The Ghost of Kyiv: A Legend Born of Social Media, But Is He Real?

Some say the stories of this fighter pilot are true, while others believe it’s little more than a story to keep hopes up during bleak times.

Just as Vietnam was dubbed “the living room war” as it played out across televisions often during the dinner hour, the Russia-Ukraine conflict may become known as the war fought on social media—and the first story to be told is that of the Ghost of Kyiv.

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On February 24, the first day of the conflict, a story emerged on Ukraine’s official Twitter channel about an unnamed Ukrainian pilot who allegedly shot down six Russian aircraft within the first 30 hours of the war. The Twitter channel said four more were shot down as of February 26.

The pilot, heralded as a hero for his actions, was given the nickname of “The Ghost of Kyiv” because of his ability to hit the targets then disappear quickly back into the air.

Ukraine’s official Twitter account noted: “Ukraine probably got its first ace since World War II. This is the anonymous pilot of the MiG-29, nicknamed the Ghost of Kyiv.

“In the first 30 hours of the Russian invasion in February 2022, he shot down six Russian military aircraft. As of February 26, 10 military planes of the occupiers [were shot down]

To become an ace, a pilot must shoot down five or more aircraft. The term was coined by the French military propaganda during World War I.

The claim grew some legs when Petro Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine, posted a photo purportedly of the ace pilot. “In the photo—the MiG-29 pilot. The same ‘Ghost of Kyiv,’” Poroshenko said in a tweet. “It causes terror in enemies and pride in Ukrainians. He has 6 victories over Russian pilots!”

And speaking of propaganda…

Is the Ghost of Kyiv fact or fiction? As this story was going to press, FLYING could not find a definitive answer either way. The topic is being debated on social media platforms, some that note the story was just too easy and the timing suspicious, suggesting the Ghost of Kyiv was manufactured to provide the people of Ukraine and their supporters with a hero.

For one, there’s no credible evidence, such as video or photos, that bolster the legend, or even confirmation from a military source.

But maybe that’s OK.

“While the odds are very much stacked against this narrative being true, there is the slimmest possibility that something truly extraordinary in the annals of air combat has taken place in the skies over Ukraine, even if it doesn’t include a pilot becoming an ‘ace in a day,'” Thomas Newdick of The Drive commented.

“It’s clear that there is a strong desire to believe in the truth of the Ghost Of Kyiv legend,” Newdick said. “With Ukraine under extraordinary pressure, including daily missile bombardment, Russian troops fighting in multiple parts of the country, and the first reports today of gunfire on the ground in Kyiv, the need for hope has rarely been greater. 

“Even for the international community, the story of a lone pilot who took on the invaders and won helps fill the hole of feeling helpless watching this sad situation unfold hour by hour.”

The story also led to great memes.

Others suggest the pilot really did have several Russian aircraft on his scorecard but was later killed in combat.

“Col. Oleksanser ‘Grey Wolf’ Oksanchenko UAF (Ret) also known as the Ghost of Kyiv was shot down after recording his seventh air to air kill against the Russian Air Force (RAF),” InsideEko reported.

Oksanchenko was killed when his fighter was shot down over Kyiv on Friday night.

“Col. Oksanchenko was not only a very experienced pilot who won a number of awards for the best flying display at many events across Europe, but he was also a true fan of airshows,” European Airshows said. “He came out of retirement to defend his country from the Russian invasion and paid the highest price.”

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