Three Ukrainian pilots, including a well-known MiG-29 pilot who went by the call sign “Juice” and was part of a unit known as “Ghost of Kyiv,” died in a plane crash over the weekend.
Two L-39 combat trainer aircraft collided in the sky near the city of Zhytomyr, about 87 miles west of Kyiv, on Friday, resulting in the deaths of three pilots, the Ukrainian Air Force wrote on X, previously known as Twitter.
“Among the dead is a pilot with the call sign ‘JUICE.’” the statement continued. “We express out condolences to the families of the victims.
During his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who is counting on crews to quickly be trained to fly F-16 fighter jets — confirmed the news.
“Yesterday, a catastrophe in the sky over the Zhytomyr region killed three pilots, including Andriy Pilschikov, callsign ‘Juice,’” Zelensky wrote on X. “My heart goes out to the pilots’ friends and loved ones. The investigation is ongoing, and the truth will be revealed.”
Pilschikov was part of the Ghost of Kyiv unit, which defended central and northern Ukraine at the beginning of the war. He had also campaigned for the supply of F-16s, according to the Air Force.
The Ghost of Kyiv — believed by many to be an urban legend — purportedly downed as many as six Russian planes on the first day of the war’s combat.
Rumors about the Ghost of Kyiv have gone viral on social media almost from the moment the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
Pilschikov offered some clarification in an interview with Politico last May, saying that there was not one particular fighter who had earned the mythical moniker.
“It’s a collective,” he told the outlet, identifying only by his call signal. “We are all ghosts of Kyiv.”
He explained in the interview that he earned his nickname while training with the California Air National Guard in Fresno in 2018 because he abstained from alcohol and was know for ordering juice at bars.
The well-known pilot also advocated for Western nations to provide Ukraine with American fighter jets in an interview with CNN in June.
“Our counteroffensive could be much more effective and much safer for our guys on the ground,” he said.
The crash is currently being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation of Ukraine (SBI).
In a statement Saturday, the agency said that they will be paying special attention to the technical condition of the aircraft and whether crews adhered to flight preparation rules.
A thorough diagnosis of the planes’ black boxes will also be done, the SBI said.