Few NZ personnel fighting in Ukraine, says former defence minister

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Ukrainians marked the 31st anniversary of their independence
Ukrainians marked the 31st anniversary of their independence today ... under the shadow of the Russian invasion and fears of a bloody attack, one that killed 25 in the rail town of Chaplyne. Image: AJ

RNZ News

Former Defence Minister Ron Mark of Aotearoa New Zealand says there is only a small number of citizens fighting in Ukraine.

The NZ Defence Force today confirmed Corporal Dominic Abelen as the New Zealander killed in Ukraine as the war-ravaged nation marked its 31st anniversary of independence from Russia.

The 30-year-old had served with the 2nd/1st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment based in Burnham, but had been on a period of leave without pay and was not on active duty.

Former Defence Minister Ron Mark told RNZ Checkpoint he did not meet NZ Corporal Dominic Abelen when he recently visited Ukraine.

Mark said there was not a big number of New Zealand personnel participating in Ukraine’s war.

“There’s a small number of New Zealanders there, it’s not the big number that some people have been saying — that’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Mark said.

This was the first instance of a current NZDF soldier travelling to Ukraine while on leave from the army, he said.

Humanitarian relief
Most of the military people over there were involved in humanitarian relief and had some form of military background, he said.

Mark said he was aware of New Zealanders assisting with combat medicine, residential evacuations and training Ukrainians soldiers in basic weapons and combat skills.


Former NZ Defence Minister Ron Mark on the Ukraine invasion. Video: RNZ Checkpoint
Corporal Dominic Abelen, killed on the front line in Ukraine
Corporal Dominic Abelen … killed in Ukraine while on unpaid leave from the NZDF. Image: NZDF

The New Zealanders who were in Ukraine often attempted to connect with their compatriots, joining them in the warzone, Mark said.

“It’s a small world and people are connecting up frequently with other Kiwis, there’s not a lot of them there but they tend to try and find each other,” he said.

However, when these New Zealanders developed relationships and friendships with their comrades they would often look to make an “understandable” transition, Mark said.

“Eventually when they make friends with Ukrainians, when they meet others some specifically look to go to the Ukrainian Foreign Legion and others join up with Ukrainian forces and you know it’s an understandable transition from my perspective because what they’re seeing is untenable in their eyes.”

‘Be realistic’ plea
He urged New Zealanders considering joining the fight in Ukraine to be “realistic”.

The war in Ukraine was unlike anything New Zealand had been involved with for a long time, he said.

“On one side it looks like the first World War. It’s a slogging match, a war of attrition, artillery-versus-artillery, missile-versus-missile and people dug in trenches in fixed positions… on the other hand it’s extremely high-tech and it’s extremely challenging with the level of drone usage and the amount of precision guided munitions that are available.”

Some of the weaponry being used in Ukraine was so advanced the NZDF had never seen or had even had the chance to purchase such equipment, he said.

The best way New Zealanders could make an impact in the war in Ukraine was to support humanitarian organisations, Mark said.

“I encourage people if you really want to make a difference, getting involved with humanitarian organisations…  We can alleviate a lot of suffering and pain for ordinary civilians who are wearing the brunt of this…

“This is a disgusting war and it’s a war that needs to come to an end, and it could come to an end if Mr Putin would just withdraw. Simple as that.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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