Andrei ‘Juice’ Pilshchikov, who campaigned for the delivery of F-16s to Kiev, was among the three pilots who died on Friday.
Ukraine has lost a “mega talent,” the country’s air force spokesperson has said, commenting on the death of fighter pilot Andrey ‘Juice’ Pilshchikov. One of the faces of Kiev’s campaign for the delivery of F-16 fighter jets, he was killed along with two of his colleagues during a training flight on Friday.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Ukrainian Air Force representative Yury Ignat described Pilshchikov as a “young officer with mega knowledge and mega talent,” who contributed a lot to reforming the country’s military aviation.
The spokesperson added that the late pilot met with US government officials last year, lobbying for the provision of F-16s. According to Ignat, Pilshchikov, who spoke English well, also talked a lot about Kiev’s needs during his numerous interviews with Western media.
The official recounted how much Juice had yearned to fly the F-16, adding that his death has special poignancy now that the “American planes are actually on the horizon.”
In his video address on Telegram on Saturday, President Vladimir Zelensky extended his condolences to the fighter pilot’s family, calling Pilshchikov “one of those who helped our country a lot.”
He added that an investigation into the deadly incident had been launched.
In its statement, the Ukrainian Air Force said that Pilshchikov and two other pilots were killed when two L-39 combat training aircraft collided over Zhytomyr region west of Kiev on Friday.
Several media outlets, citing eyewitnesses and experts, suggested that the two crews may have been practicing formation flying, and that the planes had come too close to each other.
Ukraine had been asking its Western backers to supply it with US-made F-16 fighter jets for months before Denmark and the Netherlands confirmed their readiness to hand over a number of warplanes last week.
On Monday, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed receipt of the requests for F-16 transfers. She added, however, that Ukrainian pilots would first need to improve their English, noting that this is liable to “take some time.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov, in turn, told the media on Tuesday that the fighter jets will not be arriving in Ukraine for at least another six months.
Moscow has repeatedly warned that supplies of more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine by the US and its allies could result in a major escalation of hostilities.