The 'ghost of Kyiv' - the epithet given to the Ukrainian pilot of a MiG-29 credited with shooting down dozens of Russian fighter jets - has been killed in action, a report by British publication The Times has claimed. The Times has also identified the pilot as Major Stepan Tarabalka - a 29-year-old father of one posthumously awarded his country's top military commendation, the Order of the Golden Star, and the title Hero of Ukraine.
Tarabalka was hailed as a "guardian angel" by Ukrainians after the government credited him with taking down six Russian planes on the first day of the war. At that time, his identity was still under wraps. Perhaps due to the air of secrecy surrounding him, he became a fabled and enigmatic figure the Ghost of Kyiv.
"People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so," the official tweet by the Ukrainian government said, adding that he had "already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft."
Tarabalka was credited with taking out as many as 40 Russian aircraft until he was himself shot down March 13 while battling an “overwhelming” number of enemy forces, the UK paper said.
Tarabalka was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s top medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Golden Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine, according to his family.
His helmet and goggles — all that was seen of him when Ukrainian officials promoted his heroism — are now set to be auctioned in London, sources told The Times while confirming Tarabalka’s identity.
Tarabalka became a mysterious legend when the Ukrainian government credited the then-anonymous pilot with shooting down six Russian jets on the first day of the war.
“People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so,” the official tweet said, saying he had “already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft.”
Ukraine’s General Staff later tweeted another picture of the ace fighter pilot in the cockpit of his MiG-29 jet with his face covered, captioned, “Hello, occupier, I’m coming for your soul!”
Many people questioned whether the “Ghost” was real, as his identity remained a mystery — seemingly even to his grieving family when told of their loved one’s death last month.
His parents, Nahtalia and Evon Tarabalka, were interviewed by NPR soon after his death — and they gave no mention of his secret status nor any hint they knew what missions he had been on.
“We know he was flying on a mission. And he completed the mission, his task. Then he didn’t return. That’s all the information we have,” his dad told the outlet.