The Ghost of Kyiv — an internet legend and supposed hero who reportedly shot down 40 enemy planes since Russia invaded Ukraine — never actually existed, the Eastern European nation has now admitted.
Recently, various media outlets reported that Major Stepan Tarabalka, a 29-year-old Ukrainian father who was recently killed in battle, was the heroic “Ghost of Ukraine.” On Sunday, the New York Post reported that the Ukrainian air force announced on its Facebook page that those reports were not true, and that the alleged near-mythological pilot was simply a myth.
“Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!” the Ukrainian Air Force Command’s Facebook account shared in a post.
“Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and he did NOT hit 40 planes,” the post added.
On Twitter, the UAF provided more detail.
“The information about the death of the The Ghost of #Kyiv is incorrect,” the Ukrainian air force tweeted.
“The #GhostOfKyiv is alive, it embodies the collective spirit of the highly qualified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who are successfully defending #Kyiv and the region,” it noted.
The information about the death of the The Ghost of #Kyiv is incorrect. The #GhostOfKyiv is alive, it embodies the collective spirit of the highly qualified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who are successfully defending #Kyiv and the region.
— Ukrainian Air Force (@KpsZSU) May 1, 2022
Ukrainian member of parliament Lesia Vaslynko added to that message, admitting that the Ghost was not an actual human.
“A few point on the Ghost of Kyiv: ⁃he is alive and well ⁃he can’t be killed – he is a ghost ⁃he IS a legend ⁃he is all those brave ace pilots that appear out of nowhere protecting the skies,” Vaslynko tweeted.
A few point on the Ghost of Kyiv:
⁃he is alive and well
⁃he can’t be killed – he is a ghost
⁃he IS a legend
⁃he is all those brave ace pilots that appear out of nowhere protecting the skies
— Lesia Vasylenko (@lesiavasylenko) May 1, 2022
While many have long suspected that the unnamed pilot was fictional, former Ukrainian officials like President Petro Poroshenko seem to have claimed that he was a real person.
“In the photo – the MiG-29 pilot. The same ‘Ghost of Kiev.’ It terrifies enemies and pride Ukrainians,” Poroshenko tweeted in late February. “He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!”
На фото – пілот МіГ-29. Той самий «Привид Києва».
Він викликає жах у ворогів та гордість в українців 🇺🇦
На його рахунку 6 перемог над російськими пілотами!
З такими потужними захисниками Україна точно переможе! pic.twitter.com/GJLpcJ31Si
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) February 25, 2022
Ukraine’s Staff of the Armed Forces’ Facebook page had also posted a photo reportedly of the Ghost of Ukraine.
“‘Hello, Russian villain, I’m flying for your soul!’ – the Ghost of Kyiv,” the post said alongside a photo of a Ukrainian pilot.
Now, it is evident that the Ghost never existed and was used instead to rally Ukrainians against invading Russian forces. Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov told The BBC that the entire story was “propaganda for raising morale.”
“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,” Zhirohov added.
Likewise, a Ukrainian military expert “who requested anonymity told the BBC the Ghost of Kyiv story ‘has helped to raise morale at a time when people need simple stories.’”