The “Ghost of Kyiv,” a popular hoax that was created days into Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine after video game footage of a jet fighter surfaced on YouTube, has been officially disavowed by the Ukrainian government.
The Ukrainian Air Force was forced to issue a statement instructing Western media outlets to kill the hoax after an article in the Times (which has since been edited), which was reposted by the New York Post, the Daily Mail and other outlets, wrongly attributed a slain Ukrainian pilot, Major Stepan Tarabalka, with the “Ghost of Kyiv.”
Reports claimed that Tarabalka, a 29-year-old Ukrainian pilot recently killed in battle, was “confirmed” to be the superhero figure. The Times article attributed over 40 kills to the Ghost — an exceptional figure that hasn’t been seen in air-to-air combat since the Second World War.
Most, if not all of the aircraft shot down in Ukraine on either side can be attributed to surface-to-air missiles and MANPADs.
The Ukrainian Air Force on Sunday disavowed the reports of the Ghost of Kyiv to state that the mythological pilot was simply a myth, and one created for propaganda purposes.
“Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!” the Ukrainian Air Force Command’s Facebook account stated. “Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and he did NOT hit 40 planes.”
On Twitter, the Ukrainian Air Force said that information about the death of the “Ghost of Kyiv” are “incorrect,” adding that “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 government’s statement was echoed by Ukrainian MP Lesia Vaslynko, who admitted that the so-called Ghost is simply a legend who is “all those brave ace pilots who appear out of nowhere protecting the skies.”
It’s worth noting that Ukraine has no ace pilots. The definition of an ace pilot is a pilot who scores more than five air-to-air kills throughout the course of his entire career.
Despite the Ukrainian government’s disavowal of its flying ace legend, several former Ukrainian officials like former President Petro Poroshenko claimed that the Ghost was real.
Remarkably, American politician Adam Kinzinger falsely attributed the Ghost’s identity to comedian Sam Hyde after falling for a very obviously photoshopped meme.
The Ukrainian government had played no small part in promoting the hoax, and previously posted a photo reportedly of the Ghost on Facebook, captioning it “Hello, Russian villain, I am flying for your soul!”
While the Ghost never existed, it hasn’t stopped Ukrainian reporters from attempting to justify its existence and accusing anyone who called out the absolute stupidity of the hoax as “Russian disinformation.”
Speaking to the BBC, Ukrainian military historian Mikhail Zhirohov said that the story was designed as “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.
The Ghost of Kyiv is just one of several Ukrainian hoaxes, which have been perpetrated by the Ukrainian government, including the heroes of Snake Island, who were initially reported to have been killed by a Russian warship by refusing to surrender.
Footage of the soldiers, which was a lot more than the 13 soldiers in initial reports, later surfaced on social media showing the surrender of dozens of Ukrainian service members confirmed to be on the island.
Regardless of the actual status of the soldiers, it definitely took guts for the soldiers to stand up to a warship in the face of imminent death.