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One of Ukraine’s most famous fighter pilots, who played an important public role in pushing Western allies to supply Kiev with F-16 fighter jets, has died during a training exercise.
The pilot, whose call sign was “Juice,” died in a crash on Friday, along with two other pilots, Ukrainian authorities said.
Just days before his death, the Biden administration dropped longstanding reservations and approved the transfer of dozens of U.S.-made multirole fighter jets from the Netherlands and Denmark.
Norway has since committed to using some of its F-16s, and other countries, including the United States, Poland and Romania, will help train Ukrainian pilots to fly them.
Juis was one of the fighter jets defending Ukraine’s airspace during the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, and he had hoped to be among those trained to fly the F-16.
“It is with sadness that we announce that on August 25, 2023 there was a horrific plane crash . . . the crews of two L-39 training and fighter jets collided in midair,” the Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement Saturday.
“Among the dead was a distinguished 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade pilot with the call sign ‘Juice’,” the Air Force said. “This is a painful and irreparable loss for all of us.”
Juice is frequently interviewed by various media outlets. He explained how Ukrainian pilots flying a fleet of aging Soviet aircraft prevented Russia’s larger and more advanced military from gaining air superiority.
They are tasked with intercepting Russian missiles and drones targeting cities, infrastructure and military targets.
Juice, a native of eastern Kharkov and fluent in English, advocates using the F-16 to provide cover for Ukrainian ground forces against the long-range radar and missile systems of Russian fighter jets.
“Juice has been the driving force behind the F-16 hype from the beginning, and we have to recognize and perpetuate his legacy,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister who worked closely with pilots and officials.
“He’s a really nice guy . . . loved by so many people,” Sack added.
Pavlo Potseluiev, who knows Juice, wrote in a Facebook post: “You dream about the F-16 and wait for news about its transfer. You love your bird and it does live in the sky.”
Yuis, who flew a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, was one of young 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 the nickname was given to him by American pilots during a joint training exercise and it later became his call sign because when they were in bars together, He drank fruit juice instead of alcoholic beverages.
More recently, he has expressed frustration over how long it will take Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced military aircraft.
“If we wait another six months, we’ll have a moment where we’ll just have reserve grandpas instead of knowledgeable, well-trained young pilots,” 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 F-16s to Ukraine.