Why Were the Ukrainians Aboard MH370?

Within a few months of the disappearance of MH370 I began investigating why a Russian and two Ukrainians were on the plane, as I’ve previously described here and here.

I quickly learned that the two men jointly owned a furniture company in Odessa, Ukraine called Nika Mebel. The company started a website around June, 2013, that retailed furniture it made in its own factory. Within a few months it added furniture imported from China and Malaysia. On the site the company described itself like this: “Continuous improvement of technological equipment and staff training helped us grow into a large furniture manufacturing company in Ukraine….  Over a 15-year period of time, we managed to make ourselves known on most of the territory of Ukraine, as well as beyond its borders.”

In an affadavit filed in 2017 as part of her effort to have her husband declared legally dead, Tatiana Chustrak stated that:

“In the court session it was established that the applicant’s husband was engaged in private business, namely, with his friend and business partner, Deineka Sergey Grigorievich, had a shop for furniture production.
March 02, 2014, a man, along with a partner, went on a business trip abroad. The purpose of the trip was to visit the international furniture exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, and on March 8, it was planned to fly to Beijing Airport, China, and then fly to Guangzhou, China, where an international furniture exhibition was also planned. According to this plan, the relevant tickets were purchased.”

I hired researchers in Ukraine and asked them to reach out to Dmitriy Kozlov, the manager of Nika Mebel. I figured that he’d have detailed knowledge of the trip, because according to Nika Mebel’s filings he was the only person authorized to operate the company apart from Chustrak and Deineka — in effect, for years after their disappearance, he was Nika Mebel.

My investigators reported back to me:

“We reached Dmitriy Kozlov (+38 050 246 70 73) and today I spoke to him myself.
He referred he is busy to meet but agreed for a brief talk by phone.
He stated:
1. He knew Oleg Chustrak and Sergey Deineka for around 20 years.
2. Trip of Oleg Chustrak and Sergey Deineka to Malaysia and Beijing in 2014 was part of their usual routine – they were attending furniture exhibitions there two times per year, in autumn and spring, for around 5-7 years.
3. The reason of attending was to be aware of industry trends and market; they also negotiated small volumes of furniture import: 3-4 containers per year. However that did not go through Nika, it was arranged some other way. Dmitriy is not aware how; he was production director of Nika and did not participate much in other parts of the business.
4. In Malaysia, Oleg Chustrak and Sergey Deineka had some guide who met them at those events and guided them through exhibition and factories there. Dmitriy does not know his identity because he was not much involved in that part of the business.
5. In 2014, trip plans of Oleg Chustrak and Sergey Deineka were impacted by events in Ukraine and some troubles with crossing borders and visas. That somehow changed their usual simple route Ukraine-Malaysia-Ukraine and made them to visit Beijing. Dmitriy knows that from conversation with both of them, but was not aware of further details.
6. After their flight disappeared, their wifes were dealing with all formalities. Dmitriy remembers they showed him video of boarding provided by Malaysian airlines; both Chustrak and Deineka were identified as being boarded at the plane.
End of statements.”

It occurred to me that if the men really had a long-standing business importing furniture from Asia, there should be paperwork documenting their imports and customers who can confirm their dealings. The researchers checked and reported back to me:

“We source export and import information from customs statistics. Our information for 2013 and 2014 is incomplete due to customs reformation, but analysts stated there is no import or export operations for subject neither in first 6 months of 2013 nor in first 9 months of 2014.”

They pointed out, however, that the absence of documentation might be a result of Chustrak and Deineka hiring another firm to carry out the importation.

Regarding the statement that Chustrak and Deineka “were impacted by events in Ukraine and some troubles with crossing borders and visas” and had to change their itinerary as a result, I have seen no evidence that events occurred that might have required them to fly to Guangzhou via Beijing instead of directly. As far as I have been able to tell China had not changed its visa requirements for Ukrainians at this time.

According to the Ukrainian business registry, Chustrak and Deineka did not have any other business apart from Nika Mebel. Their web store only came online in mid-2013. At the time of their disappearance, Nika did not have a physical retail location, nor even a landline. So how were they selling these containers of furniture, and to whom?

