13 Nov 2022

Former New Zealand soldier fighting on frontline in Ukraine

8:02 pm on 13 November 2022

By Isaac Davison of NZ Herald

New Zealand Army soldiers inside an Australian Army vehicle during the mission rehearsal exercise for Task Group Taji 3 at RAAF Edinburgh, with about 300 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared for deployment to Iraq in exercise at RAAF Edinburgh in Adelaide, South Australia.

In fottage published by a UK newspaper, a New Zealand flag can be seen on the man's helmet, along with a crest of a kiwi and "New Zealand" on his uniform. File pic Photo: NZDF / Supplied

A former New Zealand soldier is fighting on the frontlines in Ukraine alongside a group of international volunteers.

The soldier has appeared in foreign news videos on the conflict and in social media posted by foreign fighters.

The New Zealand Defence Force said the man was not in the country in an official capacity.

A spokesperson said it was understood that the individual previously served in the New Zealand Army but was believed to have left a number of years ago.

"We are yet to officially confirm these details but will continue to look into this," they said.

A social media account in the man's name says he served in the army between 2011 and 2019, though he was not in a combat role.

The account said that after leaving the military, he held several jobs with private security companies before taking up a role as a "military instructor" in Ukraine in April 2022.

It said he was now serving with an organisation called the Dark Angels of Ukraine, a British-founded group of foreign fighters operating in Ukraine.

In footage published by a British newspaper, the man can be seen with other foreign fighters entering an abandoned Russian position in Kherson, a provincial capital in southern Ukraine which has been recaptured by the country's military.

It showed them being showered with flowers by local residents who had welcomed their efforts. A New Zealand flag can be seen on the man's helmet, along with a crest of a kiwi and "New Zealand" on his uniform.

Another video, taken by the soldier in early October and posted on social media, appears to show the man's unit under fire from Russian artillery.

Artillery shells can be heard whistling down around the soldiers while a New Zealand-accented soldier says "We need to get the f*** out of here."

The potential presence of New Zealand soldiers or ex-soldiers in Ukraine came under heightened scrutiny after the death of Corporal Dominic Abelen in the Donbas region in August. He had been on unpaid leave from the NZDF at the time and was not on active duty.

A subsequent investigation by the NZDF found no other soldiers on leave in the country. However, the Defence Force said it appeared two reservists, both lance corporals, were either in Ukraine or had been previously.

The NZDF said at the time that any uniformed personnel were required to notify their chain of command of international travel plans when taking leave without pay, however, they were not required to check in routinely.

Abelen had not notified New Zealand military commanders or his family that he was going off to fight in the war-torn European country.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently advising New Zealanders against travelling to Ukraine because of security concerns related to the Russian invasion.

This story was first published on the New Zealand Herald's website.

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