Mayberg no longer co-owns Ukraine's largest airline — what's next for Ukraine International Airlines?

4 April, 01:11 AM
Ihor Kolomoisky (Photo:Mykola Myakshykov / Ukrinform)

Ihor Kolomoisky (Photo:Mykola Myakshykov / Ukrinform)

The story of Aron Mayberg at Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) is over. Now the future of the airline will be determined by Ihor Kolomoisky's group and its management. 

Aron Mayberg, who has been determining UIA's development over the past 10 years, has left the list of its founders, NV Business was told by three sources in the aviation industry. Now, the airline's future will be decided by the second group of shareholders, the most notable of whom is Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.

Video of day

Major changes at Ukraine’s once-leading airline

On February 9, a landmark event took place: Capital Investment Project, one of UIA's shareholders, pulled Aron Mayberg from the airline's Supervisory Board, according to the company's official announcement. Along with him, Oleksandra Nikitina, a partner at Ecovis Bondar & Bondar, a law firm known for its cooperation with UIA and personally with Mayberg, left the supervisory board. She was recalled by another shareholder — Ontobet Promotions Limited (Cyprus).

Until that moment, Mayberg had been heading the airline's supervisory board for many years.

Another important change took place at the end of 2022. On Dec. 30, Hanna Borysonnik was elected UIA President. Prior to UIA, her resume included work in several Dnipro-based companies, including Aquatera, which is owned by Kolomoisky and his business partner Hennadiy Boholyubov.

The official owners of UIA have not changed for many years. They are the Ukrainian Capital Investment Project and the Cyprus-registered Ontobet Promotions Limited. These companies, at least until recently, were owned by two groups of shareholders. The first one is represented by Mayberg. The second one was revealed by Kolomoisky himself in 2019. According to him, he personally owned about 25% of the company's shares at that time. Among the other co-owners, he named Pavlo Ovcharenko, who headed Ukrtatnafta until 2022.

Borysonnik's appointment is important because of the peculiarities of corporate governance at UIA, which are enshrined in the shareholder agreement between the co-owners.

"Let me put it this way: the voting representatives of the shareholders on the appointment of the company's president are guided by my point of view," Mayberg explained in an interview with NV Business in early 2022.

"And the voting representatives when appointing the vice president for finance are not guided by mine.”

Simply put, it was Mayberg who chose whom to appoint as the head of the company, and Kolomoisky's group chose the CFO. Prior to her appointment as UIA CEO, Borysonnik was Vice President for Finance. That is, by the end of 2022, Kolomoisky's reach has extended to the top position in the company.

These developments effectively draw a line under Mayberg's more than 10-year reign at the carrier, following the privatization of the UIA's controlling stake in 2011.

Aron Mayberg has withdrawn from UIA's shareholders, a source familiar with the airline's operations confirmed to NV Business on condition of anonymity.

Kolomoisky's position has obviously strengthened. Oleksandr Khmarskyi and Herman Klimko took the place of Mayberg and Nikitina on the supervisory board. The latter is known for his participation in the authorized capital of two companies — Balance Group and Transnova (together with Dmytro Kriuchkov). These companies are involved in multimillion-dollar lawsuits with the state-owned Centrenergo, which Kolomoisky was interested in purchasing several years ago.

However, we should not expect the Dnipro businessman to become a direct owner of Mayberg's stake. Since 2017, a London court has imposed a worldwide freeze on Kolomoisky's and Boholyubov's assets at the request of Ukraine’s state-owned PrivatBank. It is highly likely that the seizure may extend to new acquisitions.

Mayberg and Ihor Kolomoisky could not be reached for comment.

What's left of UIA

In recent years, even before the full-scale war with Russia, relations between Mayberg and Kolomoisky's group have been tense. The parties had different visions of the airline's development, Mayberg told NV. In addition, he faced difficulties when trying to fire the now ex-executive director of UIA, Yevhen Dykhne. He challenged the dismissal in court and claimed that he was close to both shareholders, not just Mayberg.

The turbulence UIA found itself in affected its financial results. Until 2020, the company showed billions in losses and only in 2021 earned UAH 366.9 million ($13.45 million) in net profit. It did not publish a report for 2022.

The carrier's website states that its fleet includes 25 aircraft. But this is most likely outdated information. According to the State Register of Civil Aircraft of Ukraine, UIA operates 15 aircraft. It is unknown how many planes UIA actually has today. "13 of the company's aircraft remain at Ukrainian airports," Mr. Dykhne told NV Business in an interview. Part of the former fleet was gradually withdrawn by the lessors.

Дайджест главных новостей
Бесплатная email-рассылка только лучших материалов от редакторов NV
Рассылка отправляется с понедельника по пятницу

In August 2022, Kyrylo Zvonarev replaced Dykhne as president. In October, due to a conflict between the owners, the company completely stopped flights, Avianews quoted the head of the airline's trade union, Oleksandr Polyanskyi, as saying.

Did Mayberg's departure help UIA?

In early March 2023, Avianews recorded the transfer of three aircraft from the UIA fleet to the fleet of another carrier, Windrose. They are owned by a leasing company associated with Kolomoisky, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Volodymyr Kamenchuk, the official founder and CEO of Windrose, has previously confirmed cooperation with Kolomoisky's group, according to Besides him, Anastasia Hornostayeva, the former manager of the Novotroitske Ore Mining Company (owned on parity by Kolomoisky and Rinat Akhmetov) had signing authority in this company. Earlier, Windrose took over the planes of the bankrupt Dniproavia.

Does this mean that UIA may disappear? Legally, the company will continue to exist, says one lawyer specializing in aviation law.

"It is needed to settle issues with contractors, work with insurance companies, and most importantly, to conclude (court proceedings in) the case of the plane that was shot down during the Tehran-Kyiv flight in 2020," the source explained.

We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google News

Ukraine Today
Fresh daily newsletter covering the top headlines and developments in Ukraine
Daily at 9am EST
Show more news