Ukraine invasion: Defence Minister Peeni Henare takes secret trip to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian counterpart

He had just 10 hours in the bitter cold of Kyiv's winter, to soak up nine of months of pain and suffering, and pass on New Zealand's continued aroha to Ukraine. 

Minister of Defence Peeni Henare's top secret mission in Ukraine, was a significant one.

Various world leaders including the French President, German Chancellor, and the UK Prime Minister have made a similar trip since the war began, but almost a year since the conflict began Minister Henare is the first member of the current New Zealand government to travel to Kyiv, with Jacinda Ardern declining an invite from President Zelensky in June due to scheduling challenges. 

"We were always clear that one, we didn't want to be a burden and two, the Prime Minister has always said that it was on the table and it just worked out quite well with my presence here."

Henare made the journey in and out of the country from Poland to Kyiv on an overnight train and spent a day expressing New Zealand's ongoing solidarity for Ukraine.

"We're here, we're here to support Ukraine and the impact of this conflict on them isn't lost on us."

The UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also arrived in the country today, on a surprise visit to meet with President Zelensky. 

Oleksii Reznikov and Peeni Henare.
Oleksii Reznikov and Peeni Henare. Photo credit: Supplied

Central to the New Zealand contingent's journey was a meeting with Minister Henare's Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov.

"We talked quite a bit about the rebuild piece and I used Christchurch as an example, it takes a while to rebuild and you need support to do that." 

Parting ways after a shared lunch, the Ministers shared a warm hug. It was an embrace that carried the unspoken understanding of the gravity of Reznikov's job in this war.

In an exchange of gifts, Minister Henare brought a wooden patu with him to give to his counterpart; a gift for "a chief". Henare was gifted Reznikov's personal coin in response. 

Minister Henare toured the city's main square, Saint Michaels, with the Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine. Together, they laid wreaths at the wall of remembrance, where the faces of the thousands of Ukrainians who have died in this conflict since 2014, stare out at the world they left earlier than most. 

Oleksandr Polishchuk and Peeni Henare at the Wall of Rememberance.
Oleksandr Polishchuk and Peeni Henare at the Wall of Rememberance. Photo credit: Supplied

For Henare, that was the most poignant moment of the day, a reminder that the ultimate cost of war is the lives of innocent people. 

"That wall of remembrance and seeing all those faces, the tragedy of war, sets in."

In an attempt to understand the extent of the damage the Russians have caused in this city, Henare also journeyed north to the town of Irpin, one of the hardest hit when Russia made their advance towards the capital in February. 

Irpin and Bucha were both occupied by Russian soldiers for three weeks, with Bucha suffering some of the worst war crimes recorded in this war to date. 

New Zealand recently extended its defence deployments to support Ukraine until the middle of next year, with the government pledging to spend $3.7 million more in aid funding. 

It includes an infantry training programme based in the UK, training Ukrainian troops to prepare them for the frontline. 

Minister Henare is now back in Poland, having taken the overnight train out of Kyiv.