What We Know About The Ukrainian Ghost Of Kyiv

It's often observed that the Vietnam War was the first war fought in the living rooms of America, because of the (for the times) near-instantaneous delivery of reports, including combat footage, via TV news reports. Information delivery has only gotten faster, with the immediacy of live streams not only from governments and professional news agencies, but from citizen journalists as well, witnesses as history unfolds. Despite the "truth" of images and reports, there can still be some room for doubt, and rightfully so.

A perfect example of the phenomenon popped up in the early, horrendously tragic days of Russia's military invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The conflict, with battles fought on the sea, on the ground, and in the air, quickly produced a mysterious hero who then went on to take social media by storm. Their almost unimaginably heroic exploits in the skies over Ukraine earned the unidentified Ukrainian pilot the nickname of "The Ghost of Kyiv."

According to the New York Post, there were reports making the rounds on social media — stories of Russian planes being shot down, with many of them seemingly knocked out of the sky by the same Ukrainian pilot defending their homeland. The most widely circulated story postulates that the alleged Ghost of Kyiv — piloting a Russian-made MiG-29, similar to the aircraft pictured above — had single-handedly shot down four Russian fighter jets, including a pair of Su-35 Flankers, an Su-27 Flanker, and a MiG-29 Fulcrum. However, it didn't stop there, as the pilot is alleged to have also shot down two Su-25 Frogfoots, which are considered to be ground-attack aircraft.

Is the Ghost of Kyiv story true?

This brings the Ghost of Kyiv's alleged kill count to six, all over the course of a single day. But like anything that goes viral, the veracity of the Ghost of Kyiv story is raising questions. Some video footage has been shared, allegedly of the heroic pilot in action. Snopes and other sites have been quick to discount the footage, however — Snopes reported that at least one video was actually created using an air combat simulator game from 2008. It was posted to YouTube not as a news report, but as an "homage" to the Ghost of Kyiv. It included the caption, "If he is real, may God be with him; if he is fake, I pray for more like 'him.'"

Is there an actual Ghost of Kyiev? That's the million-dollar question. Current Ukrainian officials have yet to confirm the reports, according to the New York Post's report on February 25. The situation in Ukraine has also been moving fast, and the truth of what's happening is sometimes getting lost in translation, jumbled by social media, and even outright misinformation pumped into the situation by the Russian government.

The news site Marca quotes former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who uploaded to Twitter what he said was a photo of the Ghost in the cockpit of his plane. The pilot  is in full flight gear and therefore unrecognizable. The news site also advised caution regarding their own report, however. "Even if former president Poroshenko just posted a picture of a generic pilot, this keeps on giving hope to all the citizens of Ukraine who are fighting for their country right now."

Striving for courage in the face of national destruction

India Today reported February 26 on another Twitter posting, this time by Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union. Tochytskyi also endorsed the story of the Ghost of Kyiv, adding, "Another example of the willingness of the Ukrainian people to resist. The civilized world must help protect our freedom."

Shooting down five planes earns a pilot the title of an "Ace," and if real, the Ghost of Kyiv has already been heralded as the "first European Ace since World War II." While six Russian planes, as well as two helicopters, have been shot down, they have not been confirmed as the work of a single pilot.

Some larger news organizations have also expressed skepticism about the existence of the Ghost. Newsweek report on February 25 that in all likelihood, the Ghost of Kyiv is not a real person and the story is nothing more than an urban legend. They also speculate that it could've been a story introduced to unite Ukrainian citizens and lift their spirits amid unimaginable adversity.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is doing his part as well. CNN reported on February 26 that President Zelensky had refused a U.S. offer to evacuate him from the threatened Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. According to the Ukraine embassy in Britain, Zelensky said, "The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride."