On Friday, I was notified by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, that it had lost one of its top pilots, Andriy Pilshchykov, known by his call signal, “Juice.” However, his passing was far more than a loss for the Ukrainian Air Force, as his impact was felt deeply in the West, particularly here in the United States.

I met Juice in June of last year, when he came to Washington, as part of a Ukrainian military delegation, which included “Moonfish,” a fellow pilot, and several air defense specialists.   Their mission was to update policymakers on the military situation unfolding in Ukraine and to explain Ukraine’s assistance needs.

Youthful and charming, Juice exemplified the swagger that we see in our own military pilots.  Not cocky, but certainly confident in his and his fellow pilots’ ability to defeat Russia if they had the right weapons to do so.   

Even though Juice and his colleagues were brought straight off the frontline in Ukraine, and completely inexperienced in the ways of Washington, they were incredible representatives for their country, expertly detailing the challenges Ukraine faced in the air, on land, and at sea. The policymakers they briefed came away very impressed with their knowledge, their poise, and the crucial nature of their cause in defending the very existence of their country. I considered it a great honor just to be in the presence of these brave men.

In between meetings, Juice and I would speak in Ukrainian. I asked him about his call signal: “Why Juice?” He responded with his bright smile, “I am the only guy in the squadron, who does not drink vodka.” That comment met with laughter, wherever he went.  Juice was a match made in heaven for cable television and appeared several times on CNN and Fox News. Dressed in his flight suit and covering his face for security reasons, Juice made a very persuasive case directly to the American people for more assistance to Ukraine. Even after returning to active duty, he continued to conduct interviews on cable television and had quite a following.

I learned that Juice was from the same region in Ukraine as my wife, so we shared a common knowledge of his background and early history. His love of flying led him to flight school, and then to one of the top squadrons in the Ukrainian Air Force.  He recounted the first day of the Russian invasion, when his airbase was attacked, and he had to drive by car to a nearby airbase so he could scramble and take to the air and defend Kyiv in those first crucial days of battle.   

Juice also shared his dream of flying an American F-16 aircraft, which he said, was essential for Ukraine to provide closer ground support for Ukraine’s troops, defend against Russian missile strikes, and to destroy Russia’s air defense systems.  He talked extensively about the F-16s and how badly they were needed. It is ironic that the day before his passing, the United States announced that it would begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. So, Juice will never realize his dream, but his colleagues will, and in doing, so they will confront and defeat Russia in the skies over Ukraine.

At the end of his trip, Juice presented me with a piece of a fuselage of a Russian fighter bomber that he had shot down over Kyiv. I will certainly treasure that gift, but I will treasure even more the memory of this man, who did so much for his country and will be remembered by many.

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