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Russia-Ukraine war: Former Defence Minister Ron Mark calls for embassy in Kiev while talks to retrieve dead soldier’s body continue

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Off-duty New Zealand soldier Dominic Abelen was killed in Ukraine fighting with foreign troops and has been remembered as a tough professional “warrior” who “died doing what he loved”. Video / NZ Herald

Former Defence Minister and ex-soldier Ron Mark is calling on New Zealand to install a permanent diplomatic post in Kiev as delicate diplomatic talks continue to retrieve a Kiwi soldier’s body from Ukraine.

Mark made the urgent calls for a New Zealand embassy in Ukraine after the death of an off-duty NZDF soldier killed in fighting with Russian forces alongside international foreign troops last week.

Efforts are ongoing to try and bring the body of 28-year-old Dominic Abelen back to his family in New Zealand, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) saying its embassy in Poland’s capital Warsaw is working with officials “on the ground” in Ukraine.

There are fears that Abelen’s body has remained in Russian hands.

Former Defence Minister Ron Mark is behind calls for a New Zealand embassy in Ukraine. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former Defence Minister Ron Mark is behind calls for a New Zealand embassy in Ukraine. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday said the situation is “very difficult”, especially with no embassy footprint in the country.

Now Mark, who was Defence Minister under the last Labour-NZ First coalition government, is calling on an urgent push to get an embassy in Ukraine.

Mark has been in constant contact with the Abelen family since his tragic death, as well as with Kiwis in the country’s eastern areas.

“Dominic was a popular and respected guy in his unit. All the people I speak to in the NZDF are gutted – they’re just gutted. It doesn’t matter what the rules were, at the end of the day he was still one of them,” he said.

Given that the Russian Embassy is still operating in Wellington, and there is a New Zealand Embassy in Moscow, Mark questioned why there is no diplomatic presence in Ukraine itself.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has been intense. File photo / Andriy Andriyenko
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has been intense. File photo / Andriy Andriyenko

Russia’s Embassy in New Zealand has reiterated previous statements from the country’s foreign ministry that it was not responsible for the lives of foreign citizens who took part in “illegal military activities in Ukraine”.

“If we’re supporting Ukraine with our sanctions against Russia, sending over 120 troops which is not a small contribution, and we know there are Kiwis in there, and that there will likely be more going, but we maintain a diplomatic post in Moscow and we allow a Russian embassy here in New Zealand, then why don’t we go to Kiev and set up an embassy there?” Mark told the Herald.

“We say we support them and stand with them… What’s the reason for not setting up an embassy in Ukraine?”

Dominic Abelen, from the Royal NZ Infantry Regiment's 2/1 Battalion, killed in Ukraine. Photo / Supplied
Dominic Abelen, from the Royal NZ Infantry Regiment’s 2/1 Battalion, killed in Ukraine. Photo / Supplied

Corporal Abelen had not been given permission to enter Ukraine and he had not told them about his plans, the NZDF said in a statement on Friday.

“It is not known how many NZDF personnel on leave without pay may be in Ukraine. No personnel have been approved by NZDF to enter the country,” it said.

It declined to say whether it was checking the whereabouts of all its soldiers on leave, including those on leave without pay.

Ex-soldier and former mayor of Tauranga Tenby Powell is in Ukraine providing humanitarian aid and helping with the evacuation of civilians.

He was working closely with the Defence Force to bring back the body, he has said.

MFAT’s official advice to Kiwis remains not to travel to Ukraine.

“There is a real risk to life and the New Zealand Government is severely limited in its ability to provide consular assistance to New Zealand citizens in Ukraine,” a spokeswoman said yesterday.

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