Why Were the Ukrainians Aboard MH370? UPDATED

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.

Update 3 May 2021: A reader has alerted me to the fact that the French journalist Florence de Changy, in her recent book about MH370 entitled “The Disappearing Act,” includes a passage about the Ukrainians:

The two Ukrainians arrive together, in the last few minutes of boarding, and they look far more energetic than their fellow passengers. They have the physiques of US Marines and wear body-hugging black T-shirts. Each has a large carry-on bag, and they whisk them on to the conveyor belt with practised ease. 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. The two men happened to be seated on row 27, right below the Satcom antenna.
Of all the passengers who board the flight, if you had to pick out two as being hijackers, the Ukrainians are the ones who best look the part, in terms of age, physical condition, appearance and body language.

87 thoughts on “Why Were the Ukrainians Aboard MH370? UPDATED”

  1. MH370 theoretical evaluations have always overshadowed factual information.
    Although I do not find her outcome plausible, the majority of the content in Florence de Changy’s book is devoted to information rather than theory.

    The fallacy of any scenario for a planned disappearance of MH370
    is the multitude of events that occurred through error, which facilitated the plane’s disappearance.

    The amount and variation of these mishaps could not have been planned nor would the plane’s disappearance have been successful without them.
    It would have been impossible to incorporate the vast string of mistakes necessary for the plane to disappear.

    It would be remiss to ignore the facts of these mistakes which reinforce the improbability of Captain Zaharie’s as an orchestrator of all this unplanned chaos. Yet without the chaos of mistakes, the likelihood exists of a far different outcome for MH370.

  2. @Jeff

    Without consideration of criticism (not you), I will tell you I thought her book had substantial new information. Although it has been a couple of years since I posted, you find MH370 never really leaves you but at the same time your brain tires of re-circulating all the same material. Florence provided new material and did an excellent job of stifling her opinions. She presented information as factual when it was and left it open to discretion when it was not. I just finished the book so it will take time to go back over bookmarked pages to further expound on my explanation.

  3. @Susie, I know what you’re talking about regarding recirculating the same information. I have some misgivings about Florence given the nature of her conclusion but would love to hear more of your thoughts when you have time to spell them out.

  4. Not a ‘vast string of mistakes’ but rather a sequence, in the main, of carefully planned events.

    When the USA refuse all FoI requests for information from their intel and satellites citing ‘covert operations’ and the involvement of foreign governments, and Malaysia start ‘classifying’ such things as ATC transcripts, CCTV of passengers boarding and so on you should guess covert involvement and things being covered up.

  5. @Jeff, @Suzie

    I just finished reading Florence’s book – notwithstanding a few faults and a conclusion / theory that I don’t necessarily buy in to, I thought it was very well written and certainly compelling in the sense of being a ‘page-turner’.

    I would sum the overall theme as very focused on the ‘fog of war’ / disinformation around MH370’s disappearance, feeding her conclusions that the Inmarsat data and SIO end-point were a classic distraction from a disastrous end closer to BITOD / IGARI which needed (for whatever high-stakes geopolitical reasons) to be covered up.

    As Suzie said, I’d say there’s a lot of new “leads” (if not solid “information”) that Florence pursued, e.g. interviews with Z’s sister, attempts to track down Mike McKay in NZ, quotes or references to a number of high-ranking officials/contacts that I hadn’t heard before, and so on.

    @Jeff I very much hope you’ll take the time to read it. I won’t dwell on the passage, but there are some difficult ‘home truths’ in there around reporting of the police investigation / flight sim data. Having followed you for many years and read your own book, I only wish good will between pretty much the only two thorough, dedicated and open-minded MH370 researchers I’ve come across. Some form of collaboration would almost certainly progress matters IMO.

    If nothing else, as motivation, the English translation includes a typo naming you somewhere as “Jim Wise” :).

    As a side note (re flaws in this book) – I always get frustrated at the vast majority of MH370 reporting which denies any claim of responsibility. For completeness, we must not forget the claim of the “Chinese Martyrs’ Brigade”. Whilst not a major element of most scenarios I have entertained, I always felt that claim *may* be a piece of the puzzle – especially given (a) the horrible Kinmen stabbing attack literally one week before MH370’s disappearance and (b) increasing clarity in ensuing years of how aggressively China has pursued the “Uighur problem” (read: detention camps).