I reached out to Amelin Svyatoslav, a successful Ukrainian furniture entrepreneur who definitely did run a furniture factory and retail web site: Mebelok.com. Since he was demonstrably in the same business niche that Nika had claimed to be, I figured that he would know whether Nika passed the sniff test. I asked him, “Would you have any speculation as to what type of customer their factory might have been making furniture for, before they started selling directly to the public?” He answered:

“In fact, 95% of the Ukrainian furniture market is offline. The customers of these small shops are mostly people who live within walking distance of the store. Only big players like Mebelok.com can sell furniture over the Internet throughout Ukraine. Small operators cannot now compete with big players in Internet. Therefore, companies such as Nika rent a small area in local furniture shopping centers and «are waiting» for their client.
Judging by the fact that this company had its VAT payer certificate revoked on 20.12.1999, they worked with individuals, and not with companies.”

Of course, I knew that in fact at the time of their disappearance Chustrak and Deineka did not have any physical retail presence.

I asked Svyatoslav his overall impression of Nika. His reply:

“Unfortunately, it was not possible to find out any detailed information about this company. Neither our suppliers, nor colleagues from the Association of Furniture Manufacturers of Ukraine have been working with this company.”

After Chustrak and Deineka disappeared, Nika did obtain physical retail space; it started selling furniture from booths within furniture shopping centers of the kind Svyatoslav described. My investigators called around to the shopping center operators and adjacent retailers, but none was willing to talk about Nika. When they reached out to the current proprietor, she said that they had nothing to do with Chustrak and Deineka, and said that if we could not provide an invoice with the official business number of Nika Mebel, but would have to use another entity instead.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in this project. Going forward, I would like to further explore anyone who might have had business dealings with Chustrak and Deineka that would shed light on their reasons for traveling to Asia. It’s hard to prove a negative, but the lack of evidence supporting the narrative that they were longstanding furniture importers merits doubts about the explanation given for their being on the plane.

And if it turned out that they were indeed definitely not on the plane for the state reason, that would raise a further question: Why was a website created mere months before their trip that created the impression that they were retailing imported furniture? Were they expecting that for some reason they might attract attention in the near future and wanted to create a misleading impression of what they were up to?

UPDATE 3/7/21: It occurs to me that, even if Dmitry Kozlov somehow didn’t know the details of the furniture-importation business, Chustrak and Deineka’s wives surely would have. Yet in her petition to have Oleg declared dead, Tatiana Chustrak makes no mention of any such separate business. The document states:

“The husband was engaged in private business, namely, along with his friend and business partner, Deineka Sergey Grigorievich, owned a shop for furniture production.”

Nothing about importing or retailing. So not really an explanation for why they would be on that plane.

50 thoughts on “Why Were the Ukrainians Aboard MH370?”

  1. Jeff, you seem to be over the target. Was there another passenger, a SCUBA instructor on holiday? All 3 sitting in 1st class?

  2. There was a Russian, Nikolai Brodsky, sitting in first class, and yes, he was a technical scuba diver. The Ukrainians were in economy, under the satellite antenna.

  3. Still , 7 years later, this case fascinates me. I’ve pondered every possible explanation, and can’t fathom the correct scenario…although Diego Garcia is definitely one that seems most believable..shot down, and covered up…why no big stories about the pieces found?? Even if pilot suicide, or passenger caused, I cannot believe we didn’t find anymore remnants 7 years later.

  4. The probability these two Ukrainians were sitting above the satellite equipment and a 3rd passenger who was Russian sitting over the another piece of critical equipment in first class and that they were all just innocent passengers on a plane from Malaysia to Beijing that took a left turn and then disappeared and remains unfound, is zero.

  5. @Jeff It has the hallmarks of a highly coordinated Russian intelligence operation. I am pretty sure the US government knows this but for some unknown reason is remaining silent.

  6. I take the possibility of the involvement of Russia very seriously, but I just don’t know why, with a Malaysian plane (or, if you like, another Malaysian plane) and majority Chinese passengers.

