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How did the Ghost of Kyiv die? Major Stepan Tarabalka killed in an air battle over Ukraine

The famed Ukrainian Air Force pilot has died aged 29, reportedly in a confrontation with enemy aircraft in the skies above Ukraine.

Ghost of Kyiv confirmed dead in Ukraine
Hristo RusevGetty Images

A Ukrainian fighter pilot who became known as the Ghost of Kyiv for reportedly shooting down dozens of Russian aircraft has died.

The Times reports that Major Stepan Tarabalka was killed when his MiG-29 was shot down on 13 March during a confrontation with multiple enemy aircraft. The death of the enigmatic figure only came to light on Friday after Ukrainian military sources were able to confirm his identity.

Tarabalka had been widely praised on social media for his actions, with some Ukrainians describing him as a “hero” and the nation’s “guardian angel”. He first came to international attention after a tweet from the Ukrainian government highlighted his skills in the sky:

“People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so — this UAF [Ukrainian Air Force] ace dominates the skies over our capital and country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft.”

Who was the Ghost of Kyiv?

Tarabalka has grown to become a figure of international importance, and one who has become a vital symbol of resistance for his embattled compatriots. However he comes from very humble beginnings in western Ukraine.

Born in the small village of Korolivka to a working class family, he graduated from the Kharkiv National University of the Air Force and pursued an active career in the military. After his death was made public his parents gave an interview to NPR, in which they described how he had watched MiG jets swooping over the family house, inspiring his decision to become a pilot.

After graduating he would leave home to enter the air force, but he remained extremely close to his parents and to his roots.

Speaking through a translator, his mother Nahtalia explained: “At any opportunity, he would fly close to our house, do a little aerobatic trick. And everyone in the village, every house and all the villages around would know that is Stepan flying.”

How many people did the Ghost of Kyiv kill?

Initially the identity of the mysterious ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ was kept as a secret, presumably due to understandable concerns that he would be targeted by enemy forces. The inability to confirm his identity led to some accusations that his story was a myth, simply designed to boost the national mood in a country under invasion.

However we now know that Tarabalka was real, and we have greater insight into his achievements on the battlefield.

Since the start of the invasion, Ukrainian authorities claim to have taken out 189 Russian aircraft, 155 helicopters and 229 drones. Figures obtained by The Times suggests that Tarabalka could be personally responsible for 40 of those successes, if not more.


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