  6. @Enzyme, Thanks for this. I appreciate your kind words and you make a good case for me reading Florence’s book. As for the Uighurs, I got myself into a bit of hot water for writing back in March 2014 that I thought they were the most likely culprits. Once it became apparent how technically sophisticated a spoof would have to be I backed away from that. But you’re right, it was very much in the news at the time and the oppression has only gotten worse since.

  7. @Jeff, looking forward to your thoughts. There are a number of logical leaps made that I’m uncomfortable with, but worth a read admist the other information presented.

    Re the Uighur angle, there is precedent for hijacking – e.g. Tianjin Airlines Flight 7554 (interesting incident in itself – the perps donned staff uniforms and feigned disability to smuggle weapons on board).

    Applied to MH370s case, I was imagining a foiled hijacking rather than a “spoof” as you said. Given the mix of nations involved (US aircraft, Han Chinese pax, Malaysia, Vietnam, Uighurs) I think there would be sufficient motivation and geopolitical pressure between state actors to agree on a cover up of certain scenarios resulting in a bad ending.

    So you have: (a) Kunming one week before (b) hijacking precedent (c) “artist” group on board, possibly providing good cover (d) specific claim of responsibility and (e) very intricate US-China dynamics if something did happen. Certainly a compelling formula, much more so IMO than exotic theories involving mystery cargo etc.

    Speaking of exotic theories, I know it’s counter-productive to add yet more of my own to the endless grab-bag … but another angle that possibly shouldn’t be discounted (again reinforced further by current tensions) is a display of *Chinese* technical prowess. And at the risk of discrediting myself totally, in my darkest hours of “peak speculation” I have wondered about first deployment of BUAP or something similar, whether to foil a hijack – or indeed exploitation of same for a remote takeover.

    Anyway, was pleased to see the topic on your blog again – thanks for your efforts in keeping things alive.

  8. @Enzyme

    Mike McKay’s report haunted me for a long time for reasons I cannot explain and I remain convinced his accounting of what he saw that night had considerable substance. It’s worth noting, for weeks he was constantly asked to repeat his report of that evening and it never varied.

    Whatever the reason he quickly became a virtual recluse. I wanted to speak with him, contacting him continually in 2014 but he never replied.

    The line in the CMB letter stating the plane would never be found was fascinating.

    Why make such an incredibly stupid statement, because planes are always found, so all credibility would be lost once MH370 was found. Not that it was ever deemed credible but one would think that is what the sender wanted.

    At that time, no one could conceive of a commercial flight evaporating, so
    it would have been a ridiculous claim to make, yet as utterly bizarre as it was, that was the declaration and it were right.

  9. Florence de Changy’s book opens with a description of the airport on Friday evening March 6, 2014. Having been made privy to the CCV footage, she continues with apt descriptions of the ill fated passengers and crew of MH370 as they go through security before boarding the plane. It is an eerie feeling reading the descriptions of these individuals knowing this is the last time they have ever been seen.

    There are notably blatant procedural security breaches which could explain the unwillingness of authorities to release the footage to the families or publicly.

    Going back to the point of recirculating information, it was impossible for me to wrap my head around how lack of interest accelerated so quickly for anything other than the data. After the simulator data was released and tagged, it was the pilot’s plotted course of murder to nowhere and it was game over for anything else.

    Reading Florence’s book brought me back to a time when prolific discussion here had a viable outcome. Still, there are many parts of events that night that were never discussed.

    Was there ever a discussion of how the circumstances of MH370 would have unfolded if the ATC and CC mistakes had not occurred. Would it have been different if MH370 had been determined as non locatable or communicable within a matter of minutes instead of a matter of hours.

    By my calculation it was just shy of 2 hours, 1 hour 56 minutes from initial contact before MH370 was declared missing. If the ATC, CC exchanges had been efficiently executed the time frame would have had to have been substantially less, but how much less. How far would MH370 have flown had there been expedited results rather than what actually occurred.

    Had it been expeditiously determined the plane disappeared from radar with no contact, was there a procedure for a plane absent in the air and if procedure had been flawlessly and judiciously followed, what would have occurred.

    Who governed policy for unlocated and incommunicado commercial aircraft, what was this policy and was it arbitrary.

