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He shot down a large number of Russian planes, survived enemy assaults and changed into a logo of Ukraine’s strangely efficient air defenses, incomes a daring wartime moniker: The Ghost of Kyiv.

He’s additionally, it seems, a fantasy.

“The ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend, whose personality was once created through Ukrainians!” Ukraine’s Air Pressure Command wrote on Fb on Saturday, dispelling a monthslong rumor — fueled through Ukrainian government themselves — that had invigorated the resistance to Russia’s invasion.

The Ukrainian remark got here after some information retailers, together with the Instances of London, recognized the Ghost of Kyiv as Primary Stepan Tarabalka, a real 29-year-old who died in an air struggle in March. The declare echoed throughout social media and tabloid publications in Ukraine and the West, seeming to verify that the tale of the heroic fighter was once actual.

As a substitute, it has became out to be probably the most extra a hit items of propaganda in a knowledge warfare that, every now and then, Ukraine has fought as fiercely because it has at the battlefield.

It was once just a day after the start of Russia’s invasion that the Ukrainian media began reporting that an unknown pilot of a MIG-29 fighter jet had downed six enemy planes in 30 hours. Memes and illustrations began circulating on-line with the hashtag #ghostofkyiv, amassing masses of hundreds of thousands of perspectives.

Even a former president of Ukraine, Petro O. Poroshenko, tweeted an image of a pilot who he mentioned was once the Ghost of Kyiv and who had “six victories over Russian pilots!”

“With such tough defenders, Ukraine will without a doubt win!” Mr. Poroshenko wrote. (The picture, it became out, was once from a 2019 Twitter put up through the Ukrainian Protection Ministry.)

The Ukrainian govt additionally joined in. On Feb. 27 it relayed on Twitter the tale and the picture, calling the unknown pilot “a nightmare for invading Russian aircrafts.” It posted a video praising the pilot that integrated a clip from a fight flight simulator.

Round the similar time, when the Ukrainian Protection Ministry introduced on Fb that dozens of discharged army pilots had been returning to the Air Pressure, it referred to the fascination with the nameless pilot: “Who is aware of, possibly certainly one of them is the air avenger at the MIG-29.”

The tales proliferated and overlapped. After reviews in early March that the Ghost of Kyiv were shot down, Ihor Mosiychuk, a former Ukrainian lawmaker, reported that the pilot survived, went again to his base, took off in some other jet and downed some other enemy airplane.

“The ghost is alive!” he wrote on Fb. The Kyiv Put up reported that he had destroyed as many as 49 planes.

Skepticism unfold in some quarters. However the legend most effective grew. Artists produced NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, with the pilot’s symbol. . Blue and gold “Ghost of Kyiv” fliers and illustrations circulated on-line.

On Friday, a number of publications recognized the pilot as Mr. Tarabalka, an airman who died in struggle on Mar. 13 and was once posthumously awarded the army honor “Hero of Ukraine.” The newspaper additionally quoted Ukrainian assets as announcing the pilot’s helmet and goggles had been anticipated to move on sale at an public sale in London.

The following day, the Air Pressure Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces debunked the claims. “Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka is NOT ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and he did NOT shoot down 40 planes,” it wrote on Fb. However they nonetheless labored to stay the parable going.

“The #GhostOfKyiv is alive,” the Air Pressure wrote on Twitter. “It embodies the collective spirit of the extremely certified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who’re effectively protecting #Kyiv and the area.”

For lots of Ukrainians, that was once all that mattered.

“He IS a legend,” Lesia Vasylenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, wrote on Twitter, “He can’t be killed — he’s a ghost.”

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