The Ukrainian military paid tribute over the weekend to a pilot who belonged to the celebrated Ghost of Kyiv unit after he died in a plane crash.
The pilot, named Maj. Andrii Pilshchykov and known by the call sign of Juice, was described by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky as "a Ukrainian officer, one of those who grreatly helped our state."
Pilshchykov was killed along with two other pilots when two L-39 combat training planes collided near the city of Zhytomyr on Friday, August 25.
The other two pilots who were killed were identified as Maj. Vyacheslav Minka and Maj. Sergey Prokazhin, according to local media reports.
Who was Juice, the Ukrainian pilot part of the Ghost of Kyiv unit?
Pilshchykov was a member of the 40th Tactical Aviation Division in the Ukrainian Air Force. In a post on Facebook, Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat described him as a "mega talent" who "dreamed of F-16s in the Ukrainian sky."
In fact, Pilshchykov, who knew English, had spoken about the importance of Western aircraft in an interview with CNN back in June. "Our counteroffensive could be much more effective and much safer for our guys on the ground," he had said at the time.
Notably, his death comes just a week after Denmark and the Netherlands said they would supply those very F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
For his part, Pilshchykov as well as much of the Ukrainian military, was forced to use old Soviet-era aircraft, with him specifically using the Russian-made MiG29, NBC reported.
"He was the main driving force behind an advocacy group promoting many decisions on the F-16," Inhat said.
However, in addition to his role in trying to help Ukraine get F-16 fighter jets, something its forces need to combat Russia's overwhelming air superiority, Pilshchykov also had a different role as part of the unit known as the Ghost of Kyiv.
In the early days of the Ukraine-Russia War, Ukrainian government media spread reports of a legendary pilot known as the Ghost of Kyiv, a mysterious ace who supposedly scored multiple kills in dogfights with Russian aircraft and contributed heavily to Ukraine holding out against Russia's offensive.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry teased the existence of the legendary pilot on February 25, 2022, the second day of the war, saying that "dozens of experienced military pilots from captain to generals who were previously discharged from the army in reserve are returning to the air force," and "who knows, maybe one of them and is that air avenger in the MIG-29."
Also on February 25, the former president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko shared a picture claiming it to be of the Ghost of Kyiv, though the photo was later revealed to be an older photo from 2019.
"It terrifies enemies and makes Ukrainians proud," tweeted Poroshenko. "He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!"
Poroshenko was not alone in posting false images of the legendary figure. Videos and doctored pictures of the Ghost of Kyiv circulated furiously throughout social media in the early days of the war.
This underscored the Ghost of Kyiv's importance of Ukraine's role as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. However, following the death of Stepan Tarabalka, who many believed was the Ghost of Kyiv, it was revealed on April 30 2022 by the Ukrainian military that a singular Ghost of Kyiv never existed.
"Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!" said the Air Force Command of Ukrainian Armed Forces in a Facebook post at the time.
Michael Starr and Reuters contributed to this report.