Maj. Stepan Tarabalka, 29, was killed defending Ukraine’s skies on March 13.
His feats of shooting down some 40 Russian aircraft since Feb. 24, when Russia renewed its invasion of Ukraine, was believed to be an urban legend and thought to be promoted by Ukrainian authorities as a morale boost for Ukrainian forces.
YouTube videos have been produced about the Ivano-Frankivsk regional native’s death and heroism.
“Tarabalka ‘went to heaven’ during an air battle with overwhelming forces of the Russian invaders,” is all that the Defense Ministry said.
The Mig-29 pilot’s identity was revealed earlier this week by various Ukrainian media and The Times in London also confirmed his real name.
On March 20, President Volodymyr Zelensky posthumously awarded him the country’s top medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Golden Star, and the Hero of Ukraine title.
It is not known how many Russian aircraft the pilot actually shot down. Exactly 189 Russian aircraft have been shot down since Feb. 24, Ukraine’s military approximates.
“His helmet and goggles — all that was seen of him when Ukrainian officials promoted his heroism — are now set to be auctioned in London,” The Times reported.
Tarabalka is survived by his spouse Olena and an 8-year-old son.
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