Jimmy Hill, the American who was killed in Ukraine this week, refused to postpone a trip to the country to bring medical treatment to his longtime partner, Irina Teslenko, who has progressive multiple sclerosis, his family said on Saturday.
Hill, 68, was killed in a Russian attack on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, as Teslenko received treatment. Hill’s family say Teslenko and her mother are trying to leave the city but would need an ambulance and it is unclear if that can happen.
In an interview from Pittsburgh, Hill’s sister, Katya Hill, called her brother’s relationship with Teslenko a “beautiful love story, but unfortunately it has a tragic ending”.
Katya Hill said Teslenko’s illness had progressed to the point that she had lost the ability to walk and much of the use of her hands. She said her brother, a native of Eveleth, Minnesota who was living in Driggs, Idaho, spent months trying to secure treatments and finally arranged it in February.
Katya tried to convince him to postpone his trip as she saw reports of Russian tanks at the Ukrainian border. But her brother thought the world wouldn’t let the invasion happen.
“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 to stop the progression of MS,’” Katya said. “My brother sacrificed his life for her.”
Katya said the two met while her brother, who taught social work and forensic psychology at universities in various countries, was teaching in Ukraine. They spent years together, talking every day when Hill was in the US.
Katya said in the last few weeks as bombings grew frequent and resources scarce, her brother had dreamed of ways to get Ukrainian families to the US and set up a “little Ukraine” at Airbnb properties he owned in Idaho and Montana.
She said her brother loved Ukraine and friends had helped her piece together that he had decided to stay to be with Teslenko and her mother.
It was initially reported that Hill was shot while waiting in a breadline but his sister said the family had received new details through senators and from friends in Ukraine.
Katya said Hill and a friend went to an area where they heard buses were waiting to evacuate people via a safe corridor. There were more than a thousand in line and he told the friend he would go back to the hospital. The friend told Katya Russian shelling then began, killing her brother.
Katya said her family was waiting to hear directly from the US state department about the location of her brother’s body. Chernihiv police and the state department confirmed the death of an American but did not identify him.
In posts on Facebook in the weeks before his death, Hill described “indiscriminate bombing” in a city under siege. Katya said he described increasing hardships in a Facebook Messenger group. Electricity and heat had been cut off and food and supplies were becoming scarce. Katya said her brother would wait in line for food and supplies and bring back whatever he could for hospital staff.
Most patients had moved to the basement but Teslenko and her mother remained in the upper levels because of the cold and so she could continue the treatment.
Katya said Teslenko’s mother had been told about Hill’s death but had not wanted to tell her daughter. She said they hoped for help to evacuate back to their home village south-east of Kyiv, where Teslenko’s father was waiting, but it was unclear whether they could find an ambulance or a safe route.