Ukraine mourns the death of ace fighter pilot ‘Juice’

An ace fighter jet pilot. A fierce advocate for F-16 jets for his country. We can now, for the most tragic of reasons, show the face and share the real name of the Ukrainian airman we met a year ago, who asked us to only identify him by his call sign, “Juice.”

Captain Andriy Pilschikov, along with two other Ukrainian air force pilots, died in a two-plane collision on Friday. Air force officials say the tragedy happened during a combat mission in a region west of Kyiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, announcing the tragic news, said Juice “helped his country a lot” and will never be forgotten. He said the results of the investigation into the accident involving two l-39 training jets was ongoing.

Ukrainian officials note that were it not for the war, many of their country’s aging Soviet-era planes would not be forced to fly.

In his conversation with Scripps News last summer, Juice spoke of the extraordinary danger fighter pilots like himself face in their antiquated aircraft.

“It’s very dangerous for us because the Russians, unfortunately, have a great advantage in technologies and in quantity,” he said. “They have much more powerful radars and they have better missiles; they could shoot you from much wider distances.”

Juice spoke of missions in which one Ukrainian jet acts as a decoy to attract Russian missiles.

“Our guys are ready to die for that because they are supporting our ground units of the front lines,” he said. “We’re just trying to do it to create some tricks against them and just to force them to shoot this missiles from the largest distances.”

A Ukrainian air force spokesperson said Juice “dreamed of F-16s in the Ukrainian sky.” That reality is now just over the horizon — with the country now expecting to end up with as many as 120 F-16s; the first of them are expected to be flying missions early next year.