Bodies of Ukrainian victims of downed plane repatriated from Iran

KIEV – 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 (Jan 19), arriving in a solemn ceremony at Kiev airport.

All 176 on board the Ukraine Airlines flight from Teheran to Kiev were killed when the Boeing 737-800 was shot down on Jan 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.

With President Volodymyr Zelensky looking on, coffins draped in the Ukrainian flag were carried one by one from a Ukrainian military plane to a waiting hearse at Kiev’s Boryspil 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.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Sunday that Iran has “no plans for now” to send the black box from the plane to Ukraine or any other country.

“We will try to decode the black box of the accident-stricken Ukrainian plane in Iran,” Hassan Rezaeifar, head of the Iranian Civil Aviation Organisation’s accident investigation office, told the agency. “Our next options are Ukraine and France, but we still haven’t made a decision about transferring it to a second country.”

The are in contrast to remarks reported by semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday, which quoted Rezaeifar as saying that the black boxes wouldn’t be decoded in Iran and would be transferred to Ukraine in line with a request from officials in Kiev.

Iran is under pressure to provide more information on the circumstances that led to the shooting down of the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752. It occurred days after the Jan 3 killing by the United States of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in a  drone strike in Baghdad.

The Boeing crashed shortly after Iran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in response to the killing.

Teheran admitted it had mistakenly shot down the plane several days later.

The plane disaster sparked unrest in Iran and added to pressure on the country as it grapples with a long-running dispute with the US over its nuclear programme and its influence in the region that briefly erupted into open conflict this month.

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