Months before Russian troops attacked Ukraine, American Jimmy Hill went there to be with his Ukranian partner, Ira, who has multiple sclerosis. When war broke out, Hill stayed, despite the deteriorating conditions in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.
“He was not going to leave Ira’s side in her condition,” Hill’s sister Katya told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
“Jim was in Ukraine this time because he had gotten medicine from the United States and had found a doctor in Chernihiv that would treat her.”
Hill was among dozens of civilians killed by the Russian onslaught Thursday in Chernihiv.
Ukrainian police said he died during artillery fire. His sister told CNN the family didn’t get specifics about his death from the US Embassy.
Chernihiv, to the northeast of Kyiv and close to the Russian border, has seen some of the most intense shelling from Russian forces since the war began more than three weeks ago.
READ: Latest developments from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Hill often traveled to Ukraine yearly to visit his partner, according to his longtime friend Karin Moseley. They had been together for around 13 years, she told CNN.
His Facebook posts throughout March chronicled the worsening situation in Chernihiv, detailing air raid sirens, daily explosions and an “orange sky over the city” amid fires. His final entry read: “Bombing has intensified noway (sic) out.”
Katya said her brother would leave the hospital where Ira and her mother were to bring back what food he could find. He’d bring back cookies for the nurses. He gave out chocolate to people who needed encouragement.
“My brother was the helper that people find in a crisis,” she told CNN.
Hill told his sister on Facebook messenger that the Ukrainian people were very patient and when they lined up for food or supplies – they would only take what they needed.
The last time the pair spoke was two Saturdays ago, she told CNN.
“We talked for about an hour as I was hearing the bombs in the background,” she said. “And then he said he could see the lighting up in the sky from the bombing in civilian areas.”
During the siblings’ last phone call, Katya told CNN despite what was going on around him, she couldn’t detect fear in her brother’s voice.
“My last call with him, he was very optimistic and then things deteriorated,” she said.
On social media, he described feeling helpless, hungry and freezing as he narrated an increasingly dangerous war.
On March 8, his post began: “Intense bombing last night for 2 hours. It was close to hospital. Machine gun fire could be heard. It stopped just after midnight.”
On Monday, he wrote, “we are hanging in there…very coold (sic) inside. food portions are reduced..bombing and explosions most of the night..hard to sleep. People getting depressed.”
School expresses condolences
Hill spent half the year in Ukraine and teaching at other universities in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Finland and Poland, so he could be with Ira, Katya said.
A school in the Czech Republic where Hill taught posted a statement on Facebook.
“This is with a great regret that we heard about the tragic death of professor Jimmy Hill,” the Prague Summer Schools said in the post. “Jimmy was a passionate teacher in our Summer School on Crime, Law and Psychology program since 2014 and was loved by the students from all over the world. We will miss Jimmy very much.”
The school holds “weeklong academic programs, organized by SCHOLA EMPIRICIA, Prague-based NGO,” according to their website. The programs cover a broad range of disciplines within social sciences including European politics, economics, psychology education or behavioral science and focus on current developments.”
Location of body remains unknown to family
Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen on Thursday that indiscriminate Russian attacks had been intensifying. “Basically, we are not speaking here about (targeting) military infrastructure. They are destroying residential buildings, schools, kindergartens,” he said.
The last time Katya Hill spoke with Jimmy the electricity was out and there was no heat, she said. Her brother told her he had to preserve his cell phone battery. The family cannot reach Ira’s mother and presumes her phone has lost its charge.
“My brother was just a special person and everybody that’s on Facebook can see that,” she said.
Hill said the family doesn’t know where her brother’s body is, but she was told the police found his body.
“The hardest thing that we’re going to have to go through is not having that kind of closure,” she said. “We just want to know where he is.”
CNN’s Alisha Ebrahimji, Caroll Alvarado, Paradise Afshar, Amanda Jackson, Andy Rose and Andrew Carey contributed to this report.