The Ghost of Kyiv meme and viral post about the ace fighter pilot from Ukraine fighting against the Russian invasion.

Ghost of Kyiv

Part of a series on 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine. [View Related Entries]

Updated May 02, 2022 at 04:44PM EDT by Owen.

Added Feb 24, 2022 at 09:19PM EST by Owen.

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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[1] 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).

Later that same day, Twitter[2] 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).

theScottishKoala - ArmorCast @ScottishKoala Following the exploits of a Fulcrum pilot nicknamed "The Ghost of Kyiv" who has scored a confirmed three if not four aerial victories today (working on verifying the fourth). Footage is old, but it's him. What a f------ chad Don't count the Ukrainian Air Force out just yet Aldin @aldin_ww· 15h #Kyiv Show this thread H OBOE n 3 A AH E 0:02 2.2M views 12:48 PM · Feb 24, 2022 · Twitter Web App


The news was quickly shared to Reddit on February 24th, 2022, posted by Redditor WretchedWyrmGT to /r/Damnthatsinteresting,[3] 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[4] 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).

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[5] 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[6] 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).

Stunt on these hoes. HYSICS Hybrid_boi @paulisahybrid16 When the Ghost of Kyiv looks on their Twitter: ... 123RF 123RF They love me. 8:35 PM · Feb 24, 2022 · Twitter for Android

Other Twitter users and meme creators were skeptical of the report, finding it not based on hard enough evidence. For instance, Twitter[7] 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[8] 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).

"I made it up" "Source?" IWANT TO BELIEVE HOBOE изДАн иЕ

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[9] 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.

theScottishKoala - ArmorCast @ScOttishKoala 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 That being said, it's an epic story either way, and thats enough for me #ghostofkyiv The fihost Of Kujin

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.[10] For example, Twitter[11] 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).

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[11] 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[12] 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[13] user ItsOlegi21 (shown below).

As the video proceeded to be reposted and garner engagement, it was reported by Snopes[14] 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[15] 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).

THE GHOST OF KYIV 019 Генеральний штаб ЗСУ / General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine O 11h · 6 "Привіт, російський нелюде, я лечу по твою душу!", - Привид Києва. "Hello, russian villain, I'm flying for your soul!" - the Ghost of Kyiv. #stoprussia See Translation THE GHOST OF KYIV 39K 844 Comments 6.9K Shares 201

Additionally, on March 10th, it was reported by the Twitter[16] 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).

Kyiv KyivPost O Post @KyivPost The "Ghost" plane of Kyiv has destroyed 49 Russian planes. 9:14 AM · Mar 10, 2022 · Twitter Web App

Ghost of Kyiv Identity Revealed

On April 29th, 2022, news outlets like The London Times and The New York Post[17] 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.[17] When tweeted[18] about on April 29th by the New York Post, their tweet earned roughly 1,500 likes in four days (shown below).

NEW New York Post YORK POST @nypost 'Ghost of Kyiv' killed in battle, identity revealed 11:51 AM. Apr 29, 2022 · SocialFlow :

The Ghost of Kyiv Never Existed

On May 1st, 2022, the New York Post uploaded another tweet,[19] this time stating that the Ghost of Kyiv never existed, earning roughly 23,900 likes in one day (shown below). According to a Facebook[20] 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.

NEW New York Post YORK POST @nypost Heroic 'Ghost of Kyiv' fighter doesn't actually exist, Ukraine admits 2:22 PM May 1, 2022 Social Flow . : 2016 EPWA 75

Various Examples

Russian forces The ghost of kyiev Putin Double Barrel Sha Boing Boings O @Jdeezymadeitez The Ghost of Kyiv when it spots 6 Russian jets ks like vou're going to the Shadow Realm, Jim 8:03 PM · Feb 24, 2022 · Twitter for iPhone IWANT TO BELIEVE HOBOE изДАн иЕ Taboose REY PY @TyMan06533779 MILSON Ghost of Kyiv right now RADE O 20 NE ATL FOX T 2ND 2:21 su. E 8:43 PM · Feb 24, 2022 · Twitter for Android 12 ATORADE Me in 50 years... Grandad who was Ghost of Kyiv? Sit down Son.. I'm going to tell You a great story Average Joe @Assassin_Kasson The Ghost of Kyiv about to run it back. #Ukraine in 7. 8:31 PM · Feb 24, 2022 · Twitter for iPhone

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Top Comments


It's genuinely fascinating how the line between memes and genuine war propaganda has completely vanished. In only about a day, Ukraine has an (alleged) flying ace who has rapidly developed into a folk hero, a sort of Ukrainian Red Baron, and it's mainly due to social media. Now we have a ton of memes hyping this dude up as a symbol of Ukrainian national resistance. It's surreal to see.


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