The Ukrainian government has seized on unsubstantiated rumours that an unnamed MiG-29 fighter pilot dubbed the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ has downed several Russian jets by sharing a macho propaganda video containing footage from a videogame.
Twitter is alight with clips that allegedly show a Ukrainian jet soaring through the skies over several cities and shooting down six Kremlin planes in dogfights on the first day of Vladimir Putin’s aggressive war against the former Soviet republic.
However, one video which got nearly 5million views and spawned the rumours has been thoroughly debunked as a clip from the 2008 videogame Digital Combat Simulator, with a Reuters Fact Check concluding: ‘A vertical video shared online does not show a Ukrainian fighter jet shooting down a Russian plane, but comes from the videogame DCS.’
Despite this, Kyiv is now openly promoting claims that the unnamed pilot exists, in an apparent bid to rally the besieged nation behind an urban hero and fuel support for Ukraine’s war effort.
Posting a 38 second video on Sunday, the government’s official Twitter account said: ‘People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so – this UAF ace dominates the skies over our capital and country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircrafts.’
The video starts with a cartoon illustration of the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’, before using the debunked footage of a downed Russian jet. Text then appears on the video, which reads: ‘Ukraine probably got its first ace since World War II. This is the anonymous pilot of the MiG-29, nicknamed the Ghost of Kyiv.
‘In the first 30 hours of the Russian invasion in February 2022 he shot down six Russian military aircraft. As of February 26 – 10 military planes of the occupiers. To become an ace pilot, you need to shoot down five planes. And the Ghost of Kyiv shot twice as many.
‘And although it is still unknown who is piloting the Ukrainian MiG-29 plane and whether he is responsible for the 10 downed Russian planes, Ukrainians are grateful to this hero with brass balls, who’s having Russian aircraft for breakfast.’
The video then ends with a picture of a man wearing pilot gear in a cockpit and giving a thumbs-up – an image shared two days ago by Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko. Text on the clip then appears, which adds: ‘God speed and happy hunting’.
Poroshenko tweeted the photo on Friday, claiming: ‘In the photo [is] the MiG-29 pilot. The same “Ghost of Kyiv”. It terrifies enemies and makes Ukrainians proud. He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!’.
There is a substantial lack of evidence to support claims that the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ is real. This image of a supposed flying ace wearing pilot gear has been shared by the Ukrainian government and ex-president Petro Poroshenko
The Ukrainian government has seized on unsubstantiated rumours that an unnamed MiG-29 fighter pilot dubbed the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ has downed several Russian jets by sharing a macho video containing footage from a videogame
Twitter is alight with clips that allegedly show a Ukrainian jet soaring through the skies over several cities and shooting down six Kremlin planes in the first day of Vladimir Putin’s aggressive war against the former Soviet republic
Though one video which got nearly 5million views and spawned the rumours has been thoroughly debunked, Kyiv is now openly promoting claims that the unnamed pilot exists
Posting a video to Twitter on Sunday, the government said: ‘People call him the Ghost of Kyiv. And rightly so – this UAF ace dominates the skies over our capital and country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircrafts.’
Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko tweeted a photo of the supposed ace on the second day of the war
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky remains alive – and is fast becoming an international hero – as Vladimir Putin’s efforts to topple the Kyiv government and install his own puppet cabinet runs into trouble
So is the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ actually real? What do we know so far?
There is a substantial lack of evidence to support claims that the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ is real
There is a substantial lack of evidence to support claims that the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ is real.
It appears that the main sources of information about the supposed flying ace are from debunked clips, Ukraine’s former president Petro Poroshenko, and the Ukrainian government itself.
Twitter is alight with clips that allegedly show a Ukrainian jet soaring through the skies over several cities and shooting down six Kremlin planes in the first day of Putin’s war.
However, one video which got nearly 5million views and spawned the rumours has been thoroughly debunked as a clip from the 2008 videogame Digital Combat Simulator.
A Reuters Fact Check concluded: ‘A vertical video shared online does not show a Ukrainian fighter jet shooting down a Russian plane, but comes from the videogame DCS.’
Aviation experts also doubt that any fighter pilot could down six planes in one day. The claimed toll would account for all but one of the Russian aircraft reported by the Ukrainian military to have been downed on the first day of the invasion.
Similarly, there is reason to be sceptical of Poroshenko’s claims that the pilot is real. The former president came to power following the 2014 revolution and is a hardliner determined to see Ukraine join NATO and the European Union.
Poroshenko is also accused of state treason, aiding terrorist organisations and financing terrorism. He denies the allegations, calling them ‘fabricated, politically motivated, and black PR directed against [Zelensky’s] political opponents’. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
And the Ukrainian government has an interest in promoting spurious claims of a flying ace. Even if untrue, the creation of an urban myth could rally the people of Ukraine in the war against Russia.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence similarly tweeted an image of a MiG-29 as part of a posting reporting that retired pilots were returning to the country’s air force.
