Zelenskyy pays tribute as Ukrainian pilot ‘Juice,’ 2 others killed in air ‘catastrophe’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday paid tribute to three Ukrainian pilots killed in a mid-air collision, including one with the callsign “Juice” who gained prominence for giving anonymous media interviews during Russia’s war in the country.

“Yesterday, a catastrophe in the sky over the Zhytomyr region killed three pilots, including Andriy Pilschikov, callsign ‘Juice,’” Zelenskyy wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter. “My heart goes out to the pilots’ friends and loved ones. The investigation is ongoing, and the truth will be revealed.”

Pilschikov was killed during a combat mission when two L-39 planes collided, the Ukrainian Air Force said on X. He was not piloting the planes, but was there in an observing capacity, according to a U.S. official.

Pilschikov was a high-profile proponent of increased American assistance to Ukraine to help modernize the country’s air forces, which he had depicted as a weakness against the Russians.

“They have almost full air superiority, because we have limited number of air defenses, limited number of aircraft,” Pilschikov told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year. “All our systems are pretty old.”

The U.S. is preparing to train Ukrainian pilots in Arizona to fly and maintain F-16 warplanes, which Ukrainian leaders have asked for to improve its air efforts against the Russians. President Joe Biden committed to assisting Ukraine with the jets in May, on the condition they are used to defend the country’s own territory.

Pilschikov was set to be among one of the first classes of pilots to start F-16 training.

“Ukraine will never forget anyone who defended Ukraine’s free sky,” Zelenskyy further said of the pilots in a video posted on X.

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