    It’s very hard to know how to take the suggestion it could all have been a media smokescreen to detract attention in the global news from Crimea. Beyond that, I am lost as to a potential reason, still very much though appreciating the argument that Russia really can fit the bill.

  7. @GMC, I’ve said this many times, but the reason I’ve laid out a scenario in which the plane was taken by Russians is simply that the Inmarsat data indicates that if the plane didn’t go to the southern Indian Ocean, it went to Kazakhstan. Any speculation about motive on my part or anyone else’s is secondary to that fact.

    It’s like, if you find a bunch of bodies buried under someone’s house, you might ask “Why on earth would he have murdered all those people?” and you may or may not be able to come up with a convincing explanation, but it wouldn’t really matter.

  8. Jeff, do you have any thoughts about the new book by Florence de Changy concerning MH370? I didn’t find her theory plausible, but I don’t have the depth of knowledge to specifically refute her arguments (especially the one about the abrupt turn west was physically impossible for the 777.)

  9. @Sean, I haven’t read it but I’ve seen it described. She thinks that MH370 was shot down over the South China Sea by the US military and that basically all the evidence that says otherwise has been fabricated. Pretty much the definition of a conspiracy theory.

  10. I just finished reading Disappearing Act by Florence de Changy. I’ve been following your and Victor’s blog for years. I would hope at some point you might comment on the book. I thought she did an excellent job of proposing a complete explanation. Based on her theory the 3 mysterious passengers were probably escorting the contraband US military hardware captured in Afghanistan to China for analysis. The US ended up shooting down the plane near the coast of Vietnam to prevent the secret device from falling in to China’s hands. Zaharie refused to comply with the order to land and had to be shot down before he crossed in to Chinese airspace. The planes electronics were silenced by AWACS and the false leads were planted. The real crash site was in the original location and cleaned up while everyone was diverted to the Indian Ocean. I know it sounds crazy. I’d appreciate any comments.

  11. @Trip, But that’s not a “theory,” it’s just a story — there isn’t a single shred of evidence for anything that she’s talking about. It’s a fever dream.

  12. Time of last contact was listed as 2:40 am, more than an hour after the 1:30 am that was used in subsequent reports.

    Malaysia Airlines flight to Beijing vanishes. 08 March 2014 Asia BBC
    Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that flight MH370 had disappeared at 02:40 local time on Saturday (18:40 GMT on Friday) after leaving Kuala Lumpur.

    It had been expected to land in Beijing at 06:30 (22:30 GMT).

    Malaysia’s transport minister said there was no information on wreckage.

    “We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

    “Our hope is that the people understand we are being as transparent as we can, we are giving information as quickly as we can, but we want to make sure information has been verified.”

    Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.

    The plane went off the radar south of Vietnam, according to a statement on the Vietnamese government website.

    Its last known location was off the country’s Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear, it said.

    The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including seven children, and 12 crew members.

  13. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Arthur Conan Doyle

    NZ herald.co.NZ 2/18/2015
    “There’s a lot about this whole affair that niggles me and I’ve considered numerous questions as to whether there has been a cover up or there has been a show of inefficiency. I learned that Malaysian military had picked up a possible signal over Penang (an island off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsular) but didn’t report it immediately.
    “Of course, if it was from the plane, it means that contrary to my belief that it had come down in the South China Sea it had managed to turn around and fly back across the mainland.

    According to the Kiwi, Vietnamese authorities did send a search and rescue flight from Vung Tau but the operation stood down when another lead turned up.
    Whilst at the time Mr McKay reported his sighting the plane was believed to have disappeared over the South China Sea, evidence from military radar and data from a satellite later revealed the plane flew south over the Indian Ocean.

  14. Why wasn’t there a flight identifier after Igari? I think the only good data is right up to good night. After that everything else could have been created. I don’t believe McKay is lying. If not 370, what did he see? The gulf of Thailand would have been covered with radar from awacs and surface vessels.

