Ukraine invasion: Kiwi soldier in Ukraine saves long-lost friend, presumed dead, from Russian captivity

A Kiwi soldier fighting in Ukraine has shared the emotional moment he rescued a Ukrainian friend, believed to have been killed, from Russian captivity.

Former NZ Army soldier Kane Te Tai has been fighting on the frontlines since April with Ukraine's International Legion unit.

He had reportedly fought alongside Kiwi soldier Dominic Abelen who was shot dead by Russian soldiers and is the only known Kiwi soldier to have died in the conflict so far.

A video has emerged of Te Tai saving a long-lost friend from a rubble-covered bunker in a liberated area of Ukraine.

In the video, a voice from the bunker can be heard saying "New Zealand".

"My brother… I know him, I know him!" Te Tai replies. 

The pair had bonded over the Ukrainian soldier's love of Lord of the Rings and he had expressed how he wanted to visit New Zealand one day.

Te Tai thought the young Ukrainian soldier had been killed during a Russian assault.

Dominic Abelen (left) and Kane Te Tai.
Dominic Abelen (left) and Kane Te Tai. Photo credit: Instagram/kaneactual

After taking back a Russian position a few days ago, Te Tai and a group of soldiers were clearing a bunker down in the basement of a house when they made the unexpected discovery.

On social media, Te Tai explained he heard a voice from the stairwell say "Ya Ukrayinets" which means "I'm Ukrainian" and stopped the soldiers from tossing a grenade into the bunker.

"Sceptical, we felt a trap brewing, we pushed forward and I started to go through the search process," Te Tai wrote. 

"I got on him and searched his body and tossed him to his front. Then his eyes met mine 'New Zealand! New Zealand!' I looked down. I recognised him, it was my friend who I thought was killed by the Russians when they invaded his house."

Te Tai said the man was barely recognisable as he was heavily starved for two months and forced to drink antifreeze as entertainment for Russian soldiers.

"It was the best thing to happen to me in this God-forsaken war," Te Tai wrote. 

"To be able to save your friends is something that almost never happens but I'm thankful and feel blessed that it was us that could pull him from that Hell hole."

It has been over one year since Russia invaded Ukraine resulting in thousands of deaths from both sides and the displacement of millions of Ukrainians.