Last Updated on May 1, 2022
A viral rumor from the war in Ukraine’s early days has been officially dispelled after a statement from the Ukrainian military. The viral “Ghost of Kyiv” story — which involved a supposed Ukrainian fighter ace who downed several Russian aircraft — was concocted and amplified in an effort to raise morale, officials said.
Multiple media outlets reported that a 29-year-old Air Force Major, Stepan Tarabalk, was identified as the famed “Ghost of Kyiv” over the weekend. This prompted the Ukrainian military to issue a statement confirming that no such person exists.
“The Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend, whose character was created by Ukrainians!” Ukraine’s Air Force Command wrote in a Facebook post.
The mythical pilot had been credited with taking out as many as 40 Russian aircraft until he was shot down on March 13 while battling an “overwhelming” number of Russian jets, according to a recent report from the Times of London.
Ukraine’s Air Force added that Tarabalk was indeed killed in action on March 13. He was “heroically killed in an air battle with the dominant forces of the Russian occupiers,” military officials said through Facebook. Tarabalka was posthumously awarded the Order of the Golden Star, the highest military honor, and given the title Hero of Ukraine.
The military branch added that the ghost of Kyiv story has symbolic value. “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,” said Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat.
The now thoroughly debunked story was a viral story in the early days of the war. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger — who recently introduced a motion that would mandate combat operations against Russia if chemical weapons are used — has enthusiastically referenced the story for weeks.
At one point, Kinzinger shared a meme of comedian Sam Hyde, who was jokingly named “Samuyil Hyde” and identified as the pilot.