‘Hard to understand, even harder to accept’: Russians mourn Sinai plane tragedy 1 year on

One year on from the deadliest air crash in Russian history, in which a passenger plane en route to St. Petersburg was blown up over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, relatives of the 224 victims still mourn their loved ones.

The Metrojet A321 charter flight 7K9268 with 224 people on board, including 25 children, was on its way to St. Petersburg, Russia, from the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Twenty-three minutes into the flight, still above Egyptian territory, the plane disappeared from radar screens.

It was later discovered that a bomb had been placed aboard the Airbus, with a local branch of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) subsequently claiming responsibility for the attack.

After twelve months of grief, the victims’ relatives say the hardest part is to accept this new heartbreaking reality that the people they loved more than life itself have gone.  

“I still can’t accept what has happened. It’s hard to understand, but even more difficult to accept,” Irina Zakharova, who lost her only daughter, says.

“I still can’t believe it happened to my family. It’s hard for me to talk about it, as if about a thing in the past. I cannot say that my daughter ‘was,’ because she ‘is’ still my daughter…

“She was always in a hurry. I think now I understand that she was just trying to live her life to the fullest. She always needed to go places – to meet anyone who ever called her or asked her for anything,” her devastated mother recalls.

Irina, who works as a school headmistress in St. Petersburg and is among the chairs of the 'Flight 9268' fund aimed at helping those affected by the tragedy, believes that assisting people in need and taking care of each other "is the only way to deal with the evil."

"We have no right to allow anything like this to happen in the future," she said.

With traces of explosives found in the wreckage of the plane, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) confirmed the crash was caused by a terrorist attack.

IS jihadists claimed they had found a way to compromise security at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, and were allegedly prepared to launch an attack on any of the Western states participating in US-led airstrikes in the Middle East. They then decided to target Russia however for its involvement in the anti-terrorist campaign in Syria.

In the wake of the tragedy, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow would act in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter – which provides for countries' right to self-defense – and would intensify its anti-terrorist campaign in the region.

File photo: The wreckage of Kogalymavia's Airbus A321 passenger airliner. Flight 9268 was traveling to St. Petersburg from the city of Sharm El-Sheikh and crashed 100 km south of the North Sinai town of El-Arish. © Sputnik

The FSB has set a reward of $50 million for information on those behind the terrorist attack on the A321. Earlier this year, the Egyptian military claimed they had killed a leader of the IS Sinai Peninsula terrorist group, suspected of downing the Russian passenger jet. Egypt has been involved in a military operation against the jihadists since September 2015, after a number of deadly attacks also targeting Egyptian resorts had been carried out by the IS Sinai branch.

READ MORE: Sinai plane bomb ‘an attack on Russia, right to self-defense will be exercised in full’ – Lavrov

'It feels strange to realize she is not here anymore'

“I lost my sister and her daughter, my niece,” says Aleksandr Voitenko. “She was my only sister.”

They were really good friends, and always stayed in touch. Aleksandr still can’t bring himself to speak about Irina in the past tense.

“Ira is a shining light, so kind and wise. I just can’t… It feels strange to realize she is not here anymore. I’m reading our messages over and over again. Thank God that they are still left on social media. When I’m reading through, I still believe she is alive.”

Saying that he couldn't "keep silent" after the crash and had to do something, Aleksandr and other members of the charity fund Flight 9268 he organized now help not only families of the Sinai flight victims, but also other people who have lost loved ones in plane crashes. There are more than 36,000 people who support their group.

"We stand by each other. Even psychologists can't help the way that people who have found themselves in a similar situation do. It's not just a death of a family member, because it's caused by some strange set of circumstances which are difficult to understand and accept by a human's mind," he told RT.

On Sunday, the foundation stone for a future memorial for the victims of the Sinai crash was laid in the Leningrad region.

Called 'The Memory Garden', the project is scheduled to be completed by the next anniversary of the tragedy. Earlier this year, blacksmiths from all across the country and beyond, created 224 cranes that were given to each family of those who were victims of one of the deadliest plane crashes in international civil aviation history.

The passengers on board flight 7K9268, the overwhelming majority of whom were Russian nationals, were mostly holidaymakers.

Shortly after the crash, Russia stopped all civilian flights to Egypt, despite the Red Sea being one of the most popular destinations among Russian tourists all year round.

Officials said they would lift the ban, which has cost the Egyptian economy over a billion dollars, only after Moscow is confident Egyptian airports will comply with aviation security.

So far, flights from Russia to Egypt have not been resumed.