The funeral of Christopher James Campbell took place in Kyiv on May 5. He died near Bakhmut on April 6, defending Ukraine. The 27-year-old military man had experience of service in Iraq and Kuwait. 

At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, he left his studies in the United States, sold all his property, invested the proceeds in Ukraine and joined the Azov regiment. Subsequently, he continued his service in the Foreign Legion of the Territorial Defense.

Christopher’s fiancée Ivanna Sanina, a 24-year-old film director and military volunteer, told Kyiv Post: “Chris asked me, ‘Iva, it is important that my death should not be hidden so that Ukrainians know that we are fighting for them here. Maybe it will inspire someone overseas to help the Ukrainian army, maybe someone will come here to help.’”

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“Sometimes it seemed to me that Chris believed in Ukraine's victory more than I did.”

Ivanna is a volunteer of the Vilni (Free) movement, which helps the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Defense Intelligence of the Defense Ministry of Ukraine, and the Security Service of Ukraine. Activists of the movement provide Ukraine with military and technical assistance and undertake humanitarian missions.

Chris was a veteran of the 82nd Air Assault Brigade of the US Airborne Division, a highly professional military man with combat experience. At the beginning of the war, he came to Ukraine and worked as an instructor for KORD (the Rapid Operational Response Unit) and Azov regiment fighters. 

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Christopher Campbell / Photo provided by Ivanna Sanina

 

Later he joined the ranks of Azov. Christopher took part in the defense of Kyiv region and the capital itself, and later fought in the Zaporizhzhia region.

The young couple met for the first time after the funeral of Roman Ratushny, the head of NGO Zakhystymo Protasiv Yar (Let’s Protect the Protasiv Ravine) and an intelligence officer of the 93rd separate mechanized brigade Kholodny Yar (Cold Ravine). Roman was killed in battle near Izium in Kharkiv region, which was under Russian occupation at that time.

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Ivanna recalls that a few days after the funeral she got sick, however, she came to the office because the Vilni movement members planned another humanitarian mission.

There I saw Christopher with his British friend, with whom he came to Ukraine. I asked Chris only one thing, ‘Why are you here?’” Ivanna says.

“He answered that what was happening was the genocide of the Ukrainian people, and he could not just sit at home, watch TV and do nothing, while he had knowledge and experience, because he was a veteran.” 

She emphasized that Chris was not just a war tourist, a person who came to Ukraine for kicks and then left when the going got tough. 

He said, “They haven't been here for a long time. They were here during the first weeks, months, and then they understood that the war in Ukraine was not a video game.”

“People with strong convictions are now fighting in the Foreign Legion,” Ivanna says. “They came to Ukraine to help and almost everyone is convinced that our country will win.”

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Christopher shared this opinion. “Sometimes it seemed to me that he believed in the victory of Ukraine more than I did,” Ivanna added.

Christopher with comrades, photos provided by Ivanna Sanina

After his military service, Chris received a scholarship at an American university and planned to become a geneticist. However, he left his studies as soon as the full-scale war in Ukraine began. 

Having sold all his belongings, all his cars, arms, everything he earned, Chris invested the money in Ukraine,” Ivanna notes.

She says that returning their fallen heroes home is a national tradition for Americans. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed – 10, 20, or 50. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of countries, for example, Vietnam, where American soldiers died. 

Excavations are carried out there. DNA samples are taken from the families of the dead or missing, and then specialists carry out an exhumation. Afterward, the body or its remains are transported to the United States, and the fallen hero is buried in his homeland with full military honors.

Chris was very interested in this. He considered it correct. This is what we must come to because that is what differentiates us from our enemies. Russia does not value people, does not value anything - we must destroy imperialism in their minds,” Ivanna says. 

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“Here came a young foreigner who had his whole life ahead to destroy this imperialism... because there is nothing more valuable than life in this world.”

The last meeting in Kharkiv: “It was the only time I asked him not to go.”

The young people saw each other for the last time in Kharkiv before Campbell’s trip to Bakhmut – two days before his death.

Chris said that was the last mission and then he would get back to me – he would be home in three days. I asked, ‘Shall we choose the date of our anniversary?’ He answered, ‘Let's choose together.’ I started looking through our messages and said, ‘I sent you a “heart” on July 2.’ Chris replied, ‘Let it be July 2.’ We chose this date together,” Ivanna recalls.

The engaged couple planned to visit Campbell’s family in Florida after this mission when Chris would be on leave. “We planned to go to his family so that he could introduce me as his bride,” Ivanna says.

“Chris proposed marriage to me, and I accepted his proposal. However, we didn’t have time to get married.”

She says that she had never asked Chris questions about the war. According to her, if a serviceman (whether they know each other personally or not) wants to tell something, he will tell it without being asked.

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“However, the last time we saw each other, on April 4, I asked Christopher whether he would need help after returning from Bakhmut,” she says.

“As a volunteer, I worked with such cases and saw men who return from the front in a serious condition. Chris looked at me silently and said ‘yes’.”

She calls Bakhmut, for which the fierce battles between our defenders and the Russian invaders are currently taking place, hell on earth.

No sane man or woman, no human being can withstand the pain and horror that is happening there. The battlefield is covered with the bodies of our enemies and our defenders. Obviously, we will need much time to treat this injury,” says Ivanna.

