Ukrainian leadership has now admitted something that many had long suspected: the “Ghost of Kiev” — an internet legend and supposed hero who reportedly shot down 40 enemy planes since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine — never actually existed.
Recently, several news outlets reported that Major Stepan Tarabalka — a 29-year-old Ukrainian father who was recently killed in battle — was the heroic “Ghost of Ukraine,” but those reports were debunked just days later.
On Sunday, the New York Post reported on an announcement posted to the Ukrainian air force’s Facebook page, which stated that those reports were not true, and that the alleged near-mythological pilot was actually a myth.
“Ghost of Kiev is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!” the Ukrainian Air Force Command’s Facebook account wrote in the post.
“Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Ghost of Kiev’ and he did NOT hit 40 planes,” the post continued.
The UAF confirmed this information on Twitter, and 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,” the tweet continued.
Ukrainian member of parliament Lesia Vaslynko also tweeted about the news, admitting that the “Ghost of Kiev” was not an actual person.
“A few point on the Ghost of Kiev: ⁃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 wrote.
While many people have long suspected that the unnamed pilot was fictional, former Ukrainian officials like President Petro Poroshenko appear to have claimed in the past that he was a real person.
“In the photo – the MiG-29 pilot. The same ‘Ghost of Kiev.’ It terrifies enemies … He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!” Poroshenko tweeted in late February.
Ukraine’s Staff of the Armed Forces’ Facebook page also previously posted a photo that reportedly showed the “Ghost.”
“‘Hello, Russian villain, I’m flying for your soul!’ – the Ghost of Kiev,” the post said, sharing a photo of a Ukrainian pilot.
It is now apparent that the Ghost never actually existed, and was supposedly meant to rally Ukrainians against the invading Russian forces. Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov said in a statement to 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.
Alongside Zhirohov, a Ukrainian military expert “who requested anonymity told the BBC the Ghost of Kiev story ‘has helped to raise morale at a time when people need simple stories.’”
The reaction on social media to the news was mixed. While the left continues to swoon over Ukraine, pushing their propaganda, celebrating this fictional story, and not caring that they were lied to, many on the right are concerned that this shows how easily the government is able to push and spread propaganda online, and how willing and eager people are to consume it.