For a war hero, Andrii Pokrasa seems shy, at least when he’s being interviewed on TV. But maybe that’s because Andrii is not used to talking to the media. After all, he’s only 15.
Many civilians have made important contributions to Ukraine’s fight against invading Russian forces, but most of them aren’t ninth graders. Andrii’s chance for glory came in the early days of the conflict, when a column of enemy tanks and other vehicles was approaching the small town where he lives with his parents, just to the west of Kyiv. Local Ukrainian forces knew that the Russian convoy was nearby, rumbling slowly down a major highway, but needed the precise location to launch an artillery strike.
They needed a drone operator.
As it happens, last summer Andrii had become obsessed with drones after he saw some aerial footage of Kyiv shot by a drone. Andrii is afraid of heights, but as he told a reporter for the Canadian network Global News, he loved being able to get a bird’s eye view of things without having to leave terra firma. Taking some money he and his dad had made on cryptocurrency investments, they bought a small drone. Practicing daily, Andrii quickly became an adept pilot.
The local authorities knew that. When the call came to track the Russian convoy, Andrii “was the only one who was experienced with drones in that region,” a Ukrainian military official told Global News. The boy agreed to help, though he found the assignment “very, very scary.” At that point the Russians were only a few miles away—or possibly even less.
His neighbors didn’t want Andrii to launch the drone from his backyard, fearing it would draw enemy fire. So at nightfall, Andrii and his dad crept out to a field and launched it from there.
Flying in the dark made the mission more difficult, but the Russian column made a crucial mistake. “We managed to find it,” Andrii said, “because one of the trucks turned on its lights for a long time.”
At that point, the column was a little more than a mile away. Andrii’s dad sent its G.P.S. coordinates to Ukrainian forces using a social media app—another new weapon in 21st century warfare. The resulting artillery strike wiped out the entire convoy, saving Andrii’s town and, maybe down the line, Kyiv too.
“He’s a real hero, a hero of Ukraine,” one officer said of Andrii. The army thanked him by giving him a bigger, longer-range drone, which he has used to help keep tabs on other Russian troop movements. Not that he’s neglected his studies: he eventually finished ninth grade in Poland.
Understandably, he has complicated feelings about the strike he facilitated, which killed an unknown number of soldiers. “First of all I was so happy, but also it was people there,” he told Global News. “They were occupiers but anyway they were people.”
His opinion of the Russian army as a fighting force is less ambivalent. “They’re not really the strongest army,” he offered, speaking with some credibility on the subject. —Bruce Handy
Turns out baby birds are just like us. Well, in some ways. Researchers recently discovered that young parrots learn how to speak much like young humans do.
To find out how parrots acquire their communication skills, scientists monitored a dozen green-rumped parrotlets (really small parrots) in the jungles of Venezuela. First, the team realized that baby parrotlets began babbling when they were 21 days old, proving that their language was learned, not innate.
Initially, the birds just mimicked the sounds they heard older parrotlets make. “These parrots are basically kind of regurgitating everything they’ve heard from their own species,” Dr. Karl Berg, the head of the study, told The Times of London. “It’s kind of a tossed salad of just about everything that the birds have heard up to that stage in their life.”
That’s exactly how humans start talking, too. Before babies can form sentences, they repeat random syllables they hear adults make. Eventually, their gibberish turns into real words.
Thankfully, unlike toddlers, parrots don’t repeat just anything. “They’re able to filter out the other noises of the jungle and focus on their own species,” said Berg. AIR MAIL Pilot is glad there aren’t hissing parrots.
Even though baby parrots stick to the noises made by their parents, they can make up to 27 different sounds. “You get bits of begging calls, alarm calls, the calls that males and females use to defend nest sites,” Berg explained.
Much of the baby birds’ blabbering happened when their parents were away and when their siblings were asleep. While researchers aren’t exactly sure why that’s the case, AIR MAIL Pilot hypothesizes that the youngins were embarrassed to practice in front of their families.
Learning to talk and squawk is hard work. Baby dolphins squeak before they learn how to click and whistle, and lion cubs produce little squeals before they finally roar. Our green-rumped friends will babble nonsense for a bit, until they eventually learn their parents’ calls. —Clara Molot
When Andres Valencia was four years old, he saw a video of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat painting. He turned to his parents and said, “I can do that.” His mom and dad assumed that, like all the other kids his age, Andres could probably draw some stick figures.
But Andres isn’t your average kid. Shortly after watching the Basquiat video, Andres got his very own set of brushes and acrylics, and taught himself how to make works of art just like modernist masters. At home in San Diego, he studied works by George Condo, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Amedeo Modigliani. He picked one of the paintings in his parents’ house to replicate, and painted it for months, until he finally perfected it.
That was only the beginning for the 10-year-old. In the spring of 2020, Andres spent the coronavirus lockdown painting. His dad bought him huge canvases, and he worked on pieces for an hour or so at a time. While at work, he would listen to his parents’ music, which included songs by Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson.
Andres, who just finished the fourth grade, has already made some serious money. Last December, he became the youngest artist to ever show his paintings at Miami Art Week. All of his work sold, and some earned up to $20,000. The actors Brooke Shields and Channing Tatum and the boxer Ryan Garcia all stopped by to meet Andres and look at his art.
Andres’s work looks like a mix between Condo and Picasso, but with a little more color. In one of his paintings, a colorful man holds a cigarette. Why the cigarette? “Condo does it,” Andres told the Miami Herald.
To his fellow young painters, he says “to keep trying and to not stop, no matter what.” —Elena Clavarino