22 Mar 2023

Mother of Kiwi killed in Ukraine tried to stop him going but 'he had his mind made up'

12:53 pm on 22 March 2023
Army veteran Kane Te Tai

Kane Te Tai's death has not been officially confirmed, but his mother has confirmed it. Photo: Supplied

The mother of a New Zealander believed to have been killed while fighting in Ukraine struggled to understand why he wanted to go to the war zone.

Kane Te Tai's death has not been officially confirmed but RNZ sources say they have been told of his death by his unit commander.

His mother Ngaire Te Tai said she was told by her son's contacts in Ukraine and that his body had been recovered.

She said she tried to stop the former Defence Force soldier from going to fight Russian forces in Ukraine, but he had made up his mind.

"I'm trying to understand why he left the country and went to Ukraine.

"I still don't understand, but I do, if you know what I mean as well. We tried to stop him from going over but he had his mind made up."

Te Tai said she and her son's father has no choice but to accept "what could have been the inevitable".

"I accepted that that's what he wanted to do, but I didn't accept that I may not seen him again."

Te Tai said she hoped her son's death had not been in vain.

"[He was] an awesome father, awesome son, awesome uncle and brother.

"Kane is a survivor. He's been through so much in his young life and he's just a survivor. When you were around him, you just felt safe."

Te Tai said she would speak to her son while he was fighting in Ukraine, but he only told her the "lightest" of what was going on around him.

She said she would console him but he had a way of telling her he was OK every time.

Kane Te Tai is the third New Zealander to be killed in Ukraine.

Dominic Abelen died fighting there last August and his body has still not been recovered.

He was on leave without pay from the army at the time.

Aid worker Andrew Bagshaw was killed by artillery fire in January while trying to rescue an elderly woman from her house.

Charity co-founded by Te Tai to help bring him home

Veterans support charity No Duff is organising for a New Zealander to be with slain soldier for his whole journey home to Aotearoa from Ukraine.

The group is currently working out a plan to get Te Tai to the Polish border to then be returned home to his whānau.

Te Tai co-founded No Duff with Aaron Wood, who told Midday Report his mother had asked them to manage the journey.

"We're pulling all the pieces together, a number of volunteers and interested people from New Zealand all the way through to Ukraine and in between are coming together to make this happen."

It was highly likely they would be able to bring him home, Wood said, but there were numerous jurisdiction challenges ahead.

The Ukrainian military was set to bring him from the eastern frontline to Kyiv and conduct their processes, and then release the body to a person who would take him with them to the Polish border, where more checks would be done, and then finally to an airplane to New Zealand, he said.

"There's quite a few boxes that need to be ticked but it's just a matter of sitting down and working through them.

"There's a number of people on the ground who have done this thing before, for other people, for other foreign volunteers who have been killed in action, to other countries.

"There will be challenges no doubt. There are never any guarantees, however, we're confident we can get him back in the end."

Support pouring in to the charity in light of the news had been impressive and that would be needed to cover costs of travel and the procedures, Wood said.

Any money left over will then go to his 12-year-old daughter.

Prime minister restates do-not-travel advice

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking from Nelson, said he had no new information or official reports other than what the media was reporting on the matter since leaving Wellington this morning.

"We absolutely support the people of Ukraine in fighting the war that they're fighting at the moment. The war in Ukraine is unjust, it's an illegal invasion by Russia and so of course we want to support the Ukrainian people.

"Whilst I understand the sentiment behind New Zealanders wanting to go to Ukraine to contribute, New Zealand still has do-not-travel advice for Ukraine, so that is still the official position of the New Zealand government."

With the lack of official information so far, he would not commit yet to any support for repatriating Te Tai's body.

"I know it sounds heartless to say ... at the moment we don't have confirmed information yet so generally I wouldn't comment on that," Hipkins said.

"We make those decisions once we have confirmed information."

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