“The most terrible and unfair thing is that on our side the best die, and on their side - the worst. The difference between us is that we value our soldiers.” 

“It was the only time I asked him to stay. I never doubted him. However, during our last meeting in Kharkiv I asked Chris for the first time, ‘Stay with me, don't go, please.’ He responded, ‘Iva, I can't stay. I will come, I will return in 3 days’,” she recalls.

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Christopher Campbell died at 9:00 a.m. on April 6, 2023.

Christopher, photo provided by Ivanna Sanina

“Our friends visited me in the evening. I don't believe in all that psychic stuff. We were sitting at the table. My friends reminded me at the funeral, ‘Iva, do you remember what you said on the evening of April 6? – I feel that Chris has trouble’,” she says.

Testament: “If this happens to me - I want to be buried here.”

Ivanna recalls that during the funeral of Roman Ratushny, Christopher was impressed by Ukrainians who revere their heroes, “Chris told me, ‘If this happens to me – I want to be buried here’.”

The funeral of Christopher was held in the capital of Ukraine on May 5, a month after his death. The ceremony took place in St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral. Campbell was buried next to Ukrainian defenders.

Photo of the farewell ceremony with Chris Campbell / by Oles Sanin

 

We did everything according to his last will. Another reason why Chris should have been buried here is that he was convinced that if Ukrainians see the flags of other countries on the Alley of Heroes, they would be more confident in victory and feel support,” Ivanna says. 

“We had to show that we are not alone, that the whole civilized world supports us, and that we will win.” 

“Everything I do in the future will be dedicated to Christopher.”

Every day Ivanna wakes up, imagining that this tragedy is just a dream, that it is not reality.

I am not sure whether I will ever be happy again. He is the only man in my life with whom I wanted to raise children,” she says

“I feel pain every day. Every night I sleep for two hours, and I seem to hallucinate that Chris calls me and says, ‘I will come home’.”

However, Ivanna assures him that she will do everything to make him proud of her.

Everything I will do in the future will be dedicated to him. The Vilni organization where we met is already a foundation in which everything will be done in his honor. 

“Christopher’s name has become synonymous with the word ‘revenge’ for me,” she says.

“I must do everything to make him proud of me. For this, I have to continue volunteering. I will support the unit in which he served, I will give them all possible assistance, I will pray for them, for each guy,” she added.

Recently, Sanina was at the FILM.UA studio, where the final DCP copy of the movie “Dovbush” is being prepared for the premiere scheduled for August 24. She worked on the film at all stages of its creation.

“I’ve rethought the film. Everything I did in this film as an assistant director was dedicated to Chris, absolutely everything. In the film, the main hero says the phrase when parting, ‘Let me go. I will come for you in 3 days.’ These are the last words that Chris said to me,” she says.

Ivanna proudly recalls that he studied Ukrainian in order to ask film director Oles Sanin for his daughter’s hand in marriage. 

The guys from his unit are also learning Ukrainian. However, when they come to Kharkiv, to the military unit, they hear people talking in Russian in the streets and in restaurants. There is some inconsistency: after all, they came here to fight for us, while we demotivate them,” she says.

“Sometimes it seems to me that they are more Ukrainian than some people who have a Ukrainian passport. I think they deserve a Ukrainian passport more than some of my fellow citizens.”

Ivanna recently went to St. Michael’s Cathedral to buy candles to place them on Christopher’s grave. The funeral was being held in the cathedral.

The funeral of the person I know, as it turned out. I didn't even know he was there. The day before that, in the same place, in St. Michael's Cathedral, there was the funeral of my very good friend - the 20-year-old artist Danylo Denysenko. This guy was supposed to paint pictures, create sculptures, shoot movies...,” she said.

“We must remember every name.”

Photo: Ivanna Sanina by Oles Sanin

 

"There are thousands of people like me – girls, women, wives, mothers whose men did not return home. We must remember every name. We should make a war memorial,” says Ivanna. 

“There must be a place - not for us, no - for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, who will come there and see names, dates and flags.

When they see the flags of the United States, Sweden, Poland, free Belarus and other countries, they will understand that only together we can defeat this evil, only by uniting can we defeat the common enemy,” Ivanna says.

“‘Never Again’ should not be just beautiful words for Victory Day of May 8 and May 9. It should be in each of us, and we really will never forget.”

 

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Comments (7)

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Rachel
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I was happy to pay tribute to him this afternoon by placing the Ukrainian flag in front of his photo. I never knew him but am so proud of all expats who live here to either fight or help in the fight by supporting and living with the people of Ukraine.

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darrenpara
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Thank you for sharing this story! Chris will live forever as a hero and example that freedom comes at a price but never in vain!

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James Canchela
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A young man whose words and action conveyed his reverence to honor and selflessness. One can only hope that those who survive remember the sacrifices made for us all by the many. May the good at heart, muster their own courage and strength to be as noble as he. Immortality was never the quest for these who stood against evil and yet I hope those like him will be remembered.

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Greg
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Rest in peace thank you

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Greg Warren
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Thank you for touching my heart❤

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Paul Gray
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Ivanna, I feel for your loss. Rest Easy Chris, among friends.

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Frederik
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Rest in peace, beautiful, heavenly hero

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