28 Oct 2022

Body of NZer killed in Ukraine not repatriated, while US comrade goes home

2:25 pm on 28 October 2022
Corporal Dominic Abelen, who was killed on the front line in Ukraine while on unpaid leave from the New Zealand Defence Force.

New Zealand soldier Dominic Abelen died in August trying to take over a Russian trenchline. Photo: Supplied / NZDF

Questions are being asked in both Aotearoa and Ukraine over how the American soldier who died alongside Dominic Abelen was able to be repatriated, but not the New Zealander.

American Joshua Jones was killed alongside New Zealand soldier Dominic Abelen in August when they tried to take over a Russian trenchline.

The body was exchanged in the Zaporizhzhia region in a two-hour ceasefire in no-man's land between the two sides.

It's believed Jones' body was being held in the The Donetsk People's Republic - a Russian backed part of Ukraine.

A fellow soldier and friend of Jones said it was a really good moment, to know that his body was back in Ukrainian hands and soon to be returned to the family.

"Everybody that knew him here is really happy to hear the news."

Jones' father, Jeff, had been working with the State Department to repatriate the soldier, but his friend had all but ruled that out as a possibility.

"It caught me off guard, it caught us all of guard.

"We thought that it was probably a lost cause and that maybe he wouldn't get returned.

"But his family kept pushing to get him home."

The soldier said he didn't yet know what the plans were to get Jones back to the US, but was certain it would be relief and closure for his family.

"You can probably trust when someone tells you your son has been killed.

"But it's never officially closed, you can't close that chapter until you receive his body or remains and are able to have a proper ceremony for him and place to go and chat to him.

"I'm happy they get to close that chapter."

It's not the same story for the Abelen family in New Zealand.

Dominic Abelen was killed during the same battle, and his body also taken into Russian hands - despite various attempts to get him back.

It's believed he is in a mortuary in the Donetsk region.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Abelen was not included in the body exchange, with the American and the remains of other Ukrainian soldiers.

However it said it was engaging with relevant agencies on the ground to work through the most appropriate next steps to getting him home.

Jones' friend said he hoped that Abelen's family would get the opportunity to have the same sense of closure.

But he said he had no clue why one would be exchanged, and not the other.

There is speculation that Abelen may not have been in the same mortuary as Jones, or because he didn't have his military identification on him at the time of his death.

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