As the latest leaked footage of Ukraine downloads on YouTube, you hear that crack in the distance and see a jet flying by. In a subsequent clip, you see what looks like the same jet blowing up a target plane. Then another. A third narrowly escapes, but it is heavily damaged. Could it be? Did he just save my village? The Ghost of Kyiv?
At least that’s the narrative the Ukrainians wanted foreigners to believe in. While many outlets ran the story of Major Stepan Tarabalka, a 29-year-old Ukrainian father who died in battle after earning the nickname The Ghost of Kyiv for his heroic exploits, the truth wasn’t there. As the Ukrainian Air Force announced, he never existed. He was simply a myth. While their Facebook account listed a simple explanation, the Twitter edition is much more befitting.
“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.” While this statement alone is comforting for the people of Ukraine, and their supporters it doesn’t provide the answers people need. It simply gives them hope as his spirit is in their entire Tactical Aviation Brigade. They are all him.
Yet, it was a member of the Ukrainian parliament who took the message and ran it full force to the people across the globe. “A few points on the Ghost of Kyiv: ⁃he is alive and well ⁃he can’t be killed – he is a ghost ⁃he IS a legend ⁃he is all those brave ace pilots that appear out of nowhere protecting the skies.” It is, again, this installation of the Ghost being everywhere that helps keep the propaganda machine going.
As people discover that this was just a legend, everyone is proclaiming they always knew that it wasn’t true. Given how rampant and varied the stories are, as well as the lack of the mainstream media trying to bastardize him for their political gain, it should have been obvious. Stories of people doing heroic acts, taking on the enemy in close quarters fights, and, in general, just being tough and helping to achieve victory for their home country are as old as battle itself.
To keep the men entertained and motivated, these stories would be told so they would have an inspiration to look up to, or someone to try and emulate. Having this goal would help keep them focused on the task at hand as well as the level of work required to be successful at it. From the guy who killed fifty men in Korea, to the sniper who took out 50 Taliban, to the Air Force woman who served with their Security Forces (Military Police) and sniped an insurgent from three-quarters of a mile away.
All these legends have had some level of embellishment to them as they went through the ranks. While there is a degree of truth to each of them, the embellishment is what makes them so memorable and makes the people so happy to share them back and forth. That level of reliance on one another to keep your chin up also helps someone to outdo themselves when they are telling the story for the seventh time in front of people who have heard the story before. It helps them to remember it and to keep going forward.