Idaho resident Jimmy Hill spent the last few weeks of his life in Ukraine doing what his sister says he did best: being a peacemaker and working to bring people together.
"He went out to stand in store and bread lines with Ukrainians. He brought back cookies and chocolate for the nurses. He found a woman with four young children living near the hospital to share food, use her internet when it was working, and (was) trying to find a way out of Chernihiv for her and others," Katya Hill said of her 68-year-old brother.
She said he was out trying to find buses to help friends leave the country when a Russian bomb was dropped nearby, killing him.
"My brother Jimmy was a victim of the tragedy happening in Ukraine," Katya Hill said in a Zoom call with reporters on Saturday morning.
Although her brother's death has been confirmed by the United States Department of State, Katya Hill said her family is still waiting to hear more details from the government, including what happened to her brother's body and where it is located.
Jimmy Hill was in Ukraine while his life partner, Irina Teslenko, who was receiving treatments for multiple sclerosis. Katya Hill said she talked to her brother about postponing the treatments for Teslenko and leaving the country before the war started but he didn't believe war would actually come to Ukraine and choose to stay by his partner's side while she received the treatments.
"He felt confident that the invasion would not happen, that the world wouldn't let it, and he had fought so hard for this treatment. He didn't want to delay," Katya Hill said. "Then the bombing started."
For the first few weeks of the war, Katya Hill said that her brother reported crimes against civilians to her. She said he was a forensic psychologist and teacher at multiple universities in Europe, including one in Kyiv, Ukraine, so he collected and shared evidence of these crimes.
He remained positive during more than 20 days of bombing, the loss of utilities and limits on food, Katya Hill said, and he was able to communicate frequently with his family in the U.S. because of his access to the hospital internet.
Katya Hill said she would hear bombs going off in the background while she spoke with her brother over the phone. Jimmy Hill told her that the bombs were being used specifically to kill civilians, she said, and that bombing would stop for a few hours, just long enough for people to go out to try and get supplies, and then bombs would be dropped on people waiting in lines.
After the war began, Katya Hill said her brother talked about housing Ukrainians in his Airbnb properties in Idaho and Montana and building a "little Ukraine" with his friends. He had gone with his friend Katrina to find information about buses that were taking people out of the country through a safe corridor on the day he died.
In a chat with Jimmy Hill's family and others involved in Teslenko's care, Katrina said Jimmy Hill saw over 1,000 people waiting for buses and had decided to go back to Teslenko at the hospital when the bomb hit. She also shared that she lost hearing in one of her ears in the blast that killed him.
Katya Hill said her brother met Teslenko while teaching forensic psychology at universities in Europe, and the two had a strong bond with each other. He wanted to do everything he could to stop the progression of Teslenko's disease.
Teslenko is still in the hospital, and friends are trying to find a way to help her travel out of the area safely, Katya Hill said. Katrina told Teslenko's mother that Jimmy Hill was killed but, at that point, they did not want to tell Teslenko. Katya Hill said that she assumes that, by this point, Teslenko has learned what happened.
"I can't explain what the connection is between two human beings that fall in love and have that strong bond for one another that they will go through everything," Katya Hill said, "and certainly, my brother sacrificed his life for her. ... It's a beautiful love story but, unfortunately, it has a tragic end."