Two years ago, at the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, while Russian tanks had not only breached Ukraine’s borders and were quickly approaching its capital – many Ukrainians were in desperate need of some good news.

Amidst the Russians shelling of towns and cities and the beginning of what would later be revealed as brutal occupations, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and ordinary people were doing courageous things – and people were hungry to hear about them.

Ukrainians’ eyes were glued to their phones for any bit of inspiring news – like the videos of the Ukrainians making off with Russian tanks, towing them with their tractors or the one of the guy who moved a landmine off a bridge using his bare hands while smoking a cigarette, or of course, the story of the Ukrainian border guard, a defender of Snake Island who responded to the Russians seeking the Ukrainians’ surrender and told them, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself.”

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Posts and videos about the brave actions of Ukraine’s soldiers spread across social networks like wildfire.

Any news about the downing of Russian aircraft over Kyiv – the skies there a source of constant threat – particularly fascinated the Ukrainian public.

Soon, people started talking about a MiG-29 pilot, a lone pilot who had destroyed six air targets in the sky in the first 30 hours of Russia’s invasion. This pilot was said to have taken out two Su-35 aircraft, two Su-25 aircraft, a Su-27 aircraft and one MiG-29.

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And as the war progressed, the legend of the pilot grew. Over time, the pilot had shot down 40 Russian aircraft.

Here was Ukraine’s hero. Its “Maverick.” A pilot performing daring feats in a sky dominated by Russia’s dark cloud.

No one knew what the pilot looked like, whether young or old, male or female. But every day, the legend about the pilot grew – songs, poems, videos, even a comic book.

It was on Aug. 27, 2022, that a mural was unveiled in the capital. It showed a pilot in the cockpit of a MiG-29, serving in the Ukrainian Air Force, it was the so-called “Ghost of Kyiv.”

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Was The Ghost real?

On the second day of the war, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine announced that dozens of experienced military pilots of all ranks who’d previously been transferred to the army reserve would be returning to the Air Force.

“Who knows, maybe one of them is that avenger in the MiG-29, whom Kyiv residents see so often!” the ministry teased on Facebook.

But this month, Ground Forces Spokesperson Illia Yevlash, speaking to Ukrainian media, admitted that the pilot is fictional. He said that his team was behind the invention of the legend.

When the tactical aviation demonstrated combat results by destroying Russian planes, the idea arose to “create the image of an avenger, a national hero, a flying ace destroying the enemy aircraft,” Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesperson for the Eastern Group of the AFU said.

“During a brainstorming session, it seems to me that Volodymyr Fityo (Ukrainian Ground Forces Spokesperson) suggested calling him ‘The Ghost of Kyiv.’ Everyone supported the idea. Later the news agencies, the United News Telemarathon spread the info. We wrote a post about him twice, and then ‘The Ghost’ began to live his own life,” Yevlash said.

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The task was to demoralize and destabilize the Russians through any means they could – so the Ground Forces team got creative.

The truth behind the legend

For some time, Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka, who was killed in action on March 13, 2022, was thought to be “The Ghost of Kyiv.”

PHOTO: Stepan Tarabalka, Source: Facebook

Other veteran pilots that performed feats of prowess and bravery have also been rumored to be.

Regardless, most of the actions attributed to “The Ghost” were real enough.

For example, on the first days of the war, the Ukrainian Air Force really did destroy six enemy aircraft, including a Su-27, a MiG-29, two Su-35s and two Su-25s.

Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said that the pilots of the 40th Tactical Aviation brigade, the ones who guard Kyiv, are collectively “The Ghost.”

“This is every pilot who defended our country. He is still a symbol of a Ukrainian pilot, the defender who appears where he’s unexpected and destroys the enemy in the sky,” Ihnat said.

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