‘We will never forget’: Hockey world remembers 2011 Lokomotiv air disaster

The Hockey Brotherhood memorial opened in memory of the HC Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players who died in a plane crash. © Yaroslav Neyelov
Russia and the entire hockey world are marking the 5th anniversary of the 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of almost the entire squad of the Russian Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club that was at that time one of the leaders of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).

On Wednesday, Yaroslavl, which is the home city of the club, hosted a series of commemorative events to mark the anniversary of the tragedy. A memorial service was held in the city’s central cathedral that was then followed by a ceremonial laying of flowers at the Leontievski cemetery, where most of the victims of the disaster were buried. There was a special tribute at the “Hockey Brotherhood” monument next to the Arena 2000 stadium.

A separate memorial service was held directly on the banks of Volga, next to Yaroslavl’s airport, where the tragedy happened. Since 2011, September 7 is also a blank date in Russian hockey with no hockey matches scheduled for this day. The KHL season takes a pause to commemorate the dead and share a moment of solidarity with the loved ones they left behind.

The disaster that became one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Russian sport is commemorated not only in Russia and other European countries where Lokomotiv’s players were from. Hockey fans from all over the world travel to Yaroslavl to share their grief with those who support the team.

Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, has also addressed the families of the deceased Lokomotiv team with words of compassion and support.

READ MORE: RT’s 10 that shaped 2011: Lokomotiv plane crash tragedy

“The plane crash in Yaroslavl took so many people from our hockey family. We will never forget this tragedy, despite the passing of the years,” Fasel said in a statement published on the IIHF official website.

“The entire hockey world remembers and mourns for the whole team. Our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives and with all the people they left behind. We wish them strength on this day,” he added.

Despite the passage of time, the echo of the tragedy still haunts the club and its home city. Lokomotiv’s current head coach, Alexey Kudashov, who was a teammate of the players, admits that the tragedy still casts a long shadow over the club.

“Anyone who knew those guys, anyone who was with them at this club will find it hard to play here. Many players have since come here from elsewhere, they weren’t part of that Yaroslavl hockey tradition. Maybe it helps them because they don’t feel quite the same pressure, but they too understand the responsibility that lies upon us. We understand that we have to do justice to those guys,” Kudashov told khl.ru 

On September 7, 2011, a plane heading from the city of Yaroslavl to the Belorussian capital of Minsk crashed just minutes after takeoff. A total of 45 people, including 26 Lokomotiv hockey players, the team’s head coach and 10 more staff members, as well as eight flight crew members, were on board. Only one person, the flight engineer Alexander Sizov, survived the tragedy.

Apart from Russian nationals, the players and the staff included citizens of Belarus, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Slovakia, Sweden and Ukraine.