Body of Kiwi slain in Ukraine Kane Te Tai coming home - family

By Charlotte Cook for RNZ 

The whānau of slain New Zealander Kane Te Tai believe bringing his body back to New Zealand from Ukraine will cost more $65,000, and his uncle is headed over there to accompany him home.

Te Tai was killed in action while clearing a trench earlier in March in the Vuhledar region of Ukraine. He had been in the country almost a year. 

He is the third New Zealander to die in the conflict.  

While his grieving family would like to get him home quickly, there is a lengthy, complicated and expensive process to do that.

They are working through the process with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

"Our plan is to have Kane home as soon as possible in order for Kane to be with his family one more time before we begin his journey to his Tupuna," his mother Ngaire Te Tai said.

Te Tai's body is still in Ukraine, under the care of the local authorities, but his mother had been concerned about her son being left alone. 

Members from his reconnaissance unit he had worked with for most of his time in the conflict zone are now looking after his body to ease her worries. 

New Zealanders on the ground in Ukraine have told RNZ there will be a service for him in Kyiv before he is released back to Aotearoa. 

Around that time, Te Tai's uncle will travel over to Ukraine and ready to escort the body all the way back home to his Auckland marae. 

It won't be a straightforward journey though.

"The overall picture is bringing Kane through to Poland using local authorities and then their local carrier," Ngaire Te Tai said.

"It's a lengthy process so we are just taking each day as it comes and remaining focused and patient."

That process is filled with logistical planning, approvals, administration, and a heavy cost.

The whānau believe it will cost $65,000 and have started a fundraiser to get the money together.

"This is a sum that we the whānau do not have. So, we have started a Givealittle page and are asking with our hands wide open for any monetary support to bring a soldier home."

Te Tai's parents while they prepare for his repatriation, they also have a nightly ritual of looking at his social media.

"This helps create a sense of connection to him for us. In an excerpt from one of his posts he writes: 'All good to say you stand for something, but be consistent, because ideas die when you decide to walk out on them'.

"His legacy will not only live on in our hearts but the hearts of all good people.

"His social media has most of his life's journey documented which has us his grieving whānau reading from another lens now understanding why he went and fought the fight for freedom."

When Te Tai is returned home he will lay briefly at an Auckland marae, which is still to be confirmed, before his burial. 

The family told RNZ he will be farewelled under tikanga Māori, with additional military components. 

Whānau meet family of man Kane Te Tai saved

Te Tai had most recently been working around Vuhledar and Bakhmut where fighting had recently intensified.

Just a few weeks before his death, Te Tai had gone internationally viral after a video he posted on social media showed him finding a "long lost friend". 

He rescued that man who was starved and had been shot four times and took him to hospital personally. 

His name is Alexander Gordeev and he is alive because of Te Tai's efforts.

After hearing of the news of his passing Gordeev's family reached out to the Te Tai's. On Sunday evening, his cousin, Valerie Kay was able to meet Te Tai's siblings in Brisbane.

Te Tai's parents Ngaire and Keith Te Tai said she thanked them on behalf of Gordeev's family for their brother's efforts in the war which saved her cousin's life and to extend support to the grieving family.

Family of Kane Te Tai meets family of man he saved.
Family of Kane Te Tai meets family of man he saved. Photo credit: Supplied/Ngaire Te Tai

A letter penned by Kane Te Tai before his death

Not that I think that I'll be in the news, or worthy of being in the news, but here's for if so and obviously I haven't made it, here it is. I never really liked you guys anyway (haha)

I've enjoyed myself here I've learnt to live and to love here. I have fallen in love with the people, the country. I came out here not fully knowing what I was getting myself into, but now I am here and five months on, my resolve has only grown stronger.

This place has a strength, that appears from the outside, as a picture of propaganda or something that is manufactured. It isn't. The inner strength born from a people invaded is so strong that I, and people like me (including my brother and now deceased team mate Dominic Abelen) are compelled to join this fight.

You'll say this isn't our fight. You're right, it's not our fight. It's not our responsibility to help a mother carry in her groceries when she's trying to get her kid inside. It's not our responsibility to get involved when four teenagers gang up on a kid at a train station. It's not our fight - if we don't want it to be. We can choose to help or not, neither is wrong. But if location or who they are and what their political leaning is and if that is what is bothering you, or the ramifications of what it could bring to our country is your defence, I'll let you in on a little secret. Life makes you choose. And sometimes you've got to expose yourself to help others. Sometimes you have to put some skin in the game, sometimes all of it. But don't let excuses be the thing that stops you from helping others. On many occasions I've told soldiers here about what makes a soldier better, and it comes down to one thing. A good soldier saves energy to save himself but a great soldier digs deep for the energy to save the person next to him. Help one another, if you go out like that then it isn't a waste.

I'm dragging on, and I hate being a bore. In conclusion, I loved my life. I loved the people in it. My friends, my family, the woman who has my heart and my attention and my kid, who along with everyone else is going to wonder why. Here is part of the why. I couldn't leave while others who didn't choose this can't either. I couldn't take the small amount of experience and keeness I have to offer out of a place that needs it. And selfishly, I love this stuff. I haven't felt this satisfied and alive for a long time. It has been great to be around people with the same mindset and goals. To be able to drink from the Oasis in the vast desert again.

This is not a love letter to romantise this choice or a reason for others to follow. Just know what you're getting yourself in for. And if you decide to come then know for sure that this could be it. Your choice has consequences for others too, I have been selfish and made that choice for them.

To my country New Zealand, be happy, be in love, find a reason to be in love with your life. I'll miss your mountains, your rivers and the sea, so much.

To Ukraine, you'll win. You'll see the sunflower fields plentiful under a free yellow and blue flag in the wind soon, I know it. Zhovti Vodi, you'll be in my soul forever.

Lastly, to my team, I know you did your best. Keep going with life, get a W for us and conduct yourselves with courage, honour and compassion as we have done since being here.

My Mexican and Military family, see you guys at the RV in the sky with the rest of our friends. Kura Takahi Puni, Onward.

Слава Україні! (Glory to Ukraine)