    “Two major military training exercises–‘Cobra Gold’ and ‘Cope Tiger’–were taking place in the area where MH370 went missing, right about the same time. The Cobra Gold exercise had been organised jointly by Thailand and the United States every year since 1982, and involved several thousand American military personnel (4,300 in 2014). These war games included drills on land and at sea, mock beach landings, live-fire exercises (Calfex, or Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise), search and rescue missions, and humanitarian aid drills for natural disaster scenarios… Over the past 10 years or so, what began as a Thai–American exercise had widened to include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Twenty additional countries participated with observer status. The Seventh Fleet had been sending an increasing number of ships from its regional bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam to participate in the exercise.

    — The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370 by Florence de Changy

  15. @Trip, I would say that the fact that several dozen nations were on hand, and they all would have had to keep the secret if the military shot down the plane, is evidence against rather than for Florence’s theory.

  16. Were the Ukrainians and Russians planning on committing suicide by directing the plane to the Indian Ocean? Or did they have an escape plan? If they were successful in getting to Uzbekistan how have they kept word from leaking out after 7 years? Truth is the daughter of time.

  17. @Trip, the only reason the Russian and Ukrainians merit special attention is because if the BFO data was altered, the BTO data puts the plane in Kazakhstan. As for whether they could keep the secret, it’s basic tradecraft, and Russian intelligence services are pretty impressive IMO.

  18. @BeigeBana8, Yes, of course, Russia does not have a perfect record of keeping its ops secret.

    But I think this kind of argument is fundamentally mistaken. It’s easy to look at a theory and say, “I find this part of it unlikely.” It’s unlikely that Russian intelligence could have kept its secret. It’s unlikely that the plane could have passed over all these countries without being seen on radar. It’s unlikely that a 777 could be electronically taken over from within the E/E bay.

    The problem with this approach is that unlikeliness is baked into MH370. What happened was so strange and unprecedented that no simple story is going to be right. De Changy’s idea is a case in point — it’s simple, but it doesn’t fit at all with what we know to have happened.

    If you look carefully at all the data, you’ll find that there are only two narratives that fit at all with the material facts. Either the plane went south, or it went north. Both are “unlikely” or “hard to believe.” But one of them must be correct, unless it was all a psyop and the plane never even existed, or something.

  19. Jeff, I’m with you, MH17 and Salisbury are occasions when the Russian state initially looked pretty capable of keeping a lid on, but probing by actors like Bellingcat ultimately exposed them. My point (which I didn’t make at all clear) is that it has not apparently occurred to Bellingcat to have a go at the MH370 case. I’ve read your book (haven’t read the de Changy book) and to me it looks like there are two remaining avenues of enquiry:

    The first concerns the recovered wing parts and the barnacle question. Plenty of these parts went to Toulouse but have the French investigators published a clear analysis of what they found including any unresolved questions or anomolous findings?

    Secondly, and this is where Bellingcat could make a big contribution, if the three passengers you identify could be shown to be still alive, things would unravel pretty quickly for the perps.

    Your thesis that the perpetrators of this atrocity chose to create a narrative so unlikely that nobody would pursue it is likely to be the only one that stands the test of time. This question has gone so quiet, with no new evidence emerging, it seems like the world wants to forget.

  20. @BeigeBanana8, I have reached out to Bellingcat trying to interest them in working together, but they passed.

    The French haven’t published anything about the barnacles on the flaperon per se, but there’s a lot of information from them in the final Australian report. Most interestingly, they finally confirmed that the flaperon floated in a way that seemed to suggest there shouldn’t be barnacles all over it. Unfortunately the Australians missed an opportunity to look into this further when they built replicas and set them free in the ocean for a while. I would loved to have attached a beacon to one, let it drift, recover it after a couple months, and see what the distribution looks like.

    I agree, if Chustrak, Deineka or Brodsky were to be found alive that would be game over, and I’ve definitely wondered if any of them might be lurking in one of those leaked databases that Bellingcat has done such great work with.

  21. @JeffWise
    I have reached out to Bellingcat trying to interest them in working together, but they passed.
    Don’t you think that Bellingcat passed because they know exactly who hijacked MH370, and it’s NOT the Russians?
    They know which side their bread is buttered.

