Ghost of Kyiv identity 'is all Ukraine air force' after fallen hero named as 'mythical' pilot

30 April 2022, 10:50 | Updated: 1 May 2022, 13:29

The Ghost of Kyiv died in March, Ukrainians have said
The Ghost of Kyiv died in March, Ukrainians have said. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Will Taylor

A Ukrainian fighter pilot apparently dubbed the "Ghost of Kyiv" was killed in action after it was claimed he downed more than 40 invading Russian aircraft.

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Major Stepan Tarabalka died when his Mig-29 was shot down fighting "overwhelming" numbers of enemies on March 13.

The "ghost" was reported on earlier in the war and it was debated whether he was even real as eye-catching claims were made about his prowess in the air war.

His identity and death was reported to The Times by Ukrainian sources.

But it has since been suggested the moniker could just be applied to all of the Ukrainian air force - and that service has now said: "Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!"

The claim about an individual fighter downing dozens of aircraft, which would represent a historic effort in air warfare, was also written off by the air force.

In an interview with NPR, the US media outlet, Major Tarabalka's mother, Nahtalia, said: "He would always watch the paratroopers in their air exercises. And he would run in their direction to try to see where they landed.

"Since early childhood, he always dreamed of the sky, about flying higher than the clouds."

His helmet and goggles will go to auction in London "soon", it was reported, but no further details were given.

Major Tarabalka was the Ghost of Kyiv, it has been claimed
Major Tarabalka was the Ghost of Kyiv, it has been claimed. Picture: Social media

"On March 13, 2022, during an air battle with the overwhelming forces [of Russia] of the invaders, Major Stepan Tarabalka "went to heaven",” the Ukrainian defence ministry tweeted in March, without describing him as the "ghost".

"Major Stepan Tarabalka was awarded the title "Hero of Ukraine" (posthumously) for the protection of airspace, valor and courage."

The father-of-one was born in the village of Korolivka in western Ukraine.

Read more: Two British aid workers captured by Russians while trying to rescue Ukrainian family

He leaves behind his wife, Olenia, and eight-year-old son Yarik.

The Ghost of Kyiv was described as a "nightmare for invading Russian aircraft" by the Ukrainian government earlier in the war.

He has become part of the mythos surrounding the war that served to embolden Ukrainian forces, especially in the early stages.

He was joined in that by a unit based on Snake Island, in the Black Sea, which told the Russian warship Moskva – later sunk – to go f*** itself when told to surrender.

The Ghost of Kyiv gave Ukraine a legend to rally around as Russia bombarded the country
The Ghost of Kyiv gave Ukraine a legend to rally around as Russia bombarded the country. Picture: Alamy

It has been claimed that Russian president Vladimir Putin is set to declare all-out war against Ukraine.

It would be considered "payback" for the Russian military's humiliating setbacks in what the Kremlin calls a "special military operation".

While it has enjoyed some gains in the south and east of the country, where it is concentrating its focus now, the loss of the Moskva, the retreat from Kyiv and the overall failure to secure a swift capture of the country has frustrated Russia.

Read more: Volunteer former soldier named as first Brit killed 'fighting Russia in Ukraine'

The British Ministry of Defence said Russia is trying to fix the problems that have hampered its invasion, but its shortcomings in use of tactics, air support and skills continue.

"Russia still faces considerable challenges. It has been forced to merge and redeploy depleted and disparate units from the failed advances in north-east Ukraine," it said in an update on Saturday morning.

"Many of these units are likely suffering from weakened morale."

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