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What the death of a Ukrainian pilot tells us about the war against Russia

What the death of a Ukrainian pilot tells us about the war against Russia


Andriy Pilschikov was a fighter pilot who caught the attention and imagination of those in the West. He was part of Ukraine’s clamour for F-16 fighter planes, but why is the country so keen for them?

Among the many symbols of Ukrainian resistance in the war against Russia was a man called Andriy Pilschikov. His call sign was Juice.

An ace fighter pilot, the 30-year-old Ukrainian hit the public consciousness in the early days of the war, appearing on Anderson’s Cooper CNN show between sorties and wearing goggles and a helmet.

He repeatedly petitioned for Western fighter jets to be given to Ukraine, which seemed to have paid off in May when the US and G-7 allies agreed to send F-16s to Ukraine.

But last month Andriy Pilschikov was killed in a training accident, and Ukraine still doesn’t have the F-16s it was promised.

Juice was a central figure in Ukraine’s blend of fact and mythmaking, which was crucial to marshalling support in the first months of the war.

And if his death holds any symbolism, it’s in Ukraine’s difficulties in keeping up the morale and momentum that will be key to their victory.

Ukraine’s spring offensive has been less successful than experts had hoped, and President Zelenskyy has just dismissed his defence minister after accusations of corruption.

There are questions too about whether Ukraine’s fortunes will improve with the F16s it so desires.

The US, who have to give approval for any other country to give Ukraine  F-16s, are not convinced that the fighter jets are what Ukraine needs. They instead believe that tanks and ammunition would benefit them most.

Ukraine disagrees. The F-16s have one key feature that Ukraine believes could be vital for their war efforts going forward: they are capable of shooting down incoming missiles from the air.

For Andriy Pilschikov, the F-16s represented a big step forward in turning the war in Ukraine’s favour. Even now that Ukraine appears to have broken through Russian defences in the south, it might be these jets that make all the difference.