The 'Ghost of Kyiv' is a myth, Ukraine admitted over the weekend, putting an end to the mystery surrounding the hero pilot who was so was long claimed to have shot down several Russian fighter jets. The revelations come after news agencies last week reported that the mystery hero fighter pilot was a 29-year-old father who was killed in action with the Russians.
Last Saturday, several news agencies identified the slain pilot as Major Stepan Tarabalka, who for weeks shot down several Russian jets flying over Kyiv, but finally died in combat while flying his Mig-29. However, on Sunday Ukrainian officials said that it was a myth.
Really a Ghost
On Saturday, the Ukraine Air Force Command acknowledged that there was no such person as the 'Ghost of Kyiv'. Ukrainian officials took to Facebook to clarify that "Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!".
"The ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend, whose character was created by Ukrainians!" Ukraine's Air Force Command wrote on Facebook.
News agencies had earlier identified Major Stepan Tarabalka as the hero pilot credited with shooting down as many as 40 Russian aircraft. However, officials said that Tarabalka was originally killed in combat on March 13th and was posthumously awarded the Hero of Ukraine medal.
However, Ukrainian authorities said that while Tarabalka was a decorated military hero, he was not the "Ghost" because such a person never existed. "Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT 'Ghost of Kyiv' and he did NOT shoot down 40 planes," said the country's Air Force Command.
Rather than a single man's combat record, the "Ghost of Kyiv" is described as "a collective picture of pilots of the Air Force's 40th tactical aviation brigade, who defend the sky over the capital," according to the Ukrainian officials.
For weeks, Ukrainians were stumped for a name for the "Ghost of Kyiv", but that didn't stop the story from becoming popular on social media. "People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so," the government tweeted in February of the reputed mysterious figure, saying the pilot had "already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft."
A Ukrainian model aircraft maker exploited it as a marketing trademark, and Ukrainian Iryna Kostyrenko wore a military emblem inspired by the narrative.
The defense ministry also shared a video honoring Tarabalka's bravery.
However, many people questioned whether the "Ghost" was real after a video purporting to show the fighter turned out to be from a computer game. Many also speculated that the alleged folk hero and his MiG-29 Fulcrum would be unable to carry out the attacks for which he was credited.
Despite this, many individuals were eager to commemorate the enigmatic alleged pilot.
The Ghost of Kyiv story is "propaganda for morale uplifting," according to Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov. He told the BBC from Chernihiv that the Russians dominated Ukrainian skies early in the battle, 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.
The fact that Ukrainian pilots, flying inferior, older Russian-designed MiG-29s, continue to deny Russia ultimate control of the sky inspired this modern tale. Russia had more than two months to knock out Ukraine's air defenses with all of its military strength - and failed.
Just days after the war began, Ukrainian officials fueled the legend of the Ghost of Kyiv.
On the Telegram messaging app, the Ukraine Security Service (SBU) posted a picture of a fighter pilot with the phrase "Ghost of Kyiv" is an "angel" for shooting down 10 Russian planes. However, the "angel" was not named, and media reports later claimed that the photo used was an old one.