A New Zealand soldier fighting in Ukraine while on leave has been killed, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) confirmed.
NZDF identified the soldier as Corporal Dominic Abelen, 30, adding that he served with 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR) based in Burnham.
He had served with the NZDF for 10 years before taking a period of leave without pay to travel to Ukraine and contribute to the country’s defense against the Russian invasion. The service noted the soldier was not on on active duty at the time of his death.
NZDF further said it is supporting efforts regarding formal identification and repatriation, noting the very difficult circumstances of doing so in a conflict zone.
Acting Chief of Army Brigadier Rose King said the New Zealand Army’s thoughts were with Corporal Abelen’s whānau (extended family), friends and colleagues at this difficult time.
“Any loss of one of our whānau is deeply felt across the New Zealand Defence Force. We are concentrating our efforts on supporting Corporal Abelen’s loved ones and our personnel as they grieve,” she said.
“We understand why he went and hold no grudge against the NZ or Ukraine Army and fully support what he did,” Corporal Abelen’s father Bryce Abelen said.
“He didn’t tell us he was going to Ukraine until he was there. He knew we would talk him out of it. He also knew the risks of going there but still went to fight for them.”
“I’m extremely proud of my children and especially Dominic for standing up and doing what he thought was right. He leaves a massive hole in all our hearts.”
According to NZDF regulation, uniformed personnel are required to notify their chain of command of international travel plans when taking leave without pay, however are not required to check in routinely.
The NZDF said it is still inquiring into the circumstances of this particular case, as Corporal Abelen’s leave request did not include plans to travel to Ukraine.
When a uniformed member of NZDF takes leave without pay, they are still considered to be serving, and are subject to various Defence Force Orders. They are able to go and pursue other employment opportunities during this time and travel, with approval required to enter some countries (including Ukraine).
The NZDF also noted it does not know how many ex-serving personnel may have travelled to Ukraine. When a person leaves the Defence Force, the NZDF does not track their movements.
No personnel have been approved by NZDF to enter Ukraine and no NZDF personnel on active service have entered the country since this conflict began, according to the service.