Katya Hill tried to talk her brother out of it. She urged Jimmy Hill to postpone his trip to Ukraine as she saw reports of Russian tanks queuing at the border. But he needed to help his longtime partner, who suffered from progressive multiple sclerosis.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what I would do if I lost her, I have to try to do everything I can to try and stop the progression of MS,'” Katya said. “My brother sacrificed his life for her.”
James “Jimmy” Hill, 68, was killed in a Russian attack on the northern Ukrainian town of Chernihiv, which was reported on Thursday, while his partner Irina Teslenko was receiving treatment at a hospital local. Her family say she and her mother are trying to leave town, but due to her condition they would need an ambulance to help them and it was unclear when or if that might happen.
In a Pittsburgh interview on Saturday, Hill’s sister called her brother’s relationship with Irina a “beautiful love story, but sadly it had a tragic end.”
Katya Hill said Irina’s illness had progressed to the point where she had lost the ability to walk and much of the use of her hands. She said her brother – originally from Eveleth, Minnesota, who lived in Driggs, Idaho – spent months trying to get treatments to stop the progression of the disease and finally arranged treatment in February.
Katya said her brother thought the world wouldn’t let the invasion happen.
Katya said the two met while her brother, who taught social work and forensic psychology at universities in various countries, was teaching a class in Ukraine. He knew instantly he was in love and they spent years together, talking for hours each day on the phone when Jimmy was back in the States.
Katya said that over the past few weeks, as bombings became more frequent and resources became scarcer, her brother dreamed of ways to bring Ukrainian families to the United States to create a “little Ukraine.” at his Airbnb properties he owned in Idaho and Montana. She said her brother loved Ukraine and even on the day he was killed, friends helped her understand that he had decided to stay to be with Teslenko and his mother in the hospital.
It was initially reported that Jimmy was shot while waiting in a line, but Katya said the family received new details through their senators and Jimmy’s friends in Ukraine on Saturday.
Katya said Jimmy and a friend who lives near the hospital drove to an area where they heard buses were waiting to evacuate people who wanted to leave town through a safe corridor. There were already over a thousand people lined up, and Jimmy told the friend he was going back to the hospital. The friend told Katya that the Russian shelling started as he was leaving and the explosion that killed her brother knocked out hearing in one of his ears.
Katya said her family is still waiting to hear directly from the US State Department for details of her body’s whereabouts.
Chernihiv police and the State Department confirmed the death of an American but did not identify him. The Associated Press contacted the State Department to confirm details of Hill’s death, but had not received information as of Saturday morning.
In harrowing Facebook posts in the weeks leading up to her death, Hill described an “indiscriminate bombardment” in a beleaguered city. Katya said he described growing difficulties in a Facebook Messenger group, starting each day saying he was still alive.
But electricity and heat had been cut, and food and supplies were becoming scarcer. Katya said he would go out to line up for food and supplies and bring back whatever he could for the hospital staff.
Most of the hospital’s patients had moved to the basement bomb shelter, but Irina and her mother stayed on the upper floors because of the cold, so she was able to continue treatment.
Katya said Irina’s mother was told about Jimmy’s death, but she didn’t want to tell her daughter. She said they had hoped for help to evacuate to their home village southeast of kyiv, where Irina’s father was waiting, but it was unclear if they could find an ambulance to take them. or a safe route for the journey.
Associated Press reporter Derek Karikari contributed reporting from New York.