Defence Minister Peeni Henare warns ‘Ukraine is an active war zone’, as New Zealand troops head to the UK to help train soldiers.

NZ Army personnel leaving for the UK on 30 August.NZ Army personnel leaving for the UK this morning. Photo: RNZ/Nick Monro

The main group of NZ Army personnel were leaving from the base this morning for the United Kingdom to train Ukrainian infantry recruits.

The government announced this month New Zealand was sending another 120 Defence staff to the UK to help train Ukraine soldiersto defend against Russia after the completion of the previous 30-strong deployment.

The deployment would last until 30 November, and was to enable two teams to train Ukrainian infantry with core skills for frontline combat including weapon handling, combat first aid, operational law and more. It would contribute to the UK’s efforts to train 10,000 Ukrainian troops.

NZDF Commander Joint Forces Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour this morning confirmed no one in the contingent leaving now for the UK to train Ukrainian soldiers would be on leave without pay.

He said leave without pay was something armed forces personnel took when they wanted a break from their careers.

“… it is not something that happens whilst you’re deployed on operation.”

He said the current regiment leaving was highly skilled to train Ukrainian soldiers. “This is a real opportunity for us to hone our skills while training others.”

Gilmour said the training would mean Ukrainian troops were “more effective on the battlefield but also have an enhanced ability to be able to survive on that battlefield and be lethal whilst they’re there”.

Henare said New Zealand citizens around the world should be warned: “Ukraine is an active war zone.

“We’ve made it quite clear that there is a ‘no travel’ notice for Ukraine and that will still stand, I can’t see that coming away any time soon whether they be ex-NZDF personnel or others who are wanting to go there and assist.”

Henare said those who chose to go to Ukraine must understand “our ability to reach in and to support through consular efforts is almost non-existent”.

Yesterday the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) confirmed its embassy in Poland’s capital Warsaw is working with officials in Ukraine to try to repatriate the body of New Zealand soldier Corporal Dominic Abelen, who died fighting Russian forces while on leave without pay.