A Ukrainian Top Gun veteran who used the call sign “Grandfather” and led the infamous “Ghost of Kyiv” pilot division has died in action.
Colonel Mykhailo Matyushenko was in command of the Air Force’s 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade, which guarded the skies over the capital.
According to Ukrainian news site Pravda, the 61-year-old led an infamous group of fighter pilots known collectively as “The Ghost of Kyiv”.
Earlier in the war, the Ghost was thought to be linked to a Ukrainian Top Gun that shot down up to 40 Russian fighter planes. But this was later revealed to be a hoax spread by Ukraine to boost morale, and Kyiv eventually revealed that the real ghosts are those who defend the country in the air.
Matyushenko died while on a mission over the Black Sea and a funeral is being held for him today in his hometown of Bucha, the city of horrors on the outskirts of Kyiv where Russia is accused of committing horrific war crimes.
The city’s mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, paid tribute to the aviator, saying in a Facebook post: “Matyushenko passed on his invaluable experience to the younger generation of fighter pilots.”
“And only now can we tell the real story: ‘Ghosts of Kyiv’ was led by a pilot from Bucha.”
Colonel Mykhailo Matyushenko, who used the call sign “Grandfather” and led the infamous “Ghost of Kyiv” pilot division, died in action
Earlier in the war, the Ghost was thought to be linked to a Ukrainian Top Gun (pictured) which shot down up to 40 Russian fighter jets. But this later turned out to be a hoax spread by Ukraine to boost morale, and Kyiv eventually revealed that the real ghosts are those who defend the country in the air.
Matyushenko served in a number of military units and also flew civilian aircraft, working as a manager at a Ukrainian airline before Putin launched his barbarian invasion and he returned to service.
Fedoruk said that under Matyushenko’s command, the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade never suffered defeat in the air.
His comrades recalled an incident in which “Grandfather” rushed into an aerial battle in an Aero L-39 Albatross trainer aircraft.
It simulated an attack in a Ukrainian MiG-29 against a pair of Russian Su-30s whose pilots were tricked into retreating.
After dominating the skies above the capital, it has worked to strengthen Ukraine’s control over the airspace above the southern and eastern fronts.
Major Stepan Tarabalka (pictured left and right) was claimed to be the real ‘ghost of Kyiv’ before the military confessed
A search and rescue mission was carried out for the 61-year-old after he died in the Black Sea in June and his body was finally recovered and sent home yesterday.
A day after Putin’s invasion, the story of the anonymous “ghost of Kyiv” spread widely, becoming one of the symbols of Ukraine’s bold defiance against Russia.
The mythical pilot of the 40th tactical aviation brigade is said to have shot down 40 Kremlin fighter planes to defend the capital.
But Ukraine’s military finally admitted the icon was just a hoax to help boost morale, after Air Force Major Stepan Tarabalka, 29, was misidentified as the pilot.
The Air Force wrote at the time: “The Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!
“The information about the death of the Ghost of Kyiv is incorrect.
“The Ghost Of Kyiv is alive, embodying the collective spirit of the highly trained Tactical Aviation Brigade pilots successfully defending Kyiv and the region.”
Mr. Tarabalka was a real pilot who died in action on March 13. He was posthumously awarded the title Hero of Ukraine.
Two days before his death, the Ukrainian General Staff shared this photo of the legendary fighter sitting in the cockpit. They captioned it: “Hello Occupant, I’m coming to get your soul!”
Memes, photos and even footage from a flight simulation video game circulating on social media claimed to show the Ghost of Kyiv during the fight.
A day later, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted a photo the Ukrainian Defense Ministry had shared three years earlier, “showing” that the Ghost of Kyiv had shot down six Russian pilots.
Two days later, Ukraine’s official Twitter account shared a video featuring the same image, along with footage of fighter jets in combat to heart-pounding music with the caption: “People call him the Ghost of Kyiv”.
“And rightly so – this UAF ace dominates the skies of our capital and our country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian planes.”
By the time news outlets falsely identified the pilot as Tarabalka, reports had raised the ghost’s toll to 40 aircraft.
Two days before his death, the Ukrainian General Staff shared a photo of the legendary fighter sitting in the cockpit.
They captioned it: “Hello Occupant, I’m coming to get your soul!”
Tarabalka was born into a working-class family in the village of Korolivka in western Ukraine.