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‘Always thinking of helping others’: Father of soldier killed in Ukraine gives heartfelt tribute

  • A Kiwi soldier fighting on the front in Ukraine has been killed.
  • The soldier was Dominic Bryce Abelen, who was on leave without pay from the Defence Force.
  • Abelen was fighting as a member of Ukraine’s foreign legion.

The family of soldier Dominic Abelen, who was killed while fighting in Ukraine, says their hearts are broken and that Abelen “sacrificed his life for others to have a life”.

Dominic Bryce Abelen, 30, was killed in Ukraine while on leave without pay from the New Zealand Defence Force. He was in the Burnham-based Royal NZ Infantry Regiment’s 2/1 Battalion, and had served in the Defence Force for 10 years.

In a statement, his father Bryce Abelen said his son was a kind, gentle man with the most infectious smile that you couldn’t help but smile back.

“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. That is Dominic, always thinking of helping others.”

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Dominic Abelen, who was killed in Ukraine, was called a “brave man” by a fellow Kiwi ex-soldier.

Supplied

Dominic Abelen, who was killed in Ukraine, was called a “brave man” by a fellow Kiwi ex-soldier.

His father said he was extremely proud of all his children and especially Dominic for standing up and doing what he thought was right. “He leaves a massive hole in all our hearts.”

“Dominic, my brother is more than just another soldier, he is the most bold, brave and beautiful human with the quickest wit and freely given laugh. Our hearts are broken. He sacrificed his life for others to have a life,” one of his siblings shared in a statement.

On Thursday, a fellow Kiwi ex-soldier paid tribute to Abelen on social media, posting a picture on himself and Abelen, with the caption: “warrior until the end”.

“We love you and miss you mate,” the caption read.

Former New Zealand Defence Force commanding officer Tenby Powell told Today FM it was “a very sad day”.

He said he had been asked to bring Abelen home, and he felt honoured to do that, and he intended to drape the coffin in a New Zealand flag for the trip home.

The Defence Force said on Wednesday it had received reports of the death of a serving soldier, who was not on active duty.

In a statement on Thursday, Acting Chief of Army Brigadier Rose King said the New Zealand Army’s thoughts were with Corporal Abelen’s whānau, 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.

A Kiwi ex-soldier who was fighting in Ukraine with Abelen told Stuff they had been fighting on the front.

The man, who says he was with Abelen, said “I need people to know Dom was a brave man”.

He said he and Abelen had been part of an operation as members of Ukraine’s foreign legion. He said they were carrying out a joint operation, where those on the Ukrainian side were to assess the viability of retaking a trench system on the front.

Intelligence suggested there was no enemy presence there, but that was not uncommon, and they planned as though it was occupied, the soldier said.

The Ukrainian side moved on the trench system under the cover of night, just before first light, and made contact with the enemy. Unfortunately, whilst directing the team and covering them, he was killed instantly.

File photo from 2013. Then private Dominic Abelen, a New Zealand Army soldier serving with 2nd, 1st Battalion, kneels behind a barricade while engaging targets at a range.

Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

File photo from 2013. Then private Dominic Abelen, a New Zealand Army soldier serving with 2nd, 1st Battalion, kneels behind a barricade while engaging targets at a range.

Another-US born fighter also died from injuries, the soldier said.

Two others were injured and are recovering in hospital.

The pair met in East Ukraine, about a month ago, when the ex-NZDF soldier was training soldiers for the Ukrainian forces.

Aaron Wood, spokesperson for veterans’ trust No Duff, said he was connected to a network of about 100 former or current NZDF soldiers in Ukraine, which for the past six months has been at war with invading Russian forces.

Those on the front lines numbered in the 10s, he said.

Speaking to RNZ, Wood said Abelen was highly regarded and thought of as a soldier and as a man. He was also well-trained for the type of work he was doing.

“He was highly regarded amongst his unit, as well as back here in New Zealand, and he has fought some significant contacts with the Russians up to this point,” Wood told RNZ.

Defence Minister Peeni Henare offered his sympathies to the soldier’s family.

“I express my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the New Zealand soldier who is reported to have died in Ukraine while on leave from the army,” a statement said.

Ukrainian servicemen training in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region last month. At least 9000 Ukrainian soldiers and 5000 civilians are thought to have been killed since the invasion began in February.

Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Ukrainian servicemen training in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region last month. At least 9000 Ukrainian soldiers and 5000 civilians are thought to have been killed since the invasion began in February.

The Government has this year deployed 150 soldiers to the UK to train Ukrainian forces in weapons handling, first aid and military law. None have been deployed to Ukraine itself.

In March, the Government advised Kiwis against travelling to Ukraine, saying it could not provide protection in the war against Russia, which has already claimed thousands of lives.

That came after a group of former New Zealand service personnel said they were planning to escort two Ukrainian New Zealanders back to their war-torn country.

1 NEWS

The daughter of a prominent Russian ultra nationalist died in the explosion, prompting accusations from Russia that Ukraine was responsible.

Former Defence Minister Ron Mark has just finished up his fourth mission with a Christian humanitarian organisation delivering aid and helping evacuate people from hotspots in Ukraine.

He’s engaged in two missions from home, and has twice travelled to the eastern European country – most recently earlier this month.

He has been contacted for comment.

Since 1987, 285 active Defence Force personnel have died, including off-duty accidents and from natural causes.

A Russian soldier walks in front of the damaged Metallurgical Combine Azovstal plant, in Mariupol, in June.

AP

A Russian soldier walks in front of the damaged Metallurgical Combine Azovstal plant, in Mariupol, in June.

The Russian Invasion

The war began on February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine. Three days earlier, it recognised two separatist states in the Donbas region and troops were deployed.

The war has drawn widespread backlash and condemnation from the international community, with many countries bringing in economic sanctions against Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has claimed his military is conducting a “special military operation” to protect pro-Russian separatists.

About 9000 Ukrainian soldiers and at least 5000 civilians are thought to have been killed since the invasion began, along with 25,000 Russian troops.

Russia has taken about a fifth of Ukraine’s territory.

On Thursday (NZT), Ukraine marked 31 years since the country left the Soviet Union.

The Guardian reported president Volodymyr Zelenskyy as saying: “[Independence Day] is an important day for all of us. And that is why this day, unfortunately, is also important for our enemy. We must be aware that … hideous Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible.”

Ukrainian servicemen climb on a fighting vehicle outside Kyiv, Ukraine in April 2022.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

Ukrainian servicemen climb on a fighting vehicle outside Kyiv, Ukraine in April 2022.

What happens over the next six months is uncertain.

The Telegraph has reported Ukrainian officials saying the war has become bogged down in a “strategic stalemate”.

Moscow, the newspaper reports, is unlikely to be in a position to change that situation very much over the next few months, given that Russian forces are exhausted, running low on precision-guided munitions, and completely out of ideas.

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