By Lee Brown April 29, 2022 New York Post
The mysterious Ukrainian fighter pilot hailed as the “Ghost of Kyiv” after reportedly shooting down dozens of Russian aircraft has been killed in battle, an outlet said Friday.
The death of the much-celebrated enigmatic pilot was reported by The Times of London, which for the first time also publicly identified Major Stepan Tarabalka, a 29-year-old father of one, as the war hero.
Tarabalka was credited with taking out as many as 40 Russian aircraft until he was himself shot down March 13 while battling an “overwhelming” number of enemy forces, the UK paper said.
Tarabalka was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s top medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Golden Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine, according to his family.
His helmet and goggles — all that was seen of him when Ukrainian officials promoted his heroism — are now set to be auctioned in London, sources told the UK Times while confirming Tarabalka’s identity.
Tarabalka became a mysterious legend when the Ukrainian government credited the then-anonymous pilot with shooting down six Russian jets on the first day of the war.
“People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so,” the official tweet said, saying he had “already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircraft.”
Ukraine’s General Staff later tweeted another picture of the ace fighter pilot in the cockpit of his MiG-29 jet with his face covered, captioned, “Hello, occupier, I’m coming for your soul!”
Many people questioned whether the “Ghost” was real, as his identity remained a mystery — seemingly even to his grieving family when told of their loved one’s death last month.
His parents, Nahtalia and Evon Tarabalka, were interviewed by NPR soon after his death — and they gave no mention of his secret status nor any hint they knew what missions he had been on.
“We know he was flying on a mission. And he completed the mission, his task. Then he didn’t return. That’s all the information we have,” his dad told the outlet.
Tarabalka’s parents detailed how their son’s lifelong dream was to become a fighter pilot while growing up next to a military airfield in the village of Korolivka.
“Since early childhood, he always dreamed of the sky, about flying higher than the clouds,” his mother told NPR through a translator.
“He would always watch the paratroopers in their air exercises. And he would run in their direction to try to see where they landed,” Nahtalia said.
His parents said said they were amazed when he made his dream come true, despite having no military connections.
“Becoming a pilot, it was his own effort. He did it all himself. I just helped with prayers,” his mother said.
They confirmed that Tarabalka — who leaves behind a wife, Olenia, and 8-year-old son, Yarik — was awarded the Order of the Golden Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine.
“Of course, he’d already earned this award when he was with us,” his father told NPR.
“But we wish he could get the honor after the war. We just wish he was still alive.”