25 Aug 2022

Small number of New Zealand personnel fighting in Ukraine - former defence minister

From Checkpoint, 5:38 pm on 25 August 2022

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

The Defence Force today confirmed Corporal Dominic Abelen as the New Zealander killed in Ukraine.

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 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.

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.

Corporal Dominic Abelen, who was killed on the front line in Ukraine while on unpaid leave from the New Zealand Defence Force.

Corporal Dominic Abelen, who was killed in Ukraine while on unpaid leave from the New Zealand Defence Force. Photo: Supplied / 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."

He urged New Zealanders considering joining the fight in the war-torn country 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."