The viral tale of the so-called “Ghost of Kyiv” — a lone Ukrainian ace fighter pilot credited with at least six kills in the skies, with some claims putting the number up to 40 — has been officially denounced by the Ukrainian military after a pilot who died in March was identified as the Ghost by multiple media outlets, including The Times of London.
“The Ghost of Kyiv is alive and embodies a collective image of the highly qualified pilots of the tactical aviation brigade successfully defending Kyiv and the surrounding region,” Yuriy Ignat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, told The London Times, after the paper, citing “Ukrainian sources,” identified the pilot as Maj. Stepan Tarabalka and reported he had been shot down on March 13 while fighting “overwhelming” enemy forces.
The Ukrainian military denied those claims.
The urban legend of the “Ghost” spread fast over social media early in the war, with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense even tweeting out a video it claimed showed the pilot beating a Russian jet. The footage was later revealed to be from a flight simulator. As Jared Keller noted at the time, it seemed like the spectral pilot was just a modern urban legend for the digital age — and he was right.
Notably, while Ukraine’s denial of the ‘Ghost’s’ existence is new, news of Tarabalka’s death is not. NPR reported on the pilot’s demise in March and even interviewed his parents. He is buried in the town of Korolivka. However, officials and family members who spoke with NPR’s Eric Westervelt made no mention of the Ghost of Kyiv or claimed he was Tarabalka. Westervelt noted that Tarabalka had flown sorties in 2014 during the initial fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas region. His kill count in the skies has not been disclosed, although Ghost or not, it’s incredibly unlikely he got the 40 mythical kills of the viral legend.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has been appealing to Western nations for more arms and weapons, including new planes. This past week NATO pilots scrambled several times to intercept Russian jets flying over the Black and Baltic seas. The incidents were resolved peacefully.
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