Ukraine’s ‘Ghost of Kiev’ Ace ‘Su-35 Killer’ Myth Could Boost Morale - But Won’t Slow Russia Down

Within 24 hours of Russia’s initiation of military operations in neighbouring Ukraine, Ukrainian sources reported that one of the country’s MiG-29 fighters had shot down six Russian combat jets including three heavyweight air superiority fighters - a Su-27 and two Su-35s - as well as a single MiG-29M fighter and two Su-25 ground attack jets. 

This came at a time when the Ukrainian Air Force had reportedly been rendered largely inoperable, with the country’s air defences neutralised within 2-3 hours, its airfields captured by Russian units, two of its 14 Su-24 strike fighters reportedly shot down in the war’s opening hours, and one of its elite Su-27 fighters fleeing to Romania with another lost to friendly fire. 

The Ukrainian Air Force does indeed deploy MiG-29 fighters, but beyond this there was little holding the story together with the myth of an ace fighter nicknamed the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ being quickly dismissed by Western analysts as an urban legend. 

Ukraine’s MiG-29s have reportedly been deployed largely for training purposes, with the Su-27 being its primary fighter. Approximately 35 of each were in service before the hostilities broke out, although both were 1980s aircraft which have seen few upgrades since they were inherited from the Soviet Union. 

With each MiG-29 carrying a maximum of six air to air missiles, a single fighter would likely need to fly multiple sorties to neutralise six enemies - unless it scored around half of its kills with its cannon’s limited ammunition in close quarters. The MiG-29 seen flying over the Ukrainian capital which was claimed to be the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ notably carried no missiles. 

The primary factor discrediting the story is that the MiG-29s operated by Ukraine are ageing MiG-29A variants, which have sensors and armaments widely considered obsolete - and well known to the Russian Military for over three decades allowing it to develop adequate countermeasures. 

With Ukrainian pilots having very few flying hours annually, and the MiG-29 being a much less dangerous aircraft even for its time than heavyweights such as the Su-27, the possibility of one scoring multiple kills against advanced heavyweights remains slim even if excluding the obsolescence of its armaments, electronics and sensors. A further issue with the story is that the MiG-29M fighter is not thought to be in active service with the Russian Air Force in any meaningful capacity, being an aircraft produced for export, meaning the chance that one would be operating over Ukraine would be slim.

The MiG-29A previously faced overwhelming 0:4 defeats when combating Su-27s over East Africa, and against a Su-35, a Su-27 derivative with technologies 30 years ahead, the chance of a MiG-29 victory against two of them if flown by remotely equivalent pilots would be negligible Myths like the ‘Ghost of Kiev’ are common in wartime to countries taking heavy losses and suffering technological and other material disadvantages, potentially rallying the population and persuading pilots that they have a chance of winning if facing the enemy in the air. Outside Ukraine, however, the story is unlikely to gain many followers. 

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