This weekend, the Ukrainian army paid tribute to a pilot from the famous Kyiv Ghost unit, who died in a plane crash.

The pilot, named Major Andrii Pilshchykov and known by the callsign Juice, was described by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “a Ukrainian officer, one of those who greatly helped our state.”

Pilshchykov was killed along with two other pilots when two L-39 combat trainer planes collided near the city of Zhytomyr on Friday, August 25.

The other two pilots killed were identified as Major Vyacheslav Minka and Major Sergey Prokazhin, local media reported.

Who was Juice, the Ukrainian pilot who was part of the Kyiv Ghost unit?

Pilshchykov was a member of the 40th Tactical Aviation Division of the Ukrainian Air Force. In a Facebook post, Air Force spokesman 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 of the importance of Western planes in an interview with CNN in June. “Our counteroffensive could be much more effective and much safer for our men on the ground,” he had said then.

His death comes just a week after Denmark and the Netherlands announced they would supply Ukraine with the same F-16 fighters.

For his part, Pilshchykov, like much of the Ukrainian military, was forced to use old Soviet-era planes, and he, in particular, the Russian-made MiG29, NBC reported.

“He was the main driver of an advocacy group that promoted many decisions on the F-16,” Inhat said.

However, in addition to his role in trying to help Ukraine procure F-16 fighter jets, something its forces needed 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 about a legendary pilot known as the Ghost of Kyiv, a mysterious ace who allegedly claimed multiple casualties in dogfights with Russian planes and greatly contributed to Ukraine resisting the Russian offensive.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry mocked the existence of the legendary pilot on February 25, 2022, the second day of the war, stating that “dozens of experienced military pilots, from captains to generals, who were previously discharged from the army in reserve, they are returning to the air force,” and “who knows, maybe one of them will be that air avenger in the MIG-29”.

Also, on February 25, former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko shared a photo claiming it to be of the Ghost of Kyiv. However, the photo was later revealed to be an older photo from 2019.

“Terrify enemies and make Ukrainians proud,” Poroshenko tweeted. “He has 6 victories over Russian pilots! With such powerful defenders, Ukraine will definitely win!”

Poroshenko was not the only one to post fake images of the legendary figure. Videos and doctored images of the Kyiv Ghost circulated furiously on social media in the early days of the war. 

This underlined the importance of the Kyiv Ghost as a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance. However, following the death of Stepan Tarabalka, believed by many to be the Ghost of Kyiv, on April 30, 2022, the Ukrainian military revealed that there never was a single Ghost of Kyiv.

“The Ghost of Kyiv is a superhero legend whose character was created by Ukrainians!” the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said then in a Facebook post.