KIEV/TEHRAN: Around a thousand people including President Volodymyr Zelensky bid farewell to Ukrainians who died in a plane mistakenly shot down by Iran during a spike in tensions with Washington.
Zelensky laid flowers on the flag-draped coffins of the 11 Ukrainian victims — nine flight crew and two passengers — during the solemn ceremony at Kiev’s Boryspil airport and briefly spoke to their relatives.
The caskets were to remain for several hours at the terminal so that relatives, Ukraine International Airlines staff and ordinary Ukrainians could say their last goodbyes.
The funerals are expected to be held on Monday.
Earlier Sunday the black-clad Ukrainian leader, Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk and top officials stood on the tarmac outside the terminal to see the caskets with the remains of the downed plane’s nine Ukrainian flight crew and two passengers being removed from the aircraft.
Ukraine International Airlines staff, some in tears, stood nearby clutching flowers.
The airline staff and relatives formed two lines to make a corridor through which the honour guard carried the caskets draped in the yellow-and-blue flag of Ukraine.
Some men fell to one knee to honor the victims.
The honour guard also held flags of the countries whose citizens perished in the crash.
The Kiev-bound UIA Boeing 737 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board, mostly Iranian and Canadian citizens.
“Deep condolences to the relatives and eternal memory to the victims,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, said on Facebook.
“Our work will not end until the full clarification of the circumstances of the tragedy and the punishment of the guilty,” he added.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Twitter he was “deeply grateful for the messages of condolence & solidarity that we have received from around the world.” The Boeing crashed shortly after Iran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3. Tehran admitted it had accidentally shot down the plane several days later.
Ukraine’s leader has demanded that Iran punish those guilty for the downing of the airliner and compensate the victims.
Iran backtracks on plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine
The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack on Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kiev.
Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.
He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders commonly known as black boxes to Ukraine or France. But as of yet, we have made no decision.
The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, American and Canadian experts would help analyse them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but are usable.
It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting accounts. Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane will come to light.
Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020