If another cautionary tale were needed on the impact allowing the government to be the sole arbiter of fact and fiction caused, the same week that the United States Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board, representatives from the Ukrainian military officially announced that there was never a Ghost of Kyiv.
In the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the story of the Ghost of Kyiv spread rapidly including reported video clips of the lone pilot in his MiG-29 jet flying over the city and defending his people. Claims that the flying ace had taken down six Russian fighters in a single day were unfalsifiable and only certain stories were truly discredited after it was revealed the images were taken out of a video game.
To combat a story that claimed the man believed to be the pilot had died in March, Ukrainian officials decided their cause was better suited by coming clean and admitting the mythical figure was exactly that and never truly existed.
The Times of London reported that an official from the Ukrainian military stated, “Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero-legend whose character was created by Ukrainians! This is rather a collective image of the pilots of the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade defending the sky of the capital. Which suddenly appear where they are not expected.”
The admission was a response to reports that Major Stepan Tarabalka, who had died in battle on March 13, was indeed the mysterious pilot who had single-handedly taken down 40 Russian planes.
A March 23 post by the Ukrainian Air Force commemorated Tarabalka’s death, but did not suggest he was the Ghost of Kyiv. According to a translation it read in part, “On March 13, 2022, Major Stepan Tarabalka died in an air battle with the superior forces of the Russian invaders. The President of Ukraine awarded the pilot the title of “Hero of Ukraine” with the award of the Order of the Golden Star posthumously. Hero of Ukraine Stepan Tarabalka will always live in our hearts! Glory to the Hero! ”
In their most recent statement, the Ukrainian Air Force explained that the Ghost of Kyiv was never more than a symbol for the forces and the people to rally behind.
The information about the death of the The Ghost of #Kyiv is incorrect. The #GhostOfKyiv is alive, it embodies the collective spirit of the highly qualified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who are successfully defending #Kyiv and the region.
— Ukrainian Air Force (@KpsZSU) May 1, 2022
“The information about the death of The Ghost of #Kyiv incorrect. The #GhostofKyiv is alive, it embodies the collective spirit of the highly qualified pilots of the Tactical Aviation Brigade who are successfully defending #Kyiv and the region.”
While seemingly innocuous, similar stories like that of the soldiers reportedly captured on Snake Island were later proven to be entirely propaganda from a war torn nation that had taken control of its press to maintain a unified narrative. It would difficult to quantify the impact the story of the Ghost of Kyiv had ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but it would be a stretch to say it was entirely harmless.
Americans and citizens from other nations have been moved to volunteer in the fight to defend Ukraine from Russia. As former MSNBC national security analyst Malcolm Nance reported, he had joined a legion made up of men and women from all over the world who, like him, were “done talking.” While the personal responsibility falls to each individual for their decisions, the question remains if anyone is truly making an informed decision when the media is working in coordination with the government.
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