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… 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.

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

  1. @ Todd The biggest difference between Jeff’s research and theory on MH370 and yours is that his has always been based on solid scientific evidence. Unfortunately, we live in a world where unreasonable multi-layered illogical conspiracy theorist claims such as yours only detract from exposing real potential cover-ups and conspiracies.
    Certainty is another giveaway. Conspiracy Theorists always have 100% certainty every crazy illogical link connects perfectly without proof.
    If you’ve followed Jeff’s work any length of time you might understand it’s the exact opposite.

  2. @ Jeff W Looks like Richard Godfrey’s theory is getting more traction- Just watched a new 60 minutes Australia episode dedicated to his theory. Zero minutes of the show explaining the evidence from those experts doubting the usefulness of WSPRnet for locating mh370.
    Meanwhile the man with the most motive to disappear the plane is giving us a glance behind the curtains, but does anyone connect the dots- strange times…

  3. @David W, Thanks for weighing in re:@Todd.

    As for Richard Godfrey’s theory, it is depressing to see how much traction it has gotten, and 60 Minutes Australia is a new low.

  4. @Jeff Sky News Australia just published another feature on MH370 titled “The Final Search” Well produced, big on drama and story line. Prof Chari Pattiaratchi supposedly predicted early on the drift locations for 23/33 pieces of debris, and his Northern coordinates for the plane match up exactly with Godfrey’s WSPRnet location.
    Byron Bailey’s South of 7th Arc is the other location highlighted.
    Once again, zero minutes spent explaining the technical feasibility of WSPRnet in picking up an aircraft. Instead, they once again focus on showing capt Zaharie’s one potential motive for committing mass murder/suicide.

  5. Mr. Wise: thanks perhaps to how the search went, even if we found a laptop that might have been used to access data and determine when handoff was, we would not have anyway now perhaps to deciphere the perhaps pressure-detroyed or oxidized drive — it’s worth a try but nothing anyone says about MH 370 is to me quite believable —
    just the tiles I saw at Tomnod of that trash-strewn Ocean — perhaps a few of those tiles had debris from MH 370 imaged in them. Anyway,
    I have not researched that theory, my only real research in aviation disasters is this crash (and the STS 107).
    I searched at Tomnod for the plane, and decided ultimately to put a report online. I have revised it now and have moved it to google docs. (I am not writing it for profit; would love to earn profit but that is not what I was doing or am doing with MH 370; but I do try to write sometimes for profit and I know journalists need to earn money for what they do — that is my real reason for contacting you.)
    I have used your information — that you researched — on the left AC bus depowering.
    I am providing the URL of my own document that uses your info: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1d_RMYS_HCpGON_2q9RLD2d-X69rUHYd_DjfYk36u0GI/edit?usp=sharing ; can you provide permission to use this information on the left AC bus that is in your report? I used some of your actual writing so feel it more important to secure permission from you than from Victor Ianello — I used data discussed and linked to at his site too.
    –C. E. W.

  6. #1 IMO there must be some way to trace where the payments for the East Ukrainians tickets came from — there must be some place/account that paid Malaysia Airlines; that should provide a date.
    #2 Did anyone sitting near the satellite phone or Avionics Bay ask for such a seat?
    #3 Did anyone use the satellite phone during the first part of the flight (before the final cockpit transcript?)
    #4 Was this route typically flown in a Boeing 777?
    #5 Who besides the pilot could fly? (Brodsky maybe; anyone else?) Could someone have coerced the pilot or co-pilot into flying back from the Igari waypoint/final contact with Malaysia — on toward somewhere south of Phuket Island?
    IMO might someone/some group or nation have been interested in some of the cargo — could the hijacking have been part of an attempt maybe to divert some cargo — or prevent it from reaching its destination.

  7. Hallo Jeff Wise
    glad to see, that ratio and patience is still there, 8 years after the event.
    Maybe now, after Russia nearly started a World War over Ukraine, we could definitely fall back to the Kazakhstan scenario. Nobody wanted to listen to you, because nobody thought, that russia would be so dangerous and commit such atrocities in taking MH370 as discussed in 2014 thru 2016 . But now we see in plain view: Russia is comitting much worse crimes on a daily basis and drawing the whole world in its mess. Putin as professional KGB scum, does what his education told him: Blackmail, kill, build dependencies and do everything above the law, like in so many secret service organizations.
    Simply put: they have done it. No matter how and why

  8. Hi Jeff,
    What do you make of the recent Sky News Australia report on MH370 and WSPR analysis?

  9. Hey buddy—

    Reading through some of the comments here. Have you still not read Florence’s book? Downright strange you’ve spent so much time on the issue and couldn’t take a couple hours to lead through it. Are you interest in MH370 or not?

  10. Hi Barney, I’m familiar enough with her theory to know that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I mean just goes against so much of the information that we have, to speculate that the US Navy shot down MH370. Is there some piece of evidence that she’s brought forward that seems credible?

  11. Any updates on MH370? I see they’ve traced the missile order for MH17 to Putin. MH370 can’t be far behind.

  12. Hi Sekar. I don’t have any reporting updates, but keep an eye out for the upcoming Netflix three-part documentary series on MH370, which debuts March 8. I’m in it and I think they do quite a good job clarifying what we know and what we don’t.

    Like you I read the latest news about MH17 with great interest. I was a little disappointed frankly to see that Putin is only being accused of approving the transfer of the Buk to the “separatists” (actually the whole thing was a Russian military operation) and not for bearing command responsibility for the act of war itself. The default media narrative remains that the shoot-down was accidental. I don’t buy it, and I don’t understand why it’s considered more reasonable to give the perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.

  13. This is a very interesting. I find it odd that no one did a background check on these two gentlemen and nothing gets mentioned about those two guys at all. Very fishy!
    Why didn’t you mention anything about that in the Netflix documentary?

  14. Anna, Thanks. I did extensive interviews with the producers of the show, they’re certainly familiar with this material. But there’s only so much time in a three-episode series, and I don’t think they wanted to overwhelm viewers with detail.

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