He shot down a large number of Russian planes, survived enemy assaults and turned into a logo of Ukraine’s unusually efficient air defenses, incomes a daring wartime moniker: The Ghost of Kyiv.
He’s additionally, it seems, a delusion.
“The ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend, whose persona used to be created by way of Ukrainians!” Ukraine’s Air Pressure Command wrote on Facebook on Saturday, dispelling a monthslong rumor — fueled by way of Ukrainian government themselves — that had invigorated the resistance to Russia’s invasion.
The Ukrainian observation got here after some information shops, together with the Occasions of London, identified the Ghost of Kyiv as Main Stepan Tarabalka, a real 29-year-old who died in an air fight in March. The declare echoed throughout social media and tabloid publications in Ukraine and the West, seeming to verify that the tale of the heroic fighter used to be actual.
As a substitute, it has became out to be one of the crucial extra a success items of propaganda in a knowledge conflict that, every now and then, Ukraine has fought as fiercely because it has at the battlefield.
It used to be just a day after the start of Russia’s invasion that the Ukrainian media began reporting that an unknown pilot of a MIG-29 fighter jet had downed six enemy planes in 30 hours. Memes and illustrations started circulating on-line with the hashtag #ghostofkyiv, amassing loads of thousands and thousands of perspectives.
Even a former president of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, tweeted an image of a pilot who he mentioned used to be the Ghost of Kyiv and who had “six victories over Russian pilots!”
“With such tough defenders, Ukraine will without a doubt win!” Mr. Poroshenko wrote. (The photograph, it became out, used to be from a 2019 Twitter put up by way of the Ukrainian Protection Ministry.)
The Ukrainian executive additionally joined in. On Feb. 27 it relayed on Twitter the tale and the photograph, calling the unknown pilot “a nightmare for invading Russian aircrafts.” It posted a video praising the pilot that incorporated a clip from a combat flight simulator.
Round the similar time, when the Ukrainian Protection Ministry announced on Fb that dozens of discharged army pilots had been returning to the Air Pressure, it referred to the fascination with the nameless pilot: “Who is aware of, perhaps certainly one of them is the air avenger at the MIG-29.”
The tales proliferated and overlapped. After studies in early March that the Ghost of Kyiv have been shot down, Ihor Mosiychuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker, reported that the pilot survived, went again to his base, took off in every other jet and downed every other enemy airplane.
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“The ghost is alive!” he wrote on Fb. The Kyiv Publish reported that he had destroyed as many as 49 planes.
Skepticism spread in some quarters. However the legend simplest grew. Artists produced NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, with the pilot’s symbol. Blue and gold “Ghost of Kyiv” fliers and illustrations circulated on-line.
On Friday, a number of publications identified the pilot as Mr. Tarabalka, an airman who died in battle on Mar. 13 and used to be posthumously awarded the army honor “Hero of Ukraine.” The Occasions of London additionally quoted Ukrainian assets as pronouncing the pilot’s helmet and goggles had been anticipated to move on sale at an public sale in London.
The next day to come, the Air Pressure Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces debunked the claims. “Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and he did NOT shoot down 40 planes,” it wrote on Fb. However they nonetheless labored to stay the parable going.
“The #GhostOfKyiv is alive,” the Air Pressure wrote on Twitter. “It embodies the collective spirit of the extremely certified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who’re effectively protecting #Kyiv and the area.”
For lots of Ukrainians, that used to be all that mattered.
“He IS a legend,” Lesia Vasylenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, “He can’t be killed — he’s a ghost.”