National | Tangi

Te Tai finally laid to rest; Ukrainian major pays tribute

Kane Te Tai, the New Zealand soldier who died while fighting in Ukraine has finally been laid to rest.

Te Tai died while fighting Russian forces in Donetsk, to the east of Ukraine. He was involved in a bloody firefight while clearing a trench.

Major Sergiy Gusovskyy is the commanding officer of the foreign legion that Te Tai was a part of. He made the 36-hour-long journey from Ukraine to New Zealand to pay his respects to the family, leaving his country that has been involved in a bloody conflict with Russia for over a year.

"He died attacking and he took a number of Russian lives.

Kane Te Tai completes his journey back home.

"We fight for our land, we fight for our people and nobody had any hesitation. This is a fight for our lives. For our freedom."

Friends, family, and members of the Defence Force gathered at Waikumete Cemetary in Auckland to farewell Te Tai.

Former defence minister Ron Mark met Te Tai while visiting Ukraine.

"I took him to meet the associate minister of defence for unofficial bilateral discussions and Kane was a good advisor on what was happening on the ground on what Ukraine really needed in the way of support. He earned a huge amount of respect."

While there are people who believe Māori shouldn't be getting involved in white-man wars, Major Gusovskyy says this is a war for freedom against oppression, not race

"I guess, maybe, somebody thinks that Māori is not a human being. Any human being who lives in this world should decide for himself, for himself or for herself whether you're on the side of good or the other side."

Mark says that that's a racist attitude.

"That's a pretty racist comment, a white man's war. The reality is, a lot of my whanaunga have expressed concerns as to why we are there and there are a few Māori boys there."