Ukrainian fighter pilots are far fewer than the Russians and have become legendary – largely due to the story of an alleged ace of the flight called “The Ghost of Kyiv”, notes BBC.
This hero is said to have shot down up to 40 enemy planes – an incredible performance in an arena where Russia controls the sky.
But now the Ukrainian Air Force Command has warned on Facebook that “The ghost of Kyiv is a legendary superhero whose character was created by the Ukrainians!”
“We urge the Ukrainian community not to neglect the basic rules of information hygiene,” the message reads, urging people to “check the sources of the information before spreading it.”
Earlier reports called the 29-year-old Major Stepan Tarabalka an ace. Authorities confirmed that he was killed in a fight on March 13 and decorated post-mortem with the Hero of Ukraine medal.
Now, the air force points out that Tarabalka is not the “Ghost of Kyiv” and that it did not hit 40 planes.
Ghost of Kyiv
He describes the “Ghost of Kyiv” as “a collective image of the pilots of the 40th Air Force Tactical Aviation Brigade defending the capital’s sky,” rather than a single-man battle record.
For several weeks, the Ukrainians did not have a name to accompany the “Ghost of Kyiv” – but this did not stop the story from going viral on social media.
It was used as a marketing mark by a Ukrainian model aircraft manufacturer, while Ukrainian Iryna Kostyrenko presented a legend-inspired military badge.
And the Ministry of Defense posted a video on Twitter celebrating Tarabalka’s heroism.
🕯13 березня 2022 року під час повітряного бою з переважаючими силами 🇷🇺 загарбників «пішов у небо» мап.
За захист повітряного простору, доблесть і відвагу майору Степану Тарабалці присвоєно звання «Гер. pic.twitter.com/otjqT32ZP4
– Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) March 25, 2022
Military experts told the BBC that they doubted a single pilot could have shot down up to 40 Russian planes.
Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov described the story Ghost of Kyiv as “propaganda for morale.” Speaking to the BBC in Chernivtsi, he said that at the beginning of the war, the Russians were dominating the Ukrainian airspace, so that a Ukrainian pilot “could only shoot down two or three aircraft”.
“It is essential to have this propaganda, because our armed forces are smaller and many believe that we cannot be equal to the Russians. We need this in times of war, “he said.
Despite all its military power, Russia has had more than two months to bring down Ukraine’s air defenses – and it has failed.
Ukrainian authorities have fueled the “Ghost of Kyiv” legend just days after the war began.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) featured a fighter pilot on the Telegram messaging service, with a caption calling the “Ghost of Kyiv” an “angel” because it shot down 10 Russian planes. But he did not name the “angel”, and media reports later stated that the photo used was old.
A Ukrainian military expert, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC that the Phantom of Kyiv story “helped lift morale at a time when people need simple stories”.
Ukraine’s morale has also been boosted by the Moscow story.
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