As stories go, the one about the Ghost of Kyiv was a good one, too good to be true as most of us likely knew in our gut. On Sunday, the Ukrainian government admitted the ace pilot was a myth but it also said that doesn’t mean he was fake. “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 admission came after numerous outlets reported that a UAF pilot named Maj. Stepan Tarabalka, an actual UAF pilot, was killed in aerial combat on March 13. “The information about the death of the The Ghost of #Kyiv is incorrect,” the UAF said.
The war legend emerged the day after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 25. It claimed that the Ghost shot down six Russian aircraft in a single day. As the brutal conflict continued, the Ghost emerged from time to time with a new tally. Some outlets reported he shot down as many as 40 enemy aircraft. The fact that Tarabalka was not the Ghost doesn’t minimize his heroic service. He was reportedly flying a MiG-29 when he was shot down “during an air battle with overwhelming forces of the Russian invaders,” the Defense Ministry of Ukraine said. He was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s top war honor, the Order of the Golden Star, and the Hero of Ukraine. He was just 29 and is survived by his wife Olenia and eight-year-old son Yarik.