Ukraine mourns three fighter pilots killed in the collision of two training planes in the sky about 90 miles west of Kiev.
Captain Andriy Pilshchykov, a pilot with the military callsign Juice, received special praise from President Volodymr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian Air Force.
The late pilot, who was 30 when the crash occurred over the western Zhytomyr region on Friday, was known not only for his defense of Ukraine, but also for his passionate advocacy that the United States protect Kiev with F-16 – Fighter aircraft should supply jets.
According to Ukrainian news agencies, the Mig-29 pilot first rose to prominence in Ukraine when he took part in “dogfights” with Moscow’s warplanes in the skies over Kiev in the early months of the Russian invasion.
As Russian airstrikes over Kiev became less frequent, Pilshchykov continued to defend Ukraine’s airspace by attempting to intercept Russian cruise missiles and drones before they hit ground targets – and had done so as early as last May already accumulated 500 hours of combat flights.
Last summer, he was one of two Ukrainian pilots selected to travel to Washington to lobby members of the US Congress to equip Kiev with F-16 fighter jets, a move finally approved by the Joe Biden administration in May.
“Juice” has also given several interviews with Western media outlets, speaking to Sky News, the BBC, and CNN Washington Post to name a few when he advocated that Ukraine should be equipped with the jets.
In an interview with the BBC, he said of his missions: “Your mission is to intercept the cruise missiles and save life on the ground, save the city.” When you’re not able to do that, it’s a terrible feeling, that someone will die. Someone is going to die in minutes and you didn’t stop that.”
In another show with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, he said, “We’re all ready to fight, just with our jets, with our guns, even just in the fields with guns.”
“So our people, including me, are ready to fight the Russians and we are ready to defend our country, to defend our people in any way we can. But we need tools, powerful tools to do this efficiently.”
His callsign “Juice” was reportedly given to him by US airmen during a joint exercise because he did not drink alcohol, and Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat hailed him as a “key driver of an interest group driving many decisions in this area.” ‘ F-16’, who was ‘in constant contact with Californian pilots’.
Speak with The guardMr. Ihnat also praised “Juice” as the engine of reforms in the Air Force, which “seeks to bring Nato standards to Ukraine… and even Western traditions, like burning pianos to honor a fallen pilot.”
His death has drawn widespread attention in Ukraine, where on Sunday official footage appeared to show troops lined up on an airstrip in memory of Pilshchykov and his two fallen comrades, Major Vyacheslav Minka and Major Serhii Prokazin, while a piano played a somber Lamentation rang out and was set on fire in commemoration.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has launched a criminal investigation into whether flight preparation regulations were violated before two L-39 trainer planes crashed dead on Friday.
While promising the investigation would clarify the circumstances surrounding the crash, Mr Zelenskyy hailed “Juice” as “one of those who helped our country a lot” in his evening address on Saturday, adding: “Ukraine will never forget anyone who defended the land of Ukraine.” Clear skies. May they always be remembered.”
Mr. Ihnat of the Ukrainian Air Force described Pilshchykov as “a mega talent,” adding, “You can’t even imagine how much he wanted to fly an F-16.” But now that actual American planes are on the horizon, it will he they don’t fly.”
Mr. Ihnat wrote on Facebook, adding: “Andriy Pilshchykov was not just a pilot, he was a young officer of great knowledge and great talent. He was an excellent communicator, the driver of Air Force aircraft reforms and a participant in many projects.
“I have often supported his crazy ideas, which have led to incredible results.”
Nolan Peterson, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, was among the Western commentators who paid tribute to the pilot, saying: “The stories he told me about using his MiG-29 in combat against Russia are epic. He is a hero and will be rightly remembered as such.”