‘Ghost of Kyiv’ hero fighter pilot was myth, Ukraine admits
Posted On May 2, 2022
The outnumbered and outgunned fighter pilots of Ukraine have bravely resisted their Russian enemies, thanks largely to a reported flying ace known as the “Ghost of Kyiv”.
The Ukrainian top gun was believed to have shot down up to 40 enemy planes in a combat theatre where Russia largely controls the skies.
But now Ukrainian military chiefs have revealed that the fighter ace does not exist.
“Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians,” the country’s air force command said on Facebook.
“We ask the Ukrainian community not to neglect the basic rules of information hygiene,” the message added, advising people to “check the sources of information, before spreading it”.
Earlier media reports, including by the UK Times newspaper, had named the ace as Major Stepan Tarabalka. Ukrainian authorities said he was killed in combat on March 13 and honoured with a posthumous Hero of Ukraine bravery medal.
The air force declared that “Tarabalka is not ‘Ghost of Kiev’, and he did not hit 40 planes”.
It said the “Ghost of Kyiv” was a “a collective image of pilots of the air force’s 40th tactical aviation brigade, who defend the sky over the capital”, rather than a single pilot’s efforts.
For past weeks, the story of the legendary figure has gone viral on social media, while the Ukraine defence ministry tweeted a video celebrating Major Tarabalka’s heroism.
The Ukrainian authorities fuelled the “Ghost of Kyiv” legend only days after the war started on February 24.
The Ukraine Security Service showed a fighter pilot on the Telegram messaging service, with a caption calling the “Ghost of Kyiv” an “angel” for downing 10 Russian planes.
But Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov told the BBC the “Ghost of Kyiv” played an important propaganda role in raising morale.
He said in the early days of the war, the Russians dominated Ukrainian airspace, so a Ukrainian pilot “could only shoot down two or three”.
“It’s essential to have this propaganda, because our armed forces are smaller, and many think we can’t be equal to them [the Russians]. We need this in wartime,” he said.
Ukrainian pilots, flying inferior, older Russian-designed MiG-29s, are still denying Russia’s air force control of the skies.
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