The story of a Ukrainian fighter ace singlehandedly shooting down dozens of Russian jets in the skies over Kiev was one of the more obvious propaganda pieces to come out of the Ukraine war so far, but it still took more than two months for the mainstream media to admit that it was a hoax, after the Ukrainian government finally admitted that the “Ghost of Kyiv” never existed and was simply a myth invented to celebrate the courage of the Ukrainian people.
A useful hoax
Reports of a lone Ukrainian pilot circling the skies over Kiev early on the first day of the war may have been true, but by the time a memorable nickname had been assigned he had passed firmly into the realm of myth and propaganda.
The anonymous fighter ace was supposedly gunning down Russian aircraft in his old MIG-29 with no need to land for fuel and ammunition, earning instant hero worship from credulous Westerners.
Ukraine cannot be blamed for embracing the fiction and using it to bolster Western support for their country, but the mainstream media’s reluctance to point out an obvious hoax deserves more scrutiny.
Only days before Ukraine admitted that the character was fictional, the media was reporting that he had been shot down after winning dozens of dogfights since the start of the invasion.
These rumors may have been what finally prompted the Ukrainian government to officially abandon the story; the death of the Ghost of Kyiv cannot do any damage to morale if he never existed in the first place.
At this point in the war there is no shortage of real heroism for Kiev to celebrate, so the ghost has already served his purpose and can be safely put to rest.
Doing the wrong job
Most observers figured out that the Ghost of Kyiv was a hoax almost immediately after the story emerged; myths like this crop up frequently in the early days of any war.
Not all were so quick. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a vocal proponent of American military intervention in Ukraine, declared that he knew the identity of the ghost in a now deleted Twitter post.
As proof he shared a photoshopped image of American comedian Sam Hyde in the cockpit of a fighter jet. Other supposed proofs of the ghost’s existence were no more convincing.
Since the early days of the war, the media has largely agreed that the Ghost of Kyiv is a hoax but a hoax worth keeping alive as it might bolster opposition to Russia’s invasion.
Even if they were motivated by good intentions, the fact that most of the mainstream media knowingly continued to give credence to a propaganda piece is concerning.
The public relies on independent journalists and reporters to investigate what is actually happening. Their role is not meant to involve serving as a government’s auxiliaries in information warfare.