The Truth Behind The ‘Ghost Of Kyiv’

The Truth Behind The 'Ghost Of Kyiv'

The Ukrainian fighter pilot celebrated on social media as a war hero, was said to have shot down several Russian aircraft — and has now died. But what’s the truth behind the myth of the “Ghost of Kyiv”?

It was a story that gave courage and hope to the people of Ukraine during wartime: The military was putting up a fierce fight against the Russian invasion, and one very exceptional fighter pilot became a folk hero. He was alleged to have single-handedly brought down roughly 40 Russian planes since the invasion began. Videos of the ace pilot began circulating online at the beginning of the war and he quickly made headlines as the “Ghost of Kyiv”.  

The story — just like the recent news of the war hero’s death — spread primarily via social media. But news outlets such as the Times in the UK and the New York Post also speculated that the “Ghost of Kyiv” was 29-year-old Stepan Tarabalka. 

Forty planes shot down ‘highly exaggerated’

The pilot’s death had been announced by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Twitter in late March. The post read, “On March 13, 2022, during an air battle with the overwhelming forces of the invaders, Major Stepan Tarabalka ‘went to heaven’. Major Stepan Tarabalka was awarded the title ‘Hero of Ukraine’ (posthumously) for the protection of airspace, valor and courage.” 

But was Tarabalka really the legendary “Ghost of Kyiv”? Moreover, did such an exceptional pilot ever actually exist?

The Truth Behind The ‘Ghost Of Kyiv’

Military experts believe it is unlikely that a single fighter pilot shot down roughly 40 enemy aircraft. Justin Bronk of the British Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told DW, “The totals mentioned about a pilot shooting down 40 Russian aircraft are highly exaggerated, since Russia has only suffered 25 confirmed fixed-wing aircraft losses, and most were shot down by a surface to air missile (SAM) systems or man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).”

Delayed clarification by government accounts 

After Ukrainian government accounts had repeatedly spread the story of the “Ghost of Kyiv” themselves, the Ukrainian Air Force clarified on Facebook that “The hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and he did NOT hit 40 planes.” Rather, he “embodies the collective spirit of the highly skilled pilots of the Tactical Air Force Brigade who successfully defend Kyiv and the region.” Ukrainians should “NOT neglect the basic rules of information hygiene” and verify information sources before disseminating them further.  

But a tweet at the beginning of the war which has since been deleted, for example, said: “Dozens of experienced military pilots, from captains to generals, who were previously discharged from the reserve, are resuming their service in the Air Force. Who knows, maybe one of them will be the aviator on the MiG-29 so often seen by Kyiv residents!”  

Private users and former President Petro Poroshenko had shared videos and photos purporting to show the mysterious pilot — many of which turned out to be fake.  

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Mr Priceless
A young person with a passion for success and excellence to develop a professional career that encourages empowerment in the overall development of a person which is achieved through hard work. A Journalist with facts and a difference; standing by the truth all the time with interests in Science & Technology, Health, Celebrities' Lifestyle, Crimes, Education and Career Improvement.


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