A Heartbreaking Find in the Backpack of an American Killed in Ukraine

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family

Former U.S. Marine Cooper “Harris” Andrews, 26, died trying to help Ukrainians save their country—a final act of a life laser-focused on helping people, according to his family.

He was a “see something do something person,” his mother, Willow Andrews, told The Daily Beast.

His motivation to fight with Ukraine through the Foreign Legion was no different, she said.

“Cooper did what Cooper thought was the status quo in treating each other and people well,” his mother told The Daily Beast. “We look at it like Cooper went above and beyond. But in Cooper’s eyes, Cooper did what Cooper did because this was what we all should be doing. This is like the bare minimum that we should be doing.”

Cooper was killed by a mortar attack in April near Bakhmut, his mother said. Russian forces have been trying and failing for months to seize Bakhmut, while Ukrainian forces prepare for a spring or summer counteroffensive, according to U.S. intelligence. When reached for comment about his death, the State Department confirmed his death, but declined to elaborate on the circumstances.

Two American Citizens Killed Fighting in Ukraine

As his family works to piece together what happened to him in the war-torn country, already, Willow has been able to video call some of his colleagues in Ukraine to sort through his personal effects from afar.

Social media posts indicate that Cooper was a member of Popular Front, a grassroots organization. He joined forces with the Foreign Legion in Ukraine, a group of foreign nationals helping Ukrainians fight, and decided to stay in Ukraine after his contract ended, according to his mother. She told The Daily Beast that Andrews was killed on “The Road of Life,” a key route Ukrainians have used to evacuate civilians, roughly a month after his 26th birthday.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family</div>
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family

“He was supposed to be home by the end of March,” Willow said. “They were trying to get people to safety and they were under fire. And he did not survive.”

Looking through his personal belongings has provided some emotional moments, with some tears—and even some moments of light-heartedness—she told The Daily Beast.

Peanut butter, for example, is one thing she never expected to bawl over.

“Cooper never liked peanut butter. They found a packet of peanut butter in his backpack,” Willow Andrews said. “I just laughed and started crying my eyes out that Cooper had peanut butter, which I understand—protein and everything—but I’m like, oh, Cooper had peanut butter.”

His mother has decided to donate some of his other belongings left behind to the Foreign Legion, including a small stove and a raincoat, she said.

As anyone who has lost a loved one will understand, his mother is hoping to bring his other clothes home to smell him and remember him by.

Americans have been jumping into Ukraine to try to help Ukrainian fighters defend their territory against Russian takeover since the beginning of the war. Several other Americans have died trying, including another former Marine, Grady Kurpasi.

Cooper originally went to Ukraine in November in the hopes of fighting off Russian fascism, his mother said.

What really motivated Cooper to try and help Ukraine was the stories he heard about what Russians were doing to upend Ukrainian children’s lives, his mother said, recalling numerous conversations with Cooper about the impact of war on children. The news coming out of Ukraine wasn’t just about operational or battlefield updates, like where battles were happening or which country sent which arms, but about the real atrocities being committed in Russia, she said.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family</div>
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family

“The stories we were getting weren’t just based on war, they were based on actual people,” she said. “He found that disturbing because he wanted to help the people—not fight in a war, but help the people and do his part any way he could.”

“We would have conversations like, ‘Did you see what happened to the kids? Can you believe, this is what’s happening to the kids?’” Willow said. “He was really disturbed what was happening to the children in Ukraine especially.”

‘Coopy’

His desire to jump in the fray in Ukraine reflects the same sense of urgency he applied to his work as a Marine and in volunteering throughout his life. He joined the Marines because he wanted to be involved in humanitarian relief efforts, Andrews said. He volunteered in Ohio, working to provide kids food in the summertime when school meals dried up, his mom said.

“He just thought the Marines was more people-oriented… I think part of it is they send the marines in for humanitarian efforts. He was very much into humanitarian things,” she said. “He looked at it in terms of, he could go someplace [and] show America doing humanitarian things. It’s one of the reasons he chose the Marine Corps.”

<div class="inline-image__credit">Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family</div>
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Reuters/Courtesy of the Andrews Family

Cooper maintained his sense of humor throughout his time in Ukraine, his family told The Daily Beast. His cousin, who is also named Willow, said Cooper was constantly sending memes to a group chat she was in with other cousins. While volunteering in the war, he adopted the nickname “Harris,” which his colleagues began calling him since he used to use Harris communications systems that he didn’t have in Ukraine. His mother said she never really adopted the nickname, but continued to call him “Coopy.”

As for the road ahead, his family is working with his friends and fellow volunteers in Ohio to raise funds to keep his volunteer work going in his absence. In the meantime, the family is still working to get Cooper’s belongings to the embassy in Kyiv, his mother said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv did not respond to a request for comment.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.