    These are some of the unanswered questions that constantly rambled around upstairs

  10. @Suzie – yes, good observation regarding the CMB letter’s correct prediction. Interestingly that letter also made a second “prediction” – namely that Malaysia specifically would face future consequences for unspecified wrongdoing; which indeed it did, in the shape of MH17.

    Yet – a Uighur connection to MH17 seems more of a stretch than MH370 (unless anyone can think of one). So if not an entirely coincidental link – it may then suggest that the CMB letter, if genuinely linked to a perpetrator, may have been intended as a clear message to China and Malaysia with a veneer of plausible deniability.

  11. Jeff, there are no coincidences here. The furniture business is bogus, it was a weak cover anyway. there must be more background on these 2 or 3 operators. (i’m including the SCUBA instructor). 3 men, hijackers. where are they now?

  12. @Susie, Yes, few people have so successfully spread misinformation about MH370 as successfully as Richard Godfrey. It’s pretty sad.

  13. Seems like we are ever so closer to finding the truth. The clues were all there. The strange behavior of the daughter of the Russian passenger, the Ukrainians sitting over the exact spot that could manipulate flight directional satellite data, the physical appearance and energy of the Ukrainians boarding a late night flight, the timing of it occurring just a few days or less after the United States directly called out Russia for the invasion on a neighboring country. Putin is using asymmetric warfare tactics and has been for years. He involves civilians from around the world without a care. He now is suing a British writer that covered Russia for decades in Moscow in a London court. Eventually it seems like enough people are poking their heads in the places they should be. He cannot poison us all.

  14. Jeff, I used to import office furniture from China. There was an online company who were able to provide shipping bills of lading for individual companies (I think it was either Panjiva or Import Genius). It’s been a few years now but I remember being able to search my competitors to see what they were bringing in. Could be worth exploring that avenue?

  15. @Macca, If you would be able to do that, that would be amazing. I hired some researchers in Ukraine who said that the authorities there had no record of Nika Mebel importing furniture, but they said that the company could have used another company to do that work for them. Still, I think it would be worthwhile to see if the Chinese have any records on their end.

  16. @Sekar, I hope you’re right! I’ve been reading a very interesting book, “Russians Among Us,” about how Russian intelligence (and the KGB in Soviet times) has for decades planted undercover agents the West. One of the things that struck me is how time and again Russia will use extremely sophisticated and costly ways to carry out their nefarious deeds, like using polonium or custom nerve agents, that are extremely difficult to detect, but that once detected point the finger of blame directly at the Kremlin, because no one else would have the resources and motivation to pull off such a thing. Their schemes are so smart it’s stupid. So for all the people who say, “Why would Russia risk that kind of operation, when if it went wrong they’d get the blame?” Well, that’s absolutely par for the course for them, that’s how they operate. Another SOP is that they devise these elaborate operations, and then hand them over many times to nincompoops to carry out, who leave trails of radioactivity and nerve agent everywhere. Remember the assassins who claimed they had a lifelong dream to see Salisbury Cathedal? There are these stereotypes in the West, both of Russians as nefarious super criminals, and also as alcholic incompetent nitwits. Both are true at the same time! To which I would hasten to add, normal Russians are lovely people and have a rich culture that I have great admiration for.

  17. Curious if you have noticed what is going on over on Mike Chillit’s Twitter? It seems possible there has been something found in the SIO

  18. @Shiri, I checked it out. I think what happened is that Jonathan Amos of the BBC (@BBCAmos) tweeted on May 17, “Hello, what’s going on here then? Unless I’m greatly mistaken, the DSSV Pressure Drop is in mapping mode above the #MH370 7th Arc. 22° 09.460′ S, 102° 32.063′ E.”

    This got a lot of people excited. The next day Amos tweeted, “The DSSV Pressure Drop is currently exploring the Wallaby-Zenith Fracture Zone. Zero to do with #MH370. The science team says its depth (>6000m) makes it a good comparison to typical hadal features like subduction zones. They’re studying fauna and recent volcanism.” But it was too late…

    FWIW, Mike Chillit is one of the more deranged members of the MH370 obsessives club, so his name is an immediate red flag.

  19. Thank you for the reply.. Good to know. I have always believed your theory especially after watching the chaos Russia has been able to accomplish with regards to other things.

