Ghost of Kyiv
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The Ghost of Kyiv, alternatively written Ghost of Kiev, refers to a Ukrainian Fulcrum fighter pilot flying a MiG-29 who, during the first stages of the initial Russian invasion regarding the 2021-2022 Russia-Ukraine Conflict, had reportedly taken out six Russian fighter jets in less than 24 hours. Memes were posted about the Ghost of Kyiv that used images and videos of the jet as an exploitable reference. Many memes appeared on Twitter in late February 2022 with many tweets referencing the "badass" nature of the nickname, as well as praising the pilot for their efforts in posts or fan art. The viral story was also widely covered in the media. In late April 2022, news outlets then reported that the Ghost of Kyiv was Major Stepan Tarabalka, who died in mid-March, but revised this shortly after and said the person never existed.
On February 24th, 2022, Twitter user aldin_ww posted three videos within a thread with the second video specifically later being referenced as the Ghost of Kyiv. In less than 24 hours, the video received roughly 2.1 million views and 3,100 likes (shown below).
— Aldin 🇧🇦 (@aldin_ww) February 24, 2022
Later that same day, Twitter user Sc0ttishKoala detailed alleged reports that a Fulcrum pilot had been nicknamed "The Ghost of Kyiv," quote retweeting aldin_ww's video and earning roughly 8,100 likes in less than 24 hours (shown below).
The news was quickly shared to Reddit on February 24th, 2022, posted by Redditor WretchedWyrmGT to /r/Damnthatsinteresting, earning over 200 upvotes in four hours. More Twitter users started to quote retweet the video of the Ghost of Kyiv flying over the city, giving their prayers and wishes to the pilot. For instance, Twitter user Hyper_Falcon tweeted, "I shall dedicate the MiG-29 I keep on my shelf to the Ghost of Kyiv. Keep the skies safe Ace," and received over 650 likes in two hours (shown below).
I shall dedicate the MiG-29 I keep on my shelf to the Ghost of Kyiv.
Keep the skies safe Ace. https://t.co/378bOXt2Ho
— Hypersonic Falcon (@Hyper_Falcon) February 24, 2022
Ghost of Kyiv memes started to appear as the news spread on Twitter on February 24th. One of the first to make a reference within an image macro was Twitter user stormthief_74, who posted a meme using the Stunt On These Hoes template taken from the children's TV show Dexter's Laboratory, earning roughly 15,800 likes in less than two hours (shown below, left). Twitter user paulisahybrid16 also posted a Ghost of Kyiv meme early on, re-editing a photo of Spider-Man and earning over 700 likes in two hours (shown below, right).
Other Twitter users and meme creators were skeptical of the report, finding it not based on hard enough evidence. For instance, Twitter user Mtnpark262 tweeted a meme in a reply that joked about the person who broke the story has made it up, earning over 40 likes in one hour (shown below, left). In contrast, Twitter user LeviRobischon tweeted a meme that captioned the image of the Ghost of Kyiv with, "I Want To Believe," in reference to the I Want To Believe memes inspired by the TV show The X-Files. Over the course of two hours, it received over 40 likes (shown below, right).
Overall, many memes about the Ghost of Kyiv centered on imagined, humorous reactions from Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the pilot taking out so much of his airforce so efficiently. Others likened the Ghost of Kyiv to notable sports icons like Tom Brady and LeBron James, among others, effectively labeling him half-ironically as the "MVP" of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict thus far.
Ghost of Kyiv Revealed as False Claim
Hours after his initial tweet, which labeled the fighter pilot as the "Ghost of Kyiv," Twitter user Sc0ttishKoala posted a follow-up tweet that read, "I'll be honest, I probably jumped on this too quickly without enough evidence, didn't expect it to blow up so much! Looking for all possible help in collecting as much concrete data as possible," effectively identifying his original claim as being an unfounded statement or hoax. The tweet (shown below) received over 100 likes in less than an hour.
Rumors of the Ghost of Kyiv Being Shot Down
Later in the day on February 24th, 2022, as the story continued spreading around the web, rumors began circulating that the Ghost of Kyiv had been shot down alongside viral videos of a jet crashing over the skies of Kyiv spreading online. For example, Twitter user ELINTNews posted a video on February 24th of the footage claiming "something large" was intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses over Kyiv, receiving over 8,500 likes and 2,900 retweets in 14 hours (shown below).
