Russia-Ukraine war: Off-duty New Zealand soldier killed in Ukraine

The PM announced New Zealand will deploy a further 120 Defense Force personnel to the United Kingdom to help train Ukrainian soldiers to fight against Russian forces. Video / Mark Mitchell

A Kiwi soldier has reportedly been killed in Ukraine, the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF) has said.

The soldier, who was on a period of leave without pay at the time, was not on active duty with the NZDF.

“At this early stage, there is still more information to be gathered in order to fully understand the circumstances,” NZDF said in a statement this afternoon.

“The New Zealand Army will work closely with the family of the soldier to offer support at this deeply sad time.”

Defense Minister Peeni Henare expressed his condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the Kiwi soldier.

“I have been advised the New Zealand Army is supporting the soldier’s family through this difficult time,” he said.

The Herald understands relevant ministers have been briefed but details were scant.

The war in Ukraine has raged for about six months since Russia invaded the Eastern European country.

Most of the Russian and Ukrainian forces are concentrated in the Donbas, the industrial region of mines and factories in the nation’s east. Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the territory they have seized since the beginning of the invasion.

According to Ukraine’s honorary consul in Auckland, more than 500 Kiwis had volunteered to fight in Ukraine despite official warnings not to join the war.

It’s believed about 20 Kiwis had remained in Ukraine after Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s warning in February to “leave immediately”.

Kiwi doctor Jenny Beesley, whom the Herald interviewed in the war-torn country’s capital Kyiv, was one who joined the war effort.

The 39-year-old had trained as a fighter jet pilot with the Royal Air Force and joined the Number One International Company, a combat unit bringing together international volunteers and Ukrainians.

She spoke of her deployment to the Donbas region, firefights with Russian troops and coming under attack from enemy tanks and helicopters.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a further 120 NZDF personnel would be deployed to the United Kingdom to help train Ukrainian soldiers to fight against Russian forces.

It adds to the 30 personnel sent over in May to train Ukrainian military personnel in operating artillery and the more than $40 million provided in financial support.

“New Zealand has been clear that we will continue to answer the call of Ukraine for practical support as they defend their homeland and people against Russia’s unjustified invasion,” Ardern said.

Two NZDF infantry training teams will teach Ukrainian personnel frontline combat, including weapon handling, combat first aid, operational law and other skills.

Henare said at the time of the announcement that no active NZDF member would enter Ukraine.

Across February and March, after the war began, the NZ Government announced several millions of dollars would be provided to the United Nations’ Ukraine Humanitarian Fund and the UN Refugee Agency.

Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank through the town of Trostsyanets in Ukraine.  Photo / AP
Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank through the town of Trostsyanets in Ukraine. Photo / AP

Later in March, $5m of non-lethal military assistance was sent to Ukrainian forces, which consisted of body armor plates, helmets and camouflage vests/harness webbing.

In April, the Government deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130H Hercules transport aircraft and 50 support personnel to Europe for two months, along with another $13m of military, humanitarian and legal support.

A separate eight-person NZDF team of logistic specialists were also sent over to support the international donor coordination center in Germany with the flow of aid and supplies to Ukraine.

In May, up to 30 NZDF personnel were deployed to the United Kingdom to help train Ukrainian military personnel in operating light artillery.

In June, another $4.5m was allocated to provide additional non-lethal equipment and supplies such as medical kits for the Ukrainian Army.

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