It is true that the Ghost of Kyiv turned out to be a patriotic fabrication; then again, the picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware was so absurdly stylized, not to mention painted by someone from a different country fifty years after his death, that it is just one of many things about him that have turned a man into a myth. There is a lovely town in Bucks County, PA, called “Washington Crossing;” clearly, it is the place where Washington and cohort crossed the river to continue the southern march of the Revolution. But to think anyone would stand up like that in a swift current in the middle of winter begs not only the truth but common sense. Evidently he did say something to the effect of “Shift your great fat ass, Harry,” this to General Knox, who was large of posterior but long on military know how – gleaned from a book, or many books, on artillery emplacement and usage. But it shows that military legends are probably more the norm than the reality, like the Ghost, and that heroes – like Knox, with great big pantaloons and a danger to the boat merely by sitting in it – come from the strangest of places.
Last week, flying an Su-25 Frogfoot, an old man, strapped into a t-suit built for a guy half his age and probably a third of his size, was shot down over Ukraine. And while we who write – and serve – here are clearly on the side of Ukraine, this guy is so extraordinary that he bears mention, particularly in the same week when Top Gun: Maverick, a movie about an aging ace, and sequel to the movie that spurred both enlistment and sales of Ray Bans, even if he was a Russian.
Major General Kanamat Botashev, who evidently has a history of Maverick-like hijinks, but not enough to keep him from his getting his stars, came out of retirement to jump in a fifty-year-old plane and take to the sky, making himself part of the target rich environment for Stinger toting antiaircraft gunners. Old shoulder-mounted antiaircraft missiles caught a cross-section of whatever you pointed them at, and then the acquisition tone came on, letting the operator know he had a lock. Nowadays, the FIM-92 Stinger has a place for a chip that allows one to load for the particular plane he is looking for; the reason they were so respected by the Russians in Afghanistan was that the thing that the Mujahideen were really frightened of, and reasonably, was the Russian attack helicopters, and particularly the Mi-24, the infamous Hind, which is a titanium-bodied, twin turbine powered beast with a chain gun, similar to an American Gatling, on the front, and small winglets with all manner of unpleasantries strung underneath them. Before America sent them Stingers, the Afghans were nearly powerless against them. Once we did, the missile would fly over the cockpit and blast the rotor housing and the twin Isotov turbines to small pieces, and down it would come.
So this pilot, once a member of the Red Air Force, trained in the art of destroying American Abrams tanks, German Leopards and English Churchills, took to the skies to face men who were likely the sons of his former comrades. There seems to be little information as to why a general, and a retired one at that, was doing the job of a man who should have been the reverse of his age. According to the Times of London, this was nothing new, and made Maverick's flyby of the tower in the original Top Gun look like a joke.
“Botashev had a history of unauthorised flights, a trait that ended his career in the military. In June 2012, he crashed an Su-27 two-seat fighter jet he was flying without permission.
Although not qualified to fly it, he had ordered a subordinate officer to transfer the controls to him while on an exercise and then tried to perform an aerobatic stunt.”
Times of London, May 25, 2022
Personally and professionally, I salute him. His wife is probably not happy, but it seems a bit like she was married to a seventeen-year-old sexagenarian. Somehow he talked his way into a combat post, maybe by simply walking into a base wearing a uniform and hopping in. However he did it, he died a warrior's death, and that is a pretty rare thing for a guy at his age; maybe he had 500 combat missions under his belt by this point, considering that fact that he likely served from about 1980 until 2012. And like some guys I have seen here he just couldn't bear the though of death in bed. Since for the first fifteen or twenty years of his time in the saddle, he flew for the Red Air Force, so it is certain that he had Ukrainian compatriots, maybe even a wingman. So he was a fighter pilot through and through, and probably would have flown for Fiji or the Cormoros Islands if they gave him a Sopwith Camel. From what the stories about his death say, he was pulling up from an attack run and got hit by a Stinger loosed by a Ukrainian paratrooper. So: I salute him as a pilot, a professional and hope he is in Valhalla now. I do not salute him politically, and would have taken the shot myself if I got the tone in my headphones. But in his mind, I doubt very much he cared about politics: he flew because he was a pilot and a warrior, and there is something clean and dry about such a man. After all, isn't America about to flock back to the movie theatre to see a fake version of this man take to the sky? Let us hope he drinks with Odin, and was borne aloft for the last time on the wings of Valkyries, for no wings await him the more in Midgard.
Russian or not.
The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to email@example.com.
Welcome to the discussion.