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FactCheck: Is this footage of the famed Ghost of Kyiv?

Reports of the ‘ace’ fighter pilot protecting the skies of Kyiv gave hope to Ukrainian resistance but is footage on social media real?

REPORTS OF A Ukrainian pilot who single-handedly downed six Russian planes in the first days of the invasion have flooded social media, creating a folk hero in the process. 

Dubbed the ‘Ghost of Kyiv‘, the MiG 29 pilot was reported to be the first ‘flying ace’ of the 21st Century. In military terms it means the first pilot to shoot down five or more confirmed enemy aircraft (in air-to-air combat) since World War Two.

The pilot has not been officially identified and his record has not been confirmed by official sources.

However, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence did reference an ‘air avenger’ seen in Kyiv in a social media post in the early days of the conflict.

The Ghost, alongside the Snake Island ‘go f**k yourself‘ soldiers and the ‘Ukrainian Reaper’  are key characters in an online narrative glorifying Ukrainian resistance in the face of Russian military aggression. 

The conflict is being called the  first ‘TikTok’ war thanks in part to the first-hand footage (or clips claiming to be) of the invasion being shared on the app. 

A video posted to Tik Tok from a Ukraine based account @chernobyl_guide, titled ‘The Ghost of Kyiv We love you!’ garnered half a million views in one day. The account boasts 2.1 million followers.

@chernobyl_guide 🇺🇦 THE GHOST OF KYIV, WE LOVE YOU! Glory to UKRAINE 💙💛 more on inst: lady.advanture_ #ukraine #kyiv #standwithukraine #fyp #ukrainewar #legend #f ♬ Sahara - Hensonn

The on-screen caption reads ‘You can’t love someone you don’t know’, then ‘are you sure?’ then cuts to a fighter pilot taking off who turns their head to the camera. 

Comments under the video were supportive and hopeful of a Ukrainian victory, with users saying ‘Russia can run but the ghost of Kyiv will haunt them,’ ‘Legend’ and ‘Glory to Ukraine.

But is this footage of the Ghost of Kyiv? Is this proof the enigmatic war hero exists?

The Claim

This video from Tik Tok account @chernobyl_guide is footage of the ‘ace’ pilot the Ghost of Kyiv.


In the first clip the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ is shown to be giving a distinct hand signal from the cockpit as they taxi down the runway. The ‘tiger claw’ the pilot makes with their hands is similar to signs used by US fighter pilots when taking off. 

A search of photo agency Alamy shows a US Air Force Captain making the ‘tiger claw’ hand gesture while dressed in an almost identical uniform and helmet as the ‘Ghost of Kyiv.’

Screenshot 2022-03-02 11.44.59 Screenshot of image found on Alamy of stock photos of the US Air Force Alamy / 72A1 Alamy / 72A1 / 72A1

The photo depicts English instructions written on the side of the cockpit reading “1 Push button to open door 2. Pull ring out 6 feet to jettison canopy.”

These are the same instructions on the side of the plane in the ‘Ghost’ video. 

The photo caption describes the aircraft as an F-16 from the 79th Fighter Squadron in North Carolina from 2011. 

The ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ pilots a MiG-29, a different fighter jet. However in this video the aircraft looks like an F-16.

A Youtube search of F-16 take offs revealed the exact ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ footage at the 3.20 mark in a video of the US Air Force.

Screenshot 2022-03-02 12.51.56 Still of identical footage from a Youtube video of 'f-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet Take Off U.S Air Force'

The caption says the footage depicts ‘the 20th Fighter Wing and 64th Aggressor Squadron’ during ‘Red Flag operations in 2018.’ The video has been viewed over 22 million times. 

The Ukrainian Air Force are known to fly Russian-made MiG fighter jets, not F-16s. The Wall Street Journal reported the Ukrainian Foreign Minister recently requested ‘soviet-built’ planes from the EU that Ukrainian Air Force pilots ‘can fly.’

Other footage and images purporting to be of the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ have been revealed as fake this week.

This video, which was one of the first to show the ‘Ghost’ in action, was actually taken from a video game called Digital Combat Simulator. The uploader changed the video’s description, acknowledging the footage is from the simulator but was made ‘in honour’ of the Ghost.

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted a photo of  ‘the same Ghost of Kiev.’ Claiming ‘with such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win.’

However, fact checkers from German outlet DW found the same photo was posted three years ago from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. “Even if that is in fact the mysterious pilot, the photo is an old one,” DW concluded.

It should also be noted the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’s’ stellar feat of downing 6 aircrafts in air-to-air combat in just over a day is extremely rare in modern wars. So rare that US pilot Cesar Rodriguez was considered ‘the last American ace’ despite only chalking up three air-to-air kills in his entire career.


This video of the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ is actually footage of US Air Force pilots from 2018, so this piece of conflict content is: FALSE

The ‘Ghost of Ukraine’ remains unconfirmed. While videos and photos of the pilot have been debunked there has yet to be conclusive proof the ‘Ghost’ is a myth. However, there is also no conclusive proof the pilot is real. 

With Ukrainian citizens encouraged to stay and fight despite evidence of heavily equipped Russian forces advancing on the capital, content about an ace pilot protecting the skies is comforting. 

In the past, stories of individual heroism during battle were used to boost morale via wartime propaganda. Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä was nicknamed ‘The White Death’ for his alleged 500 kills during the Winter War with the Soviet Union. However historians disagree over his legacy, with suggestions his records may have been inflated due to his appearance in Finnish government wartime propaganda.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko became ‘Lady Death’ when the Ukrainian-born woman reportedly racked up over 300 kills as a rare female sniper in WW2. She became a key character in Soviet propaganda and toured America on a PR mission, meeting President Roosevelt at the White House. 

It remains to be seen whether the Ghost of Kyiv and their new ground combat counterpart ‘The Ukrainian Reaper’ will be debunked as wartime legends or verified as legendary war heroes. 

The Journal’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.