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In Ukraine, an American volunteer is laid to rest

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Thousands of lives have been lost in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the past few months, as Russia has pushed Ukrainian forces into a smaller and smaller area. One of those lives was of an American who had volunteered to fight on behalf of Ukraine. NPR's Julian Hayda attended his funeral in Kyiv and has this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: An honor guard plays Ukraine's national anthem as six soldiers carry the hexagonal coffin of Christopher James Campbell. A couple dozen people are gathered here to say their last goodbyes to Campbell, a 27-year-old Florida native who went to fight on behalf of Ukraine last spring.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

HAYDA: On one side of the coffin, Ukrainian soldiers hold flags. There's a red, white and blue wreath. And on the other side, there's a priest, an iPhone on a tripod and Campbell's fiancee, Iva Sanina. Thousands of miles away in Florida, Campbell's family watches through the iPhone lens as Sanina receives a flag, a certificate of gratitude and a beret.

IVA SANINA: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: Glory to the heroes, she shouts through her tears.

SANINA: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: She motions to an assembly of masked men in fatigues - American, Georgian, Czech and other flags sewn onto their sleeves - and thanks them.

SANINA: (Through interpreter) They're brave sons of Ukraine who did everything to prevent people like me from getting raped and murdered. They are preventing genocide.

HAYDA: Ukraine's foreign legion, which Campbell was part of, has been controversial. A general fatigue as the war drags on also means that fewer volunteers are signing up. Nelson Rumsey and Campbell fought alongside one another in the U.S. Army in Iraq. Rumsey says that he initially didn't approve of Chris's decision to join but understood his motives.

NELSON RUMSEY: He's kind of - was able to identify himself as not just another kind of punk kid coming over to try to do something but somebody actually capable and actually qualified.

HAYDA: And Rumsey says that something else stood out about Chris.

RUMSEY: He fell in love with the people that he went to go help.

HAYDA: And in that short period of time he spent in Ukraine, his love made an impression.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language)

HAYDA: The priest who delivered the eulogy is one of Ukraine's leading public intellectuals. The processional music came from award-winning folk artists, and his would-be father-in-law is a filmmaker, one of his movies a submission to the Oscars for best foreign film. Sanina says anybody can become Ukrainian so long as they share certain values. And she says Campbell tried very hard.

SANINA: He became Ukrainians among Ukrainians.

HAYDA: After the ceremony, she followed Campbell's coffin to a Kyiv cemetery, where he was buried according to his last wishes.

Julian Hayda NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julian Hayda