The untold story: An Interpreter of MH17 tragedy

Major Dr. Mohd Zainizam Zainal (front row, left) the Interpreter of MH17 tragedy.

Our beloved country Malaysia will be celebrating its 64th Merdeka Day, which is just around the corner. Let us express our deepest love and appreciation to the Unsung Heroes who fought for Malaysian independent, truth and justice.

Even the world is stricken by the Covid-19 pandemic but Malaysia is still committed to seek justice for the victims of the MH17 tragedy. July 17, 2021 marks the seventh anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which had killed a total of 283 passengers and 15 crew members. MH17 departed from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down and crashed in the Eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

This dreadful incident is still fresh in our memory and undeniably a great sorrow and sufferings for the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on-board. Three days after the senseless tragedy, a Malaysian team known as the ‘Dozen Persons’ were given the trust to execute an important mission for the sake of the country. The main aim was to release the victim remains and the cockpit voice recorders (black boxes) and also access to the crash site for the air-crash investigations. The journey to the region was a risky experience with no firearms but with some cash, food and medication purposely to accomplish the covert operation. The perils of facing separatists, language communication barrier, travel distance and the need to fast for 18 hours were the main obstacles in making the negotiations a success.

Major Dr Mohd Zainizam Zainal, one of the Dozen Persons was the interpreter in this special operation. He was responsible for transferring the thoughts in a written format and the ideas involved during the negotiation process from one language to another. Even though he is a medical doctor in the Malaysia Armed Forces (ATM), indeed his prime role was to ensure the basic meaning that requires to be conveyed should be communicated in an effective manner. Better communication will result better negotiation.

Zainizam said that negotiation is an effective discussion at reaching an agreement while communication is an art to be mastered depending on how you speak. One has to be very sensibly convert the thoughts into a speech by carefully selecting significant words for others to understand well.

“Learning Ukrainian is one of the most difficult languages to learn and this amazing language requires hard work, determination and high motivation in order to understand accurately.

“But I am very blessed and grateful for the opportunity I had as learning other language is an investment in the future and unexpectedly to serve the nation,” said Zainizam.

During negotiation, it is crucial to understand the power of language communication. The way we present our thought matters the most as we must speak clearly what the other person is saying. Our thoughts and ideas must be expressed clearly for others to understand well.

“It was a risky talk with the separatist leader Alexander Borodai as he was reluctant to speak other than Ukrainian and we had to go through many stages of negotiations.

“Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah) we made it when the negotiations were successfully resolved within 24-hour without any conditions made by Donetsk Separatist Group (DSG) leader,” said Zainizam.

The Dozen Persons have completed the challenging mission with entering Ukraine to retrieve the bodies and flight recorders even though their lives were on the line. These Unsung Heroes who devoted their lives for the country no matter what it takes will always be appreciated and remembered. Undoubtedly, without understanding other language this critical mission is unaccomplished.


The Dozen Persons

  1. Colonel Mohd Sakri Hussin (Chief Negotiator – MKN)
  2. Briged General Datuk Dr Mohd Ilham Haron (DVI ATM)
  3. Dato Dr Mohd Shah Mahmood (DVI HKL)
  4. Colonel Dr Mohd Hafizi Abdullah (Emergency Physician – ATM)
  5. Major Dr Mohd Zainizam Zainal (Medical Officer / Interpreter – ATM)
  6. Leftenan Colonel (Ustaz) Nazri Musman (Kagat – ATM)
  7. Major Muhammad Mustafa Omar (PASKAU TUDM)
  8. Inspektor Abd Rahim Abd Aziz (SMART)
  9. Sarjan Shahrizal Abu Bakar (PASKAU TUDM)
  10. Koperal Rosli Mustafa (PASKAU TUDM)
  11. Laskar Udara Kanan Mohd Afendy Ahmad Zaini (PASKAU TUDM)
  12. Rosli Shaari (GIRN Communication Expert)


* Alexander Borodai (right) watches the black box during its handover to one of the Dozen Persons.




Meizareena Mizad

Centre for Language Studies

Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM)