National | New Zealand Defence Force

NZ soldier killed in Ukraine identified

Dominic Abelen an NZ Army serviceman has died while fighting on the front line in Ukraine, according to the New Zealand Defence Force.

Dominic Bryce Abelen, who was in the Burnham-based Royal NZ Infantry Regiment’s 2/1 Battalion was on unpaid leave when he travelled to the war-torn country.

He was not on active duty for the NZDF, and is understood to have been working alongside Ukraine's foreign legion of some 20,000-strong volunteers.

The NZ Army says it is still working to establish the details of his death but that it would work to support Abelen's family.

"At this early stage there is still more information to be gathered to understand the circumstances fully," a statement said.

NZ Army soldier Dominic Abelen was killed fighting for Ukraine as the country commemorated its independence from the Soviet Union / Supplied

A Kiwi ex-soldier fighting alongside Abelen in Ukraine told Stuff Abelen and a group of soldiers were attempting to retake a series of trenches under the cover of darkness, when they were engaged by the Russian enemy.

"I need people to know Dom was a brave man," the soldier said.

Two others were injured in the Russian attack and are receiving hospital treatment, while an American volunteer was also killed in the battle.

Above: Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs Peeni Henare and Nanaia Mahuta address media on the death of a New Zealand soldier who took an unpaid leave of absence from the NZDF to fight for Ukraine. / NZME

Defence Minister Peeni Henare has offered his sympathies to the soldier’s family.

“I express my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the New Zealand soldier who is reported to have died in Ukraine while on leave from the army,” a statement said.

Since the February invasion of Ukraine, the New Zealand government has levelled sanctions against the Kremlin and provided several million dollars of financial aid to Kyiv, as it fights to repel Russian forces.

No deployment

Like its allies, the New Zealand government has refused to deploy soldiers in Ukraine, over fears it would further inflame the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia and put Kiwi lives at risk.

Around 150 NZ forces have provided training to Ukrainian soldiers in the UK and other third countries but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has declined invitations from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to visit Kyiv.

Western officials have warned against foreign soldiers traveling to Ukraine, but Ukrainian officials have openly welcomed the support against their larger adversary, whose military dwarfs Ukraine in size and equipment, by around 5-to-1.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he was expecting Russia to do something "particularly cruel" on the country's independence day Wednesday. / Channel 4 News

Illegal Russian courts in occupied territories of Ukraine last month tried several British former soldiers on terrorism charges, for fighting alongside Ukraine.

Moscow has threatened the men with death sentences after refusing them prisoner of war status, in violation of international law.

According to Ukraine's honorary consul in Auckland, more than 500 Kiwis have volunteered to fight in Ukraine despite official warnings not to join the conflict.

In March Stuff spoke to Army veteran Kane Te Tai who travelled to Ukraine alongside two expatriates, to help mount a defence against the invading Russians.

Independence Day

Wednesday was expected to be a day of immense fighting and aerial bombardment in Ukraine as the country commemorated its independence day from the Soviet Union.

During a national address on Saturday, Zelensky said he was expecting Russia to do something "particularly cruel", either on the holiday or the days surrounding it.

Russia celebrated its own national day in occupied territories, with Russian flags handed out to Ukrainians to be waved during speeches.

In heavily shelled cities like Mariupol on the country's eastern flank, celebrations in the central square were shrouded by burnt, uninhabitable and collapsed buildings, gutted or levelled by Russian artillery.

The New Zealand Defence Force says it is "consolidating information" about the Kiwi soldier's death and will look to release further details as soon as possible.

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