  22. @CliffG, what a peculiar thing to say. If Bellingcat knew who hijacked the flight they would without question make that information public. Not sure what butter on bread has to do with this, and yes I do know the meaning of that expression.

  23. Hi, I have always been fascinated by this horrid mystery and shortly after it I had read that there were I think 7 executives who had just signed a partnership with Rothschild. It said normally shareholders never all travel together for this very reason but the fact that those 7 are ‘gone’ left Rothschild with the patent that had just been approved earlier in the week – the patent has to do with the “stealth” covering of aircraft but also if a plane went down it was supposed to Color the water so it was easier to find. That was so long ago I can’t remember if my memory is totally correct but that is the jist of it. I want to follow your conversations on this. I do hope someday there is some resolve. Have any of you who are investigating this heard of any “story” like this?

  24. @Debra, It sounds like someone was playing a game of telephone–there’s a vague hint of what you’re talking about involving a company called Freescale Semiconductor but somehow it got mixed up with some antisemitic conspiracy theories? Anyway, not to plug myself too much but if you’re interested in the basic facts of the case you should read my book “The Taking of MH370.”

  25. @CliffG, I agree with RibRub, if Bellingcat knew we all would know. For what it’s worth, Bellingcat tends to be very conservative in drawing conclusions from evidence in general. They’ve never said, nor do they seem to believe, that Russia deliberately shot down MH17, which to me should be the default assumption.

  26. @All

    Peter Foley, responsible for the failed search for 9M-MRO off the coast of Western Australia, has suggested a new search based on “new evidence”. This is essentially further around the existing area in the SIO. The Malaysian Government is not interested. There needs to be solid evidence to restart the search. A longer version behind a paywall;

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/new-evidence-fuels-calls-to-restart-search-for-missing-mh370/news-story/23141bd81e633aa86ca46508852124a0

    @Jeff Wise

    The new information on the Ukrainians and Russians is interesting. You have published extensively on this before. Perhaps the Kremlin knew of their ‘background’ and 9M-MRD was the result.

  27. @SteveBar, Thanks for this. It would be an interesting intellectual exercise for Foley to give an example of a flight path that would result in the plane being in the newly-searched stretch of ocean. It would require multiple westward turns (undertaken for no apparent reason) through the course of the flight and an inexplicably low airspeed–physically possible, to be sure, but vanishingly unlikely.

  28. @JeffWise,
    “Bellingcat tends to be very conservative in drawing conclusions from evidence in general. They’ve never said, nor do they seem to believe, that Russia deliberately shot down MH17, “
    I totally agree, and that is my point! The evidence overwhelmingly points to a deliberate targeting of MH17 by the Russians, and yet Bellingcat spends enormous efforts to suggest that it was an ‘accidental’ shootdown by the Russians.

  29. Late to this post, but just a reminder that convicted Russian spy Maria Butina was also in the furniture business. From Wikipedia:

    “Butina, at age 21, launched a furniture retail business in Altai Krai.[17] In 2011, she moved to Moscow and sold six of her seven furniture stores to start an advertising agency.”

    Just to parse that timeline out, between the ages of 21 and 23, the English major opened seven stores in just two years and made enough of a success of them that sold six so she could start an ad agency nearly 2000 miles away.

  30. Hey @Scott, great to hear from you. Thanks for the reminder about Maria Butina’s furniture business. It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish while managing an all-cash enterprise…

  31. @JeffWise
    It’s pretty amazing what you can accomplish while managing an all-cash enterprise…
    … things such as hiring a Harvard educated attorney who worked on behalf of plaintiffs in the PAN-AM Lockerbie bombing that was blamed on Libya, but which was actually carried out by those working for Iran in revenge for the shoot down of Iran Air 655 by USN?

  32. @Jeff Was there any new information about the poster in the thread on Kazakhstan claiming he had more information dated late January 2021. You posted in a comment you had emailed him.

  33. Very interesting! Their story seems suspicious. Do you have any idea what they did for a living before owning a furniture store?

  34. @Hailey, I managed to get in touch with a former high school classmate of theirs who now lives in Pennsylvania. He said that he had stayed in touch with them only sporadically. They attended an automotive trade high school in Odessa and were then drafted into the Soviet military. After their service they got into the furniture business, they told him. I’m still trying to find out more details about what that business involved.

