Body of NZ soldier who died in Ukraine may never be recovered

Wellington: Jacinda Ardern admits the body of a New Zealand soldier who died defending Ukraine may never be returned home.

NZ Corporal Dominic Abelen is understood to have been killed in fighting in the Donbas, eastern Ukraine.Credit:via Stuff

New Zealand is grappling with how best to support the family of Corporal Dominic Abelen, a 28-year-old soldier who was killed after travelling to the war against defence force rules.

Abelen was on leave without pay and travelled to Europe without telling his family or the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), which forbids soldiers joining the band of unsanctioned foreign fighters taking up arms.

This has led to tricky questions of how to treat Abelen’s case.

New Zealand is supporting Ukraine, offering financial, military and logistical aid, while slapping financial and travel sanctions on key supporters of Russia’s regime.

However, no country has joined the war by putting boots on the ground.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has stressed New Zealand was treating the case of Abelen as a citizen rather than a soldier, though there are calls to bring Abelen’s remains home.

New Zealand, like other countries, is supporting Ukraine but has not sent soldiers to fight against Russia.Credit:Stuff

Ardern said questions of how to treat Abelen were secondary to practical ones.

“The issue is whether or not we’re even going to have that ability [to access Ukraine] … it is a war zone,” the prime minister said.

“We do not have people on the ground. We do not have consular support on the ground.

“It’s very difficult for us to do much at this present point in time. That does not mean however that we are not seeking as much information as possible and trying to understand the circumstances.”

In radio and media appearances on Monday morning, Ardern declined to answer a string of questions around the matter, including where Abelen died, where his body was, whether they knew where the body was, and if it was in Russian hands.

Aaron Wood​, co-founder of the No Duff veterans trust, told NZ outlet Stuff that the Defence Force was “really in a pickle” with this “incredibly unique situation”.

“Technically he was a serving soldier, but was on leave. If he died overseas on leave, like any other employer, there would not be any obligation to assist his return.

“It’s difficult… there is almost a societal expectation they would help. He died fighting, but not for New Zealand.”

NZ media reports suggest Abelen died while attempting to retake a series of trenches in the eastern Donbas region.

Tanks of the 2nd Army Corps of the People’s Militia of the rebel-held Luhansk on a mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine on July 30.Credit:Russian Defence/AP

Ardern did say Abelen’s family was being briefed, saying “they have as much information as we have”.

Both the government and armed forces have urged New Zealanders not to travel to Ukraine.

The Labour leader said consular assistance through the Russian ambassador was unlikely to prove fruitful.

“I would not have an expectation of any great degree of assistance. This is a war which is unprovoked and unjustified at the hands of Russia,” she said.

Abelen spent a decade in the army, serving with the 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment based in Burnham, outside Christchurch.


Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article