‘Kiev’s ghost’ is a myth, Ukraine acknowledges

He shot down several Russian planes, survived the enemy’s attacks and became a symbol of Ukraine’s surprisingly effective air defense and was given a bold wartime designation: The Ghost of Kiev.

He is also, it turns out, a myth.

“Kiev’s ghost is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!” Ukraine’s air force command wrote on Facebook on Saturday, dismissing a month-long rumor – driven by the Ukrainian authorities themselves – that had strengthened opposition to Russia’s invasion.

The Ukrainian statement came after some news media, including the Times of London, identified the ghost from Kyiv as Major Stepan Tarabalka, an actual 29-year-old who died in an air strike in March. The claim resonated across social media and tabloid publications in Ukraine and the West and seemed to confirm that the story of the heroic fighter was genuine.

Instead, it has proven to be one of the more successful pieces of propaganda in an information war that Ukraine has at times fought as fiercely as it has done on the battlefield.

It was only 24 hours after the beginning of Russia’s invasion that the Ukrainian media began to report that an unknown pilot of a MIG-29 fighter jet had shot down six enemy aircraft in 30 hours. Memes and illustrations began to circulate online with the hashtag #ghostofkyiv, which collects hundreds of millions of views.

Even a former president of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, tweeted a picture of a pilot who he said was the Ghost from Kyiv and who had “six victories over Russian pilots!”

“With such strong defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!” Sir. Poroshenko wrote. (The picture, it turned out, was from a 2019 Twitter post from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.)

The Ukrainian government also included in. On 27 Feb. it continued on Twitter the story and the image that calls the unknown pilot “a nightmare of invading Russian aircraft.” It aired a video praising the pilot that included a clip from a fighter simulator.

About the same time, when the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced on Facebook that dozens of discharged military pilots were on their way back to the Air Force, it referred to the fascination of the anonymous pilot: “Who knows, maybe one of them is the Air Force avenger. ME -29. “

The stories spread and overlapped. Following reports in early March that the Ghost of Kyiv had been shot down, Ihor Mosiychuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker, reported that the pilot survived, returned to his base, took off in another jet and fired another enemy aircraft.

“The ghost is alive!” he wrote on Facebook. Kyiv Post reported that he had destroyed as many as 49 aircraft.

Skepticism spread in some circles. But the legend only grew. Artists produced NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, with the pilot’s image. . Blue and gold “Ghost of Kyiv” leaflets and illustrations circulated online.

Friday more publications identified the pilot as Mr. Tarabalka, a pilot who died in combat on March 13 and posthumously was awarded the military honor “All of Ukraine.” The newspaper also quoted Ukrainian sources as saying that the pilot’s helmet and goggles were expected to be put up for sale at an auction in London.

The next day, the Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces rejected the allegations. “Ukraine’s hero Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Kiev’s ghost’ and he did NOT shoot down 40 planes,” it wrote on Facebook. But they were still working to keep the myth alive.

“#GhostOfKyiv is alive,” the Air Force wrote on Twitter. “It embodies the collective spirit of the highly-qualified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade, who are successfully defending #Kiev and the region.”

For many Ukrainians, that was all that mattered.

“He IS a legend,” Lesia Vasylenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, “He can not be killed – he is a ghost.”

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