As Vladimir Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, the so-called Ghost of Kiev became a symbol of resistance and was quickly hailed as a hero amid allegations that the ace had shot down dozens of enemy planes.
And so Ukrainians were devastated when it was claimed that the brave fighter had been killed in action after the macho propaganda of the masked pilot shooting down Russian jets saw his popularity soar.
The Ghost of Kiev was named last week as 29-year-old Stepan Tarabalka – who died in battle on March 13.
He was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s highest medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Golden Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine.
But the Ukrainian Air Force Command has now said that Tarabalka was NOT the Phantom of Kiev as the morale-boosting pilot truth is not so clear.
He warned that the ace is just a “character” rather than a real person.
A Facebook post read: “Ghost of Kiev is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!”
The message urged people to “check sources of information before releasing it”.
He emphasized that “Tarabalka is not ‘Ghost of Kiev’, and he did not hit 40 planes”.
The post described the aviation ace as “a collective image of pilots from the Air Force’s 40th tactical aviation brigade, who defend the sky over the capital” – not just a pilot’s record.
In March, the Ukrainian military shared a photo showing a person wearing an oxygen mask in the cockpit of a MiG-29 fighter jet, with the caption “Hello occupant, I’m coming for your soul!”
And the official Ukrainian government account posted a 38-second clip on its social media on Feb 27, writing: “People call him the Ghost of Kiev.
“And rightly so – this UAF ace dominates the skies over our capital and country and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft.”
The footage was intended to show the MiG-29 jet flying through the air before destroying six Kremlin planes on the first day Putin launched his war.
But one of the videos was debunked by experts as being from the 2008 video game Digital Combat Simulator – fueling suspicions that the ace had been invented as authorities tried to rally support for their resistance against the Russian invasion.
Filming begins with a cartoon mockup of the plane, before going into debunked footage of a wrecked Russian jet.
Text appears in the video, which states: “Ukraine probably got its first ace since WWII. This is the anonymous pilot of the MiG-29, nicknamed the Phantom of Kiev.
“In the first 30 hours of the Russian invasion in February 2022, he shot down six Russian military aircraft.
“As of February 26 – 10 military planes from the occupiers. To become an ace pilot, you need to shoot down five planes. And the Phantom of Kiev shot twice as many.”
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