National | Ron Mark

Former defence minister warns government over 'inadequate' support to Ukraine

Carnage, devastation and helplessness - that's how former defence minister Ron Mark has described what he saw in Ukraine during his recent visit.

Now the former army officer has reinforced his calls to the government to do more - warning that the repercussions for New Zealand could be longstanding.

He left Ukraine on Monday where he was serving in a humanitarian capacity. He struggled to describe the effect the conflict in Ukraine is having on their people

“That's when you start to see the cost in human lives that's been inflicted on these people who have been invaded by another nation.”

He helped to deliver 112 tonnes of supplies, moving across borders, and ferrying people out of the war-torn country – but not all could be rescued.

“So about 1500 people got left behind. It just upset me. I thought part of the reason I was unsuccessful in trying to raise money was I didn't fully comprehend what the team was going through. The only way to understand the ground is to go to the ground," he said.

He was critical of the New Zealand government, saying the effects of non-action could cost Aotearoa "big time".

“Don't expect President Zelenskyy to be very interested in New Zealand's bid for a free-trade agreement after this is all over. Its economy is based on agribusiness.”

Light gun trainers

“Why would they let New Zealand into a free-trade agreement in Europe if New Zealand wasn't there in their hour of need?”

But  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected Mark's view.

“In my view, being present on the ground does not mean we would be adding greater support than we are adding right now,” she said.

About 30 NZ Defence Force personnel are heading to the UK to train Ukrainian soldiers to use the L119 light gun in the latest move by the government to ramp up New Zealand efforts to support Ukraine.

Defence Force Chief Air Marshall Kevin Short said that this didn't change this country's position in the conflict as training would take place in the UK

“We're expecting 230 Ukrainian forces to be trained. We've been told that they have experience in artillery.”

The defence personnel are expected to leave for the UK in the coming week.

Meanwhile, Ron Mark is staying in Europe and  has confirmed  he will return to Ukraine.