  35. I have been trying to reach you for a spell.

    Without going excessively far down any particular rabbithole, the bizarre combinations of barnacles and mechanical shearing seen on the Flaperon have a very simple and logical explanation – all inclusive, even…

    The plane shifted on the bottom – and from the patterns of damage and expelled panels and so on, the shift was **backwards** – so the plane was sitting with nose upslope – on coral.

    The “event” that caused the shift was a **pair** of back to back cyclones – the new record holder(s) spanning the entire history of the Indian ocean. First VITC “Bansi” peaking on 1/15/15 at ** CAT 5**, followed two weeks (1/29/15) later by “Eunice”, also a CAT 5.

    Their tracks were only a couple of hundred miles apart – both beginning near Madagascar/Seychelles and moving southeasterly.

    The Flaperon’s rear edge was crushed as the plane crunched/ground backwards into a coral head – likely staghorn at the depth involved. Their “heads” can be massive – like porcelain skyscrapers of the deep.

    The “dual” pattern of barnacle growth infers the interval between crash and discovery had two phases – the flaperon fully submerged at a far greater depth where barnacle growth was slow but all over, then the much faster growth rate of the floating unit higher in the photic water column, with faster currents and more sunlight. The crushed rear edge proved to be the best growing surface – nice and abraded – yummy for gooseneck barnacles.

    Guess what? Those barnacles will not grow below 250 feet or so – so this means the plane is/was parked in the mesophotic sunlight zone.

    If I give you coordinates – you won’t begin to believe them – but you will locate the plane quickly…

    Regards, WAH

  36. Jeff, I’d be curious of your opinion on the following report: airlineratings.com/news/mh370-set-off-radio-tripwires-confirming-location-says-new-report/

    I was under the impression immediately after and following the incident that JORN was not active or looking at the area where the plane disappeared

  37. @Roger Thompson, Thanks for sending this link. I honestly have no idea what Geoffrey Thomas and Richard Godfrey are talking about here, but the two have been two of the most damaging sources of disinformation on the subject of MH370 because of the credibility they’ve been afforded — Thomas as a regular contributor on CNN, and Godfrey as a core member of the (now discredited, in my mind, but still highly influential among the mainstream media) “Independent Group.”

  38. @Roger Thompson, and Jeff,
    The reference to JORN in that piece was incidental; a rather weak attempt at drawing an analogy to the WSPR technology that Richard Godfrey is investigating.

    In fact the WSPR technology has been known and understood for quite some years. It is simply that recent advances in SDR [software defined radio] have allowed the monitoring and data collection of vast amounts of real-time data relating to very low power radio transmission, point to point around the globe. It is also well known that small, barely detectable, transmission anomalies can occur as a result of reflections from aircraft that happen to intercept the radio path. Identifying these anomalies, e.g. a change in the S/N ratio, or a subtle frequency shift, together with the very accurate timing can potentially identify the possibility of an aircraft crossing the radio path. The technique has been shown to work, accurately, with known aircraft tracks.
    This link describes the application to MH370: https://www.dropbox.com/s/weu4h7154lqtt62/Geocaching%20in%20the%20Ionosphere.pdf?dl=0

    Richard Godfrey is doing an excellent job of searching for anomalies that might help substantiate elements of the MH370 flight path. It is not an easy task. The anomalous events are but very “small needles in a massively huge haystack”.

  39. Jeff Wise,

    You may have addressed this is your book, it has been awhile since I read it. Also I did not read the comments for this post all the way back so this may be repetitive information.

    Florence de Changy regarding the two Ukrainians writes;

    “I found out much later that their tickets were the only ones that were completely untraceable by the investigators. No idea where they were purchased, no travel agent, no method of payment, no place of issue. Highly abnormal apparently.”

  40. @Susie, Wow! I didn’t know that — I haven’t read her book. Frankly I’m stunned that investigators looked into the Ukrainians, and that Florence was able to find out about it. Could you tell me what the whole section says?

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