KIEV (Agencies): Tragedy struck Ukraine as fighter pilot Andrey ‘Juice’ Pilshchikov, a prominent advocate for the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Kiev, lost his life along with two fellow pilots in a training flight accident on Friday. The nation mourns the loss of a “mega-talent,” as described by Ukraine’s air force spokesperson.
In a heartfelt Facebook post, Yury Ignat, representative of the Ukrainian Air Force, paid tribute to Pilshchikov, referring to him as a “young officer with extraordinary knowledge and talent.” Ignat highlighted Pilshchikov’s significant contribution to reforming the country’s military aviation.
Notably, the late pilot engaged with US government officials last year, fervently advocating for the provision of F-16s to Ukraine. Possessing proficient English skills, Pilshchikov also eloquently communicated Kiev’s requirements in numerous interviews with Western media.
The spokesperson shared that Juice’s desire to pilot the F-16 was palpable, and his tragic passing holds poignant significance now that “American planes are actually on the horizon.”
Addressing the nation on Telegram, President Vladimir Zelensky conveyed his condolences to the pilot’s family, acknowledging Pilshchikov as “one of those who greatly contributed to our nation.”
President Zelensky announced the initiation of an investigation into the fatal incident.
The Ukrainian Air Force’s statement outlined that the collision occurred between two L-39 combat training aircraft over the Zhytomyr region, west of Kiev, resulting in the loss of Pilshchikov and two fellow pilots.
Several sources, drawing upon eyewitness accounts and expert opinions, suggest that the accident might have occurred during formation flying practice, with the planes inadvertently coming into close proximity.
Ukraine had persistently urged its Western allies to provide US-made F-16 fighter jets, a request that Denmark and the Netherlands recently fulfilled by confirming their readiness to transfer these warplanes.
The Pentagon’s Deputy Press Secretary, Sabrina Singh, confirmed the reception of F-16 transfer requests on Monday. However, Singh noted that Ukrainian pilots would need to enhance their English skills, which might take a considerable period.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Aleksey Reznikov projected that the fighter jets would not arrive in Ukraine for at least another six months.
Amid these developments, Moscow has consistently cautioned against the escalation of hostilities that could arise from the delivery of more advanced weaponry to Ukraine by the US and its allies.