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Col. Oleksandr “Grey Wolf” Oksanchenko, a decorated Ukrainian pilot, was killed in combat on Feb. 25.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awarded him posthumously with the title of Hero of Ukraine, along with 11 other military service members.
Unconfirmed reports hold that an unidentified pilot, who has come to be called the “Ghost of Kyiv,” downed six Russian planes on the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We do not find evidence that this was Oksanchenko.
Col. Oleksandr "Grey Wolf" Oksanchenko was a Ukrainian Air Force display pilot who was killed in combat as he flew over Kyiv on Feb. 25, the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the Russian invasion into Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky honored Oksanchenko three days later, designating him a "Hero of Ukraine" along with 11 other military service members, saying Oksanchenko "died in an air battle, distracting enemy aircraft."
But claims on social media have gone a step further, declaring that Oksanchenko is the rumored "Ghost of Kyiv," the star of an unsubstantiated tale about an anonymous Ukrainian fighter pilot who allegedly took down six Russian fighter planes on the first day of the conflict.
"‘Ghost of Kyiv’ dies in combat,’" read a headline that accompanied a photograph of Oksanchenko in a March 4 Facebook post. "Ukrainian stunt pilot Colonel Oleksandr 'Grey Wolf' Oksanchenko, who is known as the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ for having downed seven Russian fighter jets, was shot down over the capital Kyiv on Friday night. … The famed Ukrainian pilot came out of retirement to defend his homeland from Russian invaders."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
While the story of the Ghost of Kyiv has been celebrated online as an example of Ukraine’s fierce defiance in the face of Russian aggression, there so far has been nothing official to substantiate its details. Many of the online claims promoting the Ghost of Kyiv narrative have featured video game footage and old, unrelated photos.
Zelensky gave a Feb. 28 address in which he updated the public on the missile attack in Kharkiv, the defense of Kyiv and negotiations with Russia. He noted that he had signed a decree to award Oksanchenko the Hero of Ukraine title but did not mention or reference the Ghost of Kyiv.
It’s uncertain how the Ghost of Kyiv tale originated, but we know that Ukraine’s military reported on Feb. 24 that at least six Russian planes and two helicopters had been downed. Crediting Ukrainian military, CNN and NBC soon reported five Russian planes and one helicopter had been shot down. Russia’s defense ministry denied the report, according to Reuters, and said that Ukraine’s air force defenses had been "suppressed."
Ukraine’s official Twitter account, meanwhile, promoted the Ghost of Kyiv narrative with a video that suggested the mystery pilot could have been responsible for as many as 10 downed Russian aircraft by Feb. 26. That video, too, included footage from a video game.
PolitiFact did not receive a response from Zelensky’s administration about Oksanchenko and the Ghost of Kyiv claim.
Finding no conclusive information tying Oksanchenko to the Ghost of Kyiv, we rate this claim False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Twitter post, March 13, 2022
Archived Facebook post, March 5, 2022
European Airshows Facebook post, March 1, 2022
We Are the Mighty, Legendary Ukrainian pilot ‘Grey Wolf’ reportedly shot down over Kyiv, March 6, 2022
President of Ukraine’s official website, Address by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ministry Defence of Ukraine official website, General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: Operative information as of 10:30, Feb. 24, 2022
CNN, Ukraine armed forces say 5 Russian aircraft and a helicopter shot down, Feb. 24, 2022
Twitter post, Feb. 27, 2022
DW, Fact check: Ukraine's 'Ghost of Kyiv' fighter pilot, Jan. 3, 2022
PolitiFact, This ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ clip is from a video game, not a video of fighting in Ukraine, Feb. 28, 2022
PolitiFact, Samuyil Hyde is an internet meme, not the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ pilot, March 1, 2022
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