  20. I have been following mh370 from the start and been a fan of your blog. I also read Florence’s book. Basically she concluded that the flight continued flying after IGARI and terminated off the east coast of Vietnam around 230 am, right when and where McBride saw the flash of light. I think many people have spent significant resources searching for the single solution. While Occam’s razor is attractive, we need to consider that there may have been several concurrent events. The Ukrainians could have cut off communication and left the ship blind. The pilot could have continued flying on his planned route. The plane could have been shot down when it entered Chinese airspace in the South China Sea. Florence pointed to the initial reports and the fact that vessels were initially searching that area before being called off. I think that there is no single solution. I think scoring a goal in soccer is a better analogy to solving this mystery than treating it as a math problem. In soccer its the initial shot, the deflection and the header, happening unexpectedly all at once, a series of unexpected events. There is no mathematical solution to mh370. The search was moved away from the crash site to shift blame. Inmarsat said logs were hacked to hide the truth. Conspiracies aren’t always planned ahead of time.

  21. @Trip, I think it’s possible that multiple events could have occurred simultaneously, but it’s important to recognize that different events would have caused different results, and in this case contradictory ones. If the Ukrainians tampered with the SDU so that it could fly north while appearing to fly south, that would have resulted in the plane going to Kazakhstan. If the plane was shot down in the South China Sea, it wouldn’t have started to transmit Inmarsat signals.

  22. @Sekar, thanks for this. Interesting to note that Blaine continues to tell varying stories about the “Lendra piece.” To William Langewiesche, Blaine’s inconsistencies are a result of his natural flair as a storyteller. To me, they are a red flag about his credibility.

  23. Just in case anyone’s interested, my review of Florence De Changy’s book has just appeared in the latest Fortean Times (‘Twists and turns on a trail to nowhere’, FT 407, p 53). I make reference to Jeff’s ‘The Taking of MH370’ as well. Whilst disagreeing with aspects of De Changy’s end-of-flight scenario, I feel her book has considerable merit (as does Jeff’s). She’s put in a lot of work, done lots of legwork, and written a detailed and commendable study. A good book: well worth a read

  24. @Jeff not to be pushy, but how did you go with the additional leads or synergy re Florence’s book? Particularly noting your update to this post, I thought you might be inspired to read the whole thing as discussed above – perhaps prompting some further revelations (or indeed critiques).

  25. I’ll just generously assume that life got in the way then @Jeff 😉

    I can’t remember your stance historically – have you ever allowed yourself to question the veracity or provenance of the Inmarsat data itself? I realize past a certain point you need to ‘work with what you have’, rendering counter-productive any line of thinking that undermines the few apparent data points that are available. That said, I wonder whether the same level of open-mindedness permitting the “eccentric” nature of your conclusions would ever extend to conspiracy (ugh, that word) further up the chain.

  26. Hi, been watching all the YT Videos and reading through all the information on here, basically MH370 is much bigger than you could possibly imagine.

    Part of this what I am going to say is fact and the other theory, the fact I wont mention, but comes from a reliable source, which for obvious reasons I cannot reveal, nor can I prove that it is real, that said, this is one story that ties in some of the information.

    If you thought MH370 was a big cover up, it definately was, it involved, the USA, China, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan Taliban.

    Basically an American Military Base was Overrun by Iranian Commandos and the Taliban prior to MH370 somewhere in Afghanistan. During this raid, Advanced US Military Drone Equipment was stolen, in the wrong hands it would set back the US Military for decades and for possible wars should they arise in the future.

    The Stolen US Drone Equipment was auctioned to Russia and China by IRAN, the Chinese being the highest bidder.

    Because of the interested parties all trying to get their hands on the military equipment, it was loaded onto MH370, with Iranians, Russians, Chinese and Americans onboard, with this scenario, something was going to happen on that plane.

    The US had to act in the interest of Security and re acquire the equipment, as other countries were trying to steal the equipment in any which way they could.

    What happens after this, well this is why all the flight, sat data has been compromised, they dont want you to know.

    If you think about it, the plane was built by Boeing, so someone with that knowledge had to be involved.

    With this, the US are pulling out of Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation, why, because one of the reasons I suspect is that they dont want another MH370 Situation on their hands.

    Its just a theory and would definately make a good film.

  27. @Unknown, It’s not so much a theory as a notion — I draw the distinction between theories, which attempt to explain the data on hand, and a notion, which is a concept that isn’t rooted in any specific reality. It might make a good movie though!

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