Ukraine admits 'Ghost of Kyiv' does not exist

"Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!" said the Air Force Command of Ukrainian Armed Forces in a Facebook post. 

 A Ukrainian MIG-29 fighter jet lands during the Clear Sky 2018 multinational military drills at Starokostiantyniv Air Base in Khmelnytskyi Region, Ukraine October 12, 2018 (photo credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)
A Ukrainian MIG-29 fighter jet lands during the Clear Sky 2018 multinational military drills at Starokostiantyniv Air Base in Khmelnytskyi Region, Ukraine October 12, 2018
(photo credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

The "Ghost of Kyiv," a Russia-Ukraine War legend of an ace Ukrainian pilot that scored multiple dogfight kills, does not exist, the Ukrainian air force said on Saturday.

Ghost of Kyiv an urban legend

"Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!" said the Air Force Command of Ukrainian Armed Forces in a Facebook post. 

The air force also denied viral internet rumors that Major Stephan Tarabalka was the ghost of Kyiv, and that he had downed 40 Russian aircraft. Tarabalka was posthumously honored by the Ukrainian government as a Hero of Ukraine. the pilot was killed in action on March 13.

The specter of misinformation

The air force cautioned to check the sources of information and to only use official sources. However, official Ukrainian sources spread the myth of the Ghost of Kyiv early in the war.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry teased the existence of the legendary pilot on the second day of the war, saying that "dozens of experienced military pilots from captain to generals who were previously discharged from the army in reserve are returning to the air force," and "who knows, maybe one of them and is that air avenger in the  MIG-29." 

A Russian MIG 29 flies at the Dubai Air show, November 20, 2005. (credit: REUTERS)A Russian MIG 29 flies at the Dubai Air show, November 20, 2005. (credit: REUTERS)

Also on February 25, the former president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko shared a picture claiming it to be of the Ghost of Kyiv, though the photo was later revealed to be an older photo from 2019. 

"It terrifies enemies and makes Ukrainians proud," tweeted Poroshenko. "He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!"

Poroshenko was not alone in posting false images of the legendary figure. Videos and doctored pictures of the Ghost of Kyiv circulated furiously throughout social media in the early days of the war.  

A youtube video featuring video game flight simulator footage was shared widely as a sighting of the Ghost of Kyiv. Capitalizing on the frenzy of speculation about the identity of the Ghost of Kyiv, Internet pranksters photoshopped a picture of comedian Sam Hyde and claimed that he was the Ghost of Kyiv, keeping with a long-running meme claiming Hyde is responsible for various violent events. The picture tricked US Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, who wished fake pilot "Samuyil Hyde" continued success against Russian air forces.

Symbols of Ukrainian resistance

The Ghost of Kyiv is seen as both a symbol of Ukrainian defiance against Russian military aspirations and the role that information and propaganda play during wartime. 

Also early in the war, the seizure of Snake Island and the last stand of the Ukrainian servicemen stationed there also became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance, the source of the now-famous phrase "Russian warship, go F**k yourself." It was later revealed that the servicemen had not perished in combat, but had been taken prisoner by Russian naval forces.