National | Tangi

Soldier's remains return home from Ukraine

After a mammoth three-day journey, Kane Te Tai, the New Zealand soldier who died in the war in Ukraine has returned home.

His body landed at Auckland International Airport on Monday following the journey from Ukraine, through Poland, and eventually to New Zealand.

It's taken the family over three weeks to get Te Tai home at a cost of over $65,000. Te Tai was killed while fighting Russian forces in Vuhledar, part of the Donetsk region.

According to Te Tai's mother, Ngaire Te Tai, it's been a long wait to see and touch her son.

"I'm glad he is back on his own whenua. Koira te mea nui, that's the biggest thing and to be with us, his loved ones."

Kane finally returns to his whānau.

Only wanted to help

His kuia, Mere Te Tai, says the whānau is proud of the reasons Te Tai went to Ukraine to fight.

"He went to fight to free those people so that their language, even their culture wouldn't be taken away from them, as we Māori had our culture taken away from us."

Pouroto Ngaropo is a whānau spokesman and he says Te Tai only ever wanted to help people, which is why he chose to head to Ukraine and fight.

"He is definitely an amazing soldier. He had no qualms about doing what he felt was right. He went there on his own with his ancestors beside him."

Three New Zealanders (two of them soldiers) have died in Ukraine. What's more, calls have been made for the Defence Force to become more involved in repatriating unsanctioned New Zealand soldiers who die in battle, such as Dominic Abelen who was killed in 2022. His body was never recovered and it is believed his remains are being held by Russian forces.

Grateful for help

Ngaire Te Tai says she is grateful for the help from the New Zealand government and also those who helped with the cost of repatriation

"They have assisted us where they have been able, to communicate with the Ukrainian people. Everyone's been lovely. Especially the ones that have donated."

"I think about the others that haven't been as fortunate as us, like Dom Abelen's family."