Ukrainian pilot 'Juice' among three killed in plane collision during combat mission

Ukrainian pilot known by the call sign 'Juice' speaks with CNN in 2023. Credit: CNN

Tributes have been paid to a celebrated Ukrainian pilot after he was killed along with two others in a plane collision during a combat mission. Andriy Pilshchykov, who went by the call sign “Juice”, and two other pilots died when two L-39 combat trainer aircraft collided in the air on Friday, the Ukrainian Air Force said. Pilshchykov had campaigned for Western countries to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets to combat Russian air superiority, and had dreamed of flying the jets promised by the US and others. “You can’t even imagine how bad he wanted to fly the F-16s. “But now that American planes are actually on the horizon, he will not fly them,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said in a statement on Saturday. “(Juice) was not just a pilot, he was a young officer with mega knowledge and mega talent. He dreamed of F-16s in the Ukrainian sky,” Mr Ihnat said.

F-16 jets have been distributed by the US to a number of its allies. Credit: AP

“He was an excellent communicator (and) the driving force behind reforms in the Air Force aviation, a participant in many projects,” he continued. “He devoted his short but very bright life to combat aviation,” Mr Ihnat added, saying he had “done a tremendous job on this matter.” Pilshchykov, a MiG-29 pilot, was part of a unit known as the “Ghost of Kyiv” that defended central and northern Ukraine.

Speaking to CNN in June, Pilshchykov said Ukraine's "counteroffensive could be much more effective and much safer for our guys on the ground,” if the country was supplied with American fighter jets. Pilshchikov was on a combat mission near the city of Zhytomyr, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Kyiv, when the incident occurred, the Air Force said. The Air Force expressed condolences to the families of the deceased, saying that “this is a painful and irreparable loss for all of us.” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the plane crash that took three pilots’ lives “a disaster” and noted that Pilshchykov “helped his country a lot” and “would never be forgotten.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for Western allies to supply F-16 fighter jets to help combat Russia. Credit: AP

“The investigation into what happened is ongoing. It’s too early to talk about the details. Of course, all the circumstances will be clarified,” Mr Zelenskyy said. Countries including the Netherlands and Denmark are to supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. This week, the US announced it would begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets in October. Ukraine had put forward a list of 32 pilots ready to begin training on F-16 fighter jets but most did not have a strong enough command of English language yet, an US official said. In 2022, Pilshchykov met with American government officials and was “in constant contact with Californian pilots,” the Air Force noted. “He was the main driving force behind an advocacy group promoting many decisions on the F-16,” Ihnat said, noting that Pilshchykov had “talked about the urgent needs of the Ukrainian Air Force” and said many of his ideas “yielded incredible results.”

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