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One of Ukraine’s most famous fighter pilots, who played a prominent public role in pushing the Western Allies to supply Kiev with F-16 fighter jets, has died during a training exercise.
Ukrainian authorities said the pilot, known by the call sign Joyce, was killed on Friday in a crash that claimed the lives of two other pilots.
His death came just days after the Biden administration dropped its long-standing reservations and agreed to transfer dozens of US-made multi-purpose fighters from the Netherlands and Denmark.
Norway has since also pledged some of its F-16s and other countries including the United States, Poland and Romania to help train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.
Joyce was among the fighters who defended the skies over Ukraine in the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year, and had hoped to be among those trained to fly the F-16s.
“We are sad to report that on August 25, 2023, a terrible plane crash occurred… the crews of two L-39 trainer and two fighter jets collided in the sky,” the Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement on Saturday.
“Among those killed was a well-known pilot from the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade bearing call sign Joyce,” the Air Force said. “It is a painful and irreparable loss for all of us.”
In his daily address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky identified Gus as Andrey Pilshchikov.
He added, “He is one of those who helped our country a lot.” “Ukraine will never forget everyone who fevered the sky of free Ukraine.”
Joss has been a regular interviewee for many media outlets. He showed how Ukrainian pilots — flying an aging fleet of Soviet planes — had prevented the larger and more advanced Russian forces from achieving air supremacy.
They carried out missions to intercept Russian missiles and drones targeting cities and infrastructure as well as military targets.
Goose, who was fluent in English and a native of the eastern Kharkiv region, argued that the F-16s provide cover for Ukrainian ground forces against the radar and long-range missile systems of Russian fighter jets.
“Joyce has been the driving force behind the F-16 advocacy since day one — and we must recognize and perpetuate his legacy,” said Yury Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s defense minister, who worked on the initiative closely with pilots and officials.
“He was a very good man… very well liked by many,” Sack added.
In a Facebook post, Pavlo Potsiloev, who knew Joyce, wrote: “I dreamed of F-16s and waited for news of their transfer. I loved your bird and literally lived in the sky.
Gus, who flew a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, was one of a generation of younger Ukrainian pilots who received Western training in the years after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.
In an interview earlier this year, he told the Financial Times that he was given the nickname that became his call sign by American pilots during a joint training exercise, because he drank fruit juice instead of alcoholic beverages when they were at the bar together. .
More recently, he was frustrated by how long it took Western allies to provide advanced military aircraft to Ukraine.
“If we wait another six months, we will reach the moment when we will only have grandparents in reservists, not young pilots with good knowledge and good training,” he told the Financial Times in February.
But he responded positively when it was announced that the United States had finally approved the request to send the first batch of F-16s to Ukraine.
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