- The so-called Ghost of kyiv died in battle last month, according to reports.
- It is claimed that the pilot’s ace shot down as many as 40 Russian aircraft during the war.
- Although many speculated that he was a myth, his identity was revealed to be Major Stepan Tarabalka.
A famous Ukrainian fighter pilot nicknamed the Phantom of kyiv has died in action, local sources told The Times of London.
The ghost of kyiv first appeared when the Ukrainian government tweeted a video crediting the then-unnamed pilot with shooting down six Russian planes on the first day of the war. It was claimed that he then shot down up to 40 Russian aircraft.
His identity has now been revealed as Major Stepan Tarabalka, 29, killed March 13 when “overwhelming” Russian forces shot down the MiG-29 he was piloting, the Times said.
Ukrainian sources told the newspaper that his helmet and goggles are set to go up for auction in London.
“People call him the ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so, this UAF ace dominates the skies of our capital and our country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian planes,” the tweet read.
—Ukraine / Україна (@Ukraine) February 27, 2022
A few days before his death, the Ukrainian General Staff published an image of the fighter pilot in the cockpit of his MiG-29 aircraft with his face hidden, with the caption: “Hello, occupier, I come to seek your soul!”
Because his identity was kept secret, many have speculated that the Ghost of kyiv was a myth designed to lift the spirits of Ukrainians. However, the government continued to insist that he was real.
Tarabalka was born in the small village of Korolivka to a working-class family and graduated from Kharkiv National Air Force University, The Times reported.
He is survived by his wife Olena and their eight-year-old son Yarik.
His parents, Ivan and Natalia, gave an interview to NPR after their son’s death and detailed his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.
“He would always watch the skydivers in their aerial exercises. And he would run in their direction to try to see where they were landing. Since his early childhood, he always dreamed of the sky, of flying higher than the clouds,” his mother said. Natalia. NPR.
His father told NPR they weren’t told the details of their son’s last flight, only that he didn’t return after completing a mission.
His parents confirmed that the fighter pilot was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s highest medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Gold Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine.
“Of course, he had already won and earned that medal, that honor, when he was with us,” Ivan told NPR. “We are proud of him. But we want him to receive this honor after the war. We want him to still be alive.”