Something large was intercepted by Ukrainian air defences over Kyiv minutes ago pic.twitter.com/TkH5nrecSM
— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) February 25, 2022
Multiple angles of the downed aircraft footage continued to spread on several platforms throughout the night as people speculated that it was a Russian aircraft shot down by Ukrainian forces defending Kyiv. According to multiple reports, such as an article from The Hill on February 25th, the aircraft in the viral videos was instead confirmed by Ukrainian officials as a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet and part of Ukraine's military that was destroyed.
This resulted in some assuming it might have been the Ghost of Kyiv, such as Redditor SpartanOn44 who posted to the /r/UkraineWarVideoReport subreddit late on February 24th asking "Did the Ghost of Kyiv just get shot down?!" The post received 66 upvotes and 91 comments in 13 hours before it was debunked and edited by the OP after it was noted that the Su-27 was a different aircraft type than the MiG-29 purportedly flown by the Ghost.
Ghost of Kyiv Combat Footage Hoax
On February 25th, 2022, as word of the Ghost of Kyiv continued to spread online, another viral video purportedly of the pilot shooting down a Russian fighter in action accumulated nearly 400,000 views and 11,000 likes in 12 hours, uploaded by Twitter user ItsOlegi21 (shown below).
Ukrainian pilot who is 6-0 shoots down a Russian Su-35 with his Mig-29. He’s been nicknamed the ghost of Kyiv, and is the first pilot since WW2 to achieve ace status! pic.twitter.com/WsoadzLrdQ
— Olegi21 🇺🇦💙💛 (@ItsOlegi21) February 25, 2022
As the video proceeded to be reposted and garner engagement, it was reported by Snopes that the footage was actually created within the simulation video game Digital Combat Simulator, originally posted to YouTube by user Comrade_Corb (seen below). The caption identified the footage as a simulation and that it was created "in homage to the Ghost of Kyiv" by the YouTuber who said, "This footage is from DCS, but is nevertheless made out of respect for 'The Ghost of Kiev.' If he is real, may God be with him; if he is fake, I pray for more like 'him.'"
Ukrainian Military Facebook Post
On March 10th, 2022, the official Facebook page of the Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine posted an image they'd made depicting a rendition of the Ghost of Kyiv paired with the caption, "'Hello, Russian villain, I'm flying for your soul!' – the Ghost of Kyiv." The post received roughly 39,000 reactions and 6,600 shares in less than 24 hours (shown below).
Additionally, on March 10th, it was reported by the Twitter account of the Kyiv Post that the Ghost of Kyiv had reportedly taken down 49 Russian planes since the start of the war. The tweet received roughly 19,200 likes in less than a day (shown below).
Ghost of Kyiv Identity Revealed
On April 29th, 2022, news outlets like The London Times and The New York Post reported that the Ghost of Kyiv's identity had been revealed. His name was Major Stepan Tarabalka and he died in battle on March 13th, 2022, while battling an “overwhelming” number of enemy forces. When tweeted about on April 29th by the New York Post, their tweet earned roughly 1,500 likes in four days (shown below).
The Ghost of Kyiv Never Existed
On May 1st, 2022, the New York Post uploaded another tweet, this time stating that the Ghost of Kyiv never existed, earning roughly 23,900 likes in one day (shown below). According to a Facebook post made by the official account of the Ukrainian Air Force on April 30th, 2022, Major Tarabalka was not the Ghost of Kyiv. They instead stated, "Ghost of Kiev is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!" Over the course of two days, the post received roughly 1,000 reactions.
 Twitter – @Sc0ttishKoala
 Reddit – /r/Damnthatsinteresting/
 Twitter – @Hyper_Falcon
 Twitter – @stormthief_74
 Twitter – @paulisahybrid16
 Twitter – @Mtnpark262
 Twitter – @LeviRobischon
 Twitter – @Sc0ttishKoala
 Meaww- Russian Aircraft Shot Down Turns Out To Be Ukrainian
 The Hill – Ukrainian fighter jet shot down over Kyiv
 Reddit – r/UkraineWarVideoReport
 Twitter – ItsOlegi21
 Snopes – Is This Ghost of Kyiv Video Real
 Facebook – Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
 NY Post – ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ killed in battle, identity revealed
 Facebook – Air Force Command of UA Armed Forces
Feb 24, 2022 at 11:46PM EST
Feb 25, 2022 at 04:55AM EST
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