Dominic Abelen: Father of Kiwi soldier killed in Ukraine gives heartwarming tribute

The father of a New Zealand soldier killed in Ukraine has given a heartwarming tribute and revealed he didn't know his son was in the Eastern European country until he got there. 

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) confirmed in a statement the soldier who was killed in Ukraine while on leave was Corporal Dominic Abelen.

Abelen, 28, served with 2nd/1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR) based in Burnham, and had served with the NZDF for 10 years.

He was on a period of leave without pay at the time of his death and was not on active duty with the NZDF.

Abelen's father Bryce Abelen said in a statement despite his son being in the army for 10 years he never got to fight for his country. 

"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," Bryce said. 

"That is Dominic, always thinking of helping others. We understand why he went and hold no grudge against the NZ or Ukraine Army and fully support what he did."

Bryce described his son as a kind, gentle man with the "most infectious smile that you couldn't help but smile back". 

"He had a love of the outdoors and did a lot of tramping. He spent his holidays travelling around New Zealand and the world," Bryce said.

"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."

Dominic Abelen
Dominic Abelen Photo credit: Supplied

He said his son loved the army and the life-long friends he made there. 

"There has been relentless support from half the Burnham Military Camp that knew him, as well as personnel from overseas," Bryce said. 

Abelen's sister and brothers described him as the "most amazing human being" and "the buffest Abelen with the biggest heart to match." 

"I am so proud to call you my brother, I knew you always wanted to risk your life for what you believe in. You proved that so I won't be sad that you are gone but proud that you lived the life of a hero," Abelen's sister and brothers said. 

"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."

Acting Chief of Army Brigadier Rose King said the New Zealand Army's thoughts were with 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.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also told media on Thursday she was devasted when she received the news a New Zealand soldier had died.

"This death represents a deep tragedy for a Kiwi family who you can see from their statements their brother was a beloved member of their family, they were deeply proud of his service to New Zealand and of course, as you would expect are absolutely mourning his loss.

"I want to do nothing more than to share my deep condolences to the family for the tragic loss of his life."

 Dominic Abelen
Dominic Abelen Photo credit: Facebook

The NZDF is supporting consular officials in respect of possible options regarding formal identification and repatriation, noting the very difficult circumstances of doing so in a conflict zone.

Commanding Officer of 2/1 RNZIR Lieutenant Colonel Cory Neale said Corporal Abelen was a well-liked and respected soldier who had deployed to Iraq during his time in service.

"Corporal Abelen was a quality junior non-commissioned officer, a trusted go-to member of his company and an absolute character who genuinely cared for his soldiers and friends. He will be missed, but also remembered long into the future."

NZDF said they're still making inquiries into the circumstances of Abelen's death, and his leave request did not include plans to travel to Ukraine. 

It's not known how many ex-serving personnel may have travelled to Ukraine. No personnel have been approved by NZDF to enter the country, the Defence Force said.  

"No NZDF personnel on active service have entered Ukraine since this conflict began," NZDF said in a statement.