‘Who knows, maybe one of them is the air avenger on the MiG-29, which is so often seen by Kyivites!’, the tweet claimed.
Street fighting broke out in Ukraine’s second-largest city on Sunday and Kremlin troops put increasing pressure on strategic ports in the country’s south following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere which appeared to mark a new phase of Russia’s invasion.
Following its gains on the ground, Russia sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine, according to the Kremlin.
However, Volodymyr Zelensky suggested other locations, saying his country is unwilling to meet in Belarus because it served as a staging ground for the invasion.
Speaking in a video message Sunday, the President named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative venues. He said other locations are also possible but made clear that Ukraine doesn’t accept Russia’s selection of Belarus.
The Kremlin said Sunday that a Russian delegation had arrived in the Belarusian city of Homel for talks with Ukrainian officials. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats. ‘The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,’ Peskov said.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, with troops moving from Moscow’s ally Belarus in the north, and also from the east and south.
Street fighting broke out early Sunday in Kharkiv as Russian troops pushed into Ukraine’s second-largest city, according to a regional official, following a wave of attacks elsewhere targeting airfields and fuel facilities that appeared to mark a new phase of an invasion that has been slowed by fierce resistance.
Russian troops approached Kharkiv, about 12 miles south of the border with Russia, shortly after Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. But until Sunday, they remained on the outskirts of the city of 1.4million without trying to enter while other forces rolled past, pressing their offensive deeper into Ukraine.
Early Sunday, Russian troops moved in and were engaged by Ukrainian forces, said Oleh Sinehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, who told civilians not to leave their homes. He gave no further details.
Videos posted on Ukrainian media and social networks showed Russian vehicles moving across Kharkiv and a light vehicle burning on the street.
Elsewhere, huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday south of the capital, Kyiv, where people hunkered down in homes, underground garages and subway stations in anticipation of a full-scale assault by Russian forces.
Flames billowed into the sky before dawn from an oil depot near an air base in Vasylkiv, where there has been intense fighting, according to the town’s mayor. Zelensky’s office said another explosion was at the civilian Zhuliany airport.
Zelensky’s office also said Russian forces blew up a gas pipeline in Kharkiv, prompting the government to warn people to protect themselves from the smoke by covering their windows with damp cloth or gauze.
‘We will fight for as long as needed to liberate our country,’ Zelensky vowed.
Terrified men, women and children sought safety inside and underground, and the government maintained a 39-hour curfew to keep people off the streets.
Putin hasn’t disclosed his ultimate plans, but Western officials believe he is determined to overthrow Ukraine’s government and replace it with a regime of his own, redrawing the map of Europe and reviving Moscow’s Cold War-era influence.
As Russia pushes ahead with its offensive, the West is working to equip the outnumbered Ukrainian forces with weapons and ammunition while punishing Russia with far-reaching sanctions.
In other developments:
- Moscow failed to capture Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv during fighting on Saturday night;
- But Kremlin forces entered Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Sunday morning;
- Russian troops blocked Kherson and Berdyansk and delivered another missile strike on Ukraine’s military infrastructure, the Russian Defence ministry claimed;
- The UN reports that at least 240 Ukrainian civilians have been killed;
- At least 200,000 people have fled Ukraine to three countries, with 150,000 said to have crossed into Poland;
- Unconfirmed reports that a cancer hospital for children in Kyiv had been shelled by Russians forces have also been debunked;
- Russia claimed it was engaging in peace talks with the Ukrainian government in Belarus;
- Zelensky said that while said the Ukraine was ready for peace talks, they would not be taking place in Belarus;
- Ukraine has obliterated a 56 tank convoy of feared Chechen fighters. Among those killed was one of Chechnya’s top generals, Magomed Tushaev;
- A gas pipeline was blown up near Kharkiv, sending huge mushroom cloud billowing into the sky;
- UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, writing in The Telegraph, warned Putin’s days ‘will surely be numbered’ if he fails in his ambition to take Kyiv.
Russian forces were filmed advancing through Kharkiv on Sunday morning – moments before gunfire rang out, sending some soldiers running while others returned fire
A Russian military vehicle is seen ablaze in Kharkiv on Sunday morning after troops entered the eastern Ukrainian city
Burning Russian military equipment on the streets of Kharkiv minutes after Russian army entered the city
Russian forces are pictured entering Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, on Sunday morning. Gun battles are reported to have erupted. Russian vehicles are said to have been marked with a white Z to distinguish them from Ukrainian combatants
Ukrainian servicemen take cover in a shelter at the military airbase Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, February 26, 2022
This map shows the strikes Russia is so-far known to have carried out against Ukraine, with more explosions rocking the country in the early hours of Sunday morning
Did the heroes of Snake Island survive or is Putin up to his old tricks? Kremlin releases picture of 13 brave soldiers who chose to fight to the death against Russian forces and claims they actually SURRENDERED
Ukrainian border guards protecting tiny island in the Black Sea from Russia were thought to have been killed after telling Russian navy to ‘go f**k yourself’ but Russia has since released almost a dozen pictured
The group of Ukrainian border guards who told the Russian military to ‘go f*** yourself’ over the radio as they defended a small island in the Black Sea, and were thought to have been killed, may now actually be alive and being held as prisoners of war.
