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James Hill, a Minnesota native who stayed in Ukraine to care for his partner, is 2nd American killed by "Putin's senseless war"

Posted at 8:43 AM, Mar 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 10:43:38-04

Russian forces have been blamed for the death of a second U.S. citizen in Ukraine. After the war broke out, Minnesota native James Hill remained in the besieged northeastern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, very near Russia's border, to look after his partner Irina, who was being treated at a local hospital for multiple sclerosis.

An adviser to Ukraine's interior minister identified Hill as one of the victims of a Russian attack on Thursday morning that targeted people lining up for food in Chernihiv. There were conflicting reports as to whether the civilians were hit by gun or artillery fire. The city is among the major population centers in eastern and southern Ukraine that have been decimated by Russian shelling for days as Vladimir Putin's ground forces remain bogged down by logistical problems and fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Hill's sister Katya, in Pennsylvania, told CBS Pittsburgh that her brother had been living in the capital city of Kyiv, but traveled to Chernihiv for his partner's MS treatment.

"When I was warning him about the dangers, he did not feel that the world would let this happen, because my parents raised us to see the good in peoples' hearts, and that's how he lived," Katya told CBS Pittsburgh.

Speaking overnight to CBS News, she said the last time she spoke with her brother, she could hear explosions in the background.

"He was going out on a daily basis searching for food. The hospital lost electricity. The hospital lost gas. There was no heat," she said. "My brother was a peacemaker, and he was a giver, and he just felt everybody in the world should love each other."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed earlier Thursday that another American had died in Ukraine, though he provide no further detail. A State Department spokesperson confirmed the death had occurred on March 17 and offered "our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss."

Hill, who leaves behind two children, was the second U.S. citizen to die in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion. Filmmaker Brent Renaud, 50, was killed when Russian troops opened fire on him and colleagues in the town of Irpin, just outside Kyiv, as they were traveling to film refugees on March 13. One of his associates was injured in the attack.

Veteran Fox News video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski and his local producer Oleksandra "Sasha" Kuvshynova were killed just two days later, on March 15, when their vehicle "was struck by incoming fire" near Kyiv. Zakrzewski was a European national based in London for Fox, while Kuvshynova was one of the many native Ukrainians who have joined foreign news crews to help report on the war in their country.

Katya Hill told CBS Pittsburgh that her brother had been sharing updates with her every day since Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine on February 24. She hadn't spoken to him for a few days, however. She said the family learned of Hill's death from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

"After he said that he had no way to charge his phone, then I knew it was a matter of, are we going to hear he's in Poland safe or are we going to get the news that we didn't want to hear?" Katya Hill said.

"A good person gone too soon," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said in a tweet, offering her "deepest sympathies" to Hill's family.

"Putin's senseless war is resulting in so much needless tragedy," the lawmaker added.

The United Nations has confirmed at least 780 civilian deaths in Ukraine since Russia launched its war. That figure includes 58 children, with most of the deaths blamed on shelling and airstrikes, and the U.N.'s human rights agency acknowledges the "actual toll is much higher."