The death of a Ukrainian fighter jet pilot — credited with downing 40 Russian aircraft attacking defending troops — was announced Friday.
Major Stepan Tarabalka, 29, was reportedly killed “when the MiG-29 he was flying was shot down March 13 while battling ‘overwhelming’ enemy forces.'”
Ukrainian sources today confirmed the fighter pilot’s identity and his death, according to a report in the London, England, newspaper The Times.
Tarabalka was christened the “Ghost of Kyiv” after officials credited the pilot with shooting down six Russian jets on the first day of the war. His identify was not released by Ukrainain offiicals until today’s confirmation of his death.
The nickname was popularized by a Twitter post that featured a video clip of his plane in action that has been viewed 1.6 million times.
“People call him the Ghost of Kyiv,” declared a comment on the Ukraine Twitter account. “And rightly so — this UAF ace dominates the skies over our capital and country, and has already become a nightmare for invading Russian aircrafts.”
“Ukrainians are grateful to this hero with brass balls who’s having Russian aircraft for breakfast,” text near the end of the video clip reads. “God speed and happy hunting.”
His parents, Nahtalia and Evon Tarabalka, explained the family lived near a military air base when their son was younger. “He’d watch the MiGs swoop in and out and decided at a young age he wanted more than anything to be a fighter pilot,” Nahtalia recounted. “Since early childhood, he always dreamed of the sky, about flying higher than the clouds.”
The parents reportedly lived mainly in Portugal in order to earn more money than they could make in Ukraine. Nahtalia said no one gave her son a break or helped him get ahead, adding the family had no military connections to help further his dream of becoming a pilot. “He did it all himself,” the mother stated. “I just helped with prayers.”
Military officials maintained security around his identity and missions.
“We know he was flying on a mission and he completed the mission, his task,” Evon said. “Then he didn’t return. That’s all the information we have, really.”
The pilot’s father said his wife is upset she couldn’t see her son’s body.
“It was a closed casket,” said Evon. “And the military told her it’s best to keep it that way.”
Major Stepan Tarabalka was posthumously awarded Ukraine’s top medal for bravery in combat, the Order of the Golden Star, with the title Hero of Ukraine.
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