The fabled ‘Ghost of Kiev’ fighter ace alleged to have shot down scores of Russian aircraft over Ukraine is nothing more than a legend, Ukraine’s air force has admitted in a statement, pouring cold water on the story even after media outlets insisted they had identified the fictional pilot.
The clarification came just one day after the Times of London claimed to have identified the ‘Ghost’ as Major Stepan Tarabalka, citing unnamed “Ukrainian sources.” While the outlet reported that he died in combat last month, the military had already acknowledged the major’s death in a public statement on March 23, saying nothing of the extraordinary feats attributed to the ‘Ghost of Kiev.’
The Ukrainian government itself helped to give credibility to the mythical fighter pilot, sharing a tweet in February boasting that the ‘Ghost’ “dominates the skies over our capital and country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft.”
A video accompanying the post stated the pilot had shot down 10 planes – six of them within the first 30 hours of Moscow’s military operation. It added, however, that the pilot’s identity “is still unknown.”
Signs that something might be amiss with the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ story arose after Ukraine’s Defense Ministry shared footage purporting to show a dog fight with a Russian craft, which many social media users went on to portray as the ‘Ghost’ in action. However, the video clip was later determined to be inauthentic, instead showing footage from a video game combat simulator. The same game has been used to produce other videos falsely portrayed as real-life fighting in Ukraine.
In what might have been a bit of "buyer's remorse," the Ukrainian Air Force Command took to social media over the weekend to urge users not to “fill the infospace with fakes” and to “check the sources of information before disseminating it,” debunking a number of rumors making the rounds online.
“Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ and he did NOT hit 40 planes,” the air force said, adding that “The Ghost of Kiev is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!”
The military went on to explain that the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ moniker is merely a “collective image” representing the pilots of the 40th Brigade of Tactical Aviation, who “protect the sky of the capital” and “suddenly appear where they are not expected.”
The air force also rejected other recent claims and rumors in its statement, insisting that local pilots are not being trained abroad to fly US-made F-16s, and that “American bombers too do not fly over Ukraine.”