The man who became a hero for the Ukrainians -having allegedly shot down more than 40—Russian aircraft—was Stepan Tarabalka, a 29-year-old father of one.
“The ghost of Kyiv” shot to fame after the Ukrainian government tweeted a video showing an artist’s impression of the pilot. He had purportedly shot down six Russian aircraft on only the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.
Ghost of Kyiv becomes a hero
The fighter ace was flying a MiG-29 of the Ukrainian Air Force when it was shot down on March 13th while battling “overwhelming” enemy forces, according to the report.
Tarabalka has been posthumously awarded Ukraine’s top medal for bravery in combat, namely the Order of the Golden Star, and has been named the ‘Hero of Ukraine.’
His helmet and goggles are expected to go on sale at an auction in London.
“Since early childhood, he always dreamed of the sky, about flying higher than the clouds,” Tarabalka’s mother, Natalha, told NPR News in an interview on March 25th long before her son was identified as the “Ghost of Kyiv” to international media.
All that his parents knew was that Stepan was on a mission, and that he had completed his task but had not returned. Not much detail about his last air battle and death had been shared with them.
A working-class child from a small village, Stepan was determined to make it through military and flight school.
“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 [was] Stepan flying,” the hero’s mother recalled.
Russian invasion of Ukraine continues
According to the latest update published by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Russia’s full-scale armed aggression continues with “offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone in order to defeat the Joint Forces, establish full control over the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and maintain the land route with the occupied Crimea.”
Air and missile strikes and artillery shelling of civilian and military infrastructure are also deployed by the Russians “in the depths of Ukraine, the positions of the troops along the line of contact and in the border areas”.
The Russian occupying forces are regrouping and strengthening, the update adds.
The air defense units of the Ukrainian Air Force and the Land Forces hit ten air targets and fourteen enemy attacks were repulsed in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts over the past 24 hours, it concludes.