Mr Trudeau said the crash victims would be alive today if tensions had not escalated in the region.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called the downing an “unforgivable error” and promised to hold those responsible to account.
The Revolutionary Guards also issued profuse apologies, as protesters raged against the Guards, an elite military force that was set up to protect the clerical system.
The Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Friday that “some tried to use it as an excuse to overshadow the martyrdom of our great commander”.
The death of General Soleimani, portrayed as a national hero at home but viewed as a dangerous enemy in the West, led to huge mourning ceremonies in Iran, followed just a few days later by angry protests and chants of “Death to Khamenei” over the plane disaster.
Tension between Tehran and Washington has escalated since 2018, when the United States withdrew from Iran’s nuclear pact with world powers and reimposed sanctions.
Tehran reduced its commitments to the 2015 pact, under which Iran agreed to scale back nuclear work in return for sanctions relief. European states triggered a dispute mechanism last week over the violations, a step that could lead to UN sanctions.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said Iran would review its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, should it face “unjust” measures.