Ex-New Zealand soldier who helped veterans dies in Ukraine

March 23, 2023 GMT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A former New Zealand soldier who co-founded a charity to help struggling veterans has been killed in Ukraine, authorities said Thursday.

Ukrainian authorities confirmed the death of Kane Te Tai and the New Zealand embassy in Poland was trying to find out more details, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

Te Tai in 2017 helped register the No Duff Charitable Trust to support veterans in crisis. The trust said in a statement that it was with “immense sadness” it was sharing the news that Te Tai — who went by the code name Turtle in Ukraine — had been killed in action.

“Without him, No Duff wouldn’t exist,” the trust said. “Kane had a huge heart and loved helping people. His loss leaves a huge hole in many lives from here to Eastern Europe.”

The trust said it was in close contact with Te Tai’s family to ensure his body was returned to New Zealand.

The New Yorker magazine interviewed Te Tai late last year near the frontline village of Pavlivka, where he was leading a team of foreign volunteer fighters against the Russian invasion. He told the magazine that before coming to Ukraine, he’d ended a relationship, quit his job, and sold his house and car.

“I actually do love these people and I love this country,” Te Tai told the magazine, using the name Turtle. “I can’t go home because this is home now. It really does feel that way.”

New Zealand’s Defense Ministry said Te Tai served as an army soldier from 2002 until 2009. He had served in Afghanistan and was awarded the General Service Medal, the Operational Service Medal and the Defense Service Medal with the clasp “Regular.”

Te Tai was aged 38 and had a 12-year-old daughter, according to The New Zealand Herald.

Te Tai’s mother Ngaire Te Tai said she’d tried to stop her son going to Ukraine.

“But he’s a grown man and there’s nothing I could have done,” she told the newspaper earlier this week, before her son’s death had been confirmed. “His entire family tried to persuade him not to go. He’s a very complex fella, my son, but he’s always been very community spirited.”