The guards defending Snake Island, a strategically-significant speck of land south of the port of Odessa, had originally thought to have been killed but to have gone down in a blaze of linguistic glory during Thursday’s attacks.
But pictures released by the Russian Defense Ministry claim the Ukrainian servicemen are in fact still alive after ‘voluntarily’ surrendering their garrison to Russian troops.
Almost a dozen photos released by Russia purportedly show the men boarding buses, being given bottled water and a food parcel, before being shown sitting in their seats.
Russia have even said that men will be released and be allowed to return to their families.
The authenticity of the information is still uncertain given that just a day earlier, Volodymyr Zelensky had promised to posthumously decorate ‘the heroic deceased border guards’.
Snake Island is strategically important because it allows Russia to claim territorial waters stretching 12 nautical miles out to sea.
Joe Biden pledged an additional $350million in military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, body armour and small arms.
Germany said it would send missiles and anti-tank weapons to the besieged country and that it would close its airspace to Russian planes.
The US, the European Union and Britain agreed to block ‘selected’ Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial messaging system, which moves money around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions worldwide, part of a new round of sanctions aiming to impose a severe cost on Moscow for the invasion. They also agreed to impose ‘restrictive measures’ on Russia’s central bank.
Responding to a request from Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tech billionaire Elon Musk said on Twitter his satellite-based internet system Starlink was now active in Ukraine and that there were ‘more terminals en route’.
It was unclear how much territory Russian forces had seized or to what extent their advance had been stalled. Britain’s Ministry of Defense said ‘the speed of the Russian advance has temporarily slowed likely as a result of acute logistical difficulties and strong Ukrainian resistance’.
A senior US defence official said more than half the Russian combat power that was massed along Ukraine’s borders had entered the country and Moscow has had to commit more fuel supply and other support units inside Ukraine than originally anticipated. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US assessments.
The curfew forcing everyone in Kyiv inside was set to last through Monday morning. The relative quiet of the capital was sporadically broken by gunfire.
Fighting on the city’s outskirts suggested that small Russian units were trying to clear a path for the main forces. Small groups of Russian troops were reported inside Kyiv, but Britain and the US said the bulk of the forces were 19 miles from the city’s centre as of Saturday afternoon.
Russia claims its assault on Ukraine from the north, east and south is aimed only at military targets, but bridges, schools and residential neighbourhoods have been hit.
Ukraine’s health minister reported Saturday that 198 people, including three children, had been killed and more than 1,000 others wounded during Europe’s largest land war since the Second World War. It was unclear whether those figures included both military and civilian casualties.
A missile struck a high-rise apartment building in Kyiv’s southwestern outskirts near one of the city’s two passenger airports, leaving a jagged hole of ravaged apartments over several floors. A rescue worker said six civilians were injured.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, said troops in Kyiv were fighting Russian ‘sabotage groups’. Ukraine says some 200 Russian soldiers have been captured and thousands killed.
Markarova said Ukraine was gathering evidence of shelling of residential areas, kindergartens and hospitals to submit to The Hague as possible crimes against humanity.
Zelensky reiterated his openness to talks with Russia in a video message, saying he welcomed an offer from Turkey and Azerbaijan to organize diplomatic efforts, which so far have faltered.
The Kremlin confirmed a phone call between Putin and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev but gave no hint of restarting talks. A day earlier, Zelensky offered to negotiate a key Russian demand: abandoning ambitions of joining NATO.
Putin sent troops into Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, all the while building up a force of almost 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders. He claims the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join. But he has also expressed scorn about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
In addition to Kyiv, the Russian assault appeared to focus on Ukraine’s economically vital coastal areas, from near the Black Sea port of Odesa in the west to beyond the Azov Sea port of Mariupol in the east.
Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol guarded bridges and blocked people from the shoreline amid concerns the Russian navy could launch an assault from the sea.
‘I don’t care anymore who wins and who doesn’t,’ said Ruzanna Zubenko, whose large family was forced from their home outside Mariupol after it was badly damaged by shelling. ‘The only important thing is for our children to be able to grow up smiling and not crying.’
Fighting also raged in two eastern territories controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Authorities in Donetsk said hot water supplies to the city of about 900,000 were suspended because of damage to the system by Ukrainian shelling.
The US and its allies have beefed up forces on NATO’s eastern flank but so far have ruled out deploying troops to fight Russia.
Instead, the US, the European Union and other countries have slapped wide-ranging sanctions on Russia, freezing the assets of businesses and individuals including Putin and his foreign minister.