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Actor Sean Penn has tearfully detailed his touching relationship with the late Ukrainian pilot who led the fabled “Ghost of Kyiv” unit, while ripping US “cowardice” for not doing more in Ukraine’s war with Russia.
Penn — whose documentary about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “Superpower,” was released in September — recalled to Piers Morgan in an interview set to air Wednesday that Ukrainian fighter ace Andriy Pilshchykov as a “very poetic creature, not what you would expect of a top gun.
“He was a great leader, and I know many in his squadron, and he really was as much as any individual, that they were speaking of when they came up with [the] one-off, the ‘Ghost of Kyiv,’ ” Penn told Morgan in the chat, conducted this week and scheduled to air on Fox Nation.
In Penn’s documentary, the actor, 63, and Pilshchykov, 30, went to see the Tom Cruise fighter pilot movie “Top Gun: Maverick” together during a visit to Washington, DC.
“I was sitting next to him, and he leaned over at one point after Tom Cruise had ejected and found his way in his dusty flight suit to the diner, and [Pilshchykov] leaned over, and he said, ‘That’s why I always take my wallet,’ ” Penn recalled.
Pilshchykov, also known by his call sign “Juice,” was instrumental in the air defense of Ukraine during the early days of Russia’s invasion. He became one of the faces of an elite Ukraine air force unit and was a pilot around whom the “Ghost of Kyiv” tale — a story that spread throughout the world about an unstoppable Ukrainian ace who downed countless Russian planes over the nation’s capital — was created.
Penn and Pilshchykov became close during the filming of the Hollywood star’s documentary, with the pair ultimately traveling to DC together to lobby the US government to send F-16 fighter planes to Ukraine.
“I would like to say we became friends,” Penn said, adding Pilshchykov was “the furthest thing you would think from a military man, and a beautiful spirit and great humor.
“We kept in touch after we spent time in Washington,” the actor said. “It would be on an encrypted line that he was OK with, and I might say, ‘Hey, what’s happening?’ He said, ‘Just about to go wheels up,’ because they were constantly in the fight.”
Pilshchykov was killed during a training accident in August, just as F-16s were finally being made available for Ukrainian use.
Penn agreed that learning about his hero friend’s death was a “sad moment” — while blasting the US for failing to make the full might of its resources available to Ukraine.
“I think that there is a point where caution becomes cowardice,” he said. “It is very disappointing, heartbreaking to me, that we have been given this opportunity and so far let it down more than we have supported it.”
Penn’s interview airs on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” on Fox Nation on Wednesday. His documentary, available on Paramount +, began as a profile of actor-turned-Ukraine President Zelenskyy when Russia invaded Ukraine midway through filming.