A New Zealand veteran who led an elite unit in Ukraine and staged a dramatic rescue was killed in the fighting

  • A New Zealand veteran who led an elite unit in Ukraine died on Monday.
  • Kane Te Tai, an ethnic Maori, documented his time on the front lines on social media.
  • A viral video showed how he helped rescue a Ukrainian prisoner of war in Bakhmut earlier this month.

A New Zealand veteran who led an elite unit in Ukraine and helped rescue a prisoner of war was killed on the front lines, according to multiple reports.

Kane Te Tai, whose code name was “Turtle”, was killed on Monday, New Zealand’s foreign ministry confirmed to Insider. 

It did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his death, but Radio New Zealand reported that Te Tai was in the town of Vulhedar when he ended up separated from his unit and was killed in the trenches by Russian soldiers. 

His mother, Ngaire Te Tai, told Radio New Zealand that her son’s contacts in Ukraine confirmed his death and that his body had been recovered.

Te Tai, who is Maori, enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 2002 at the age of 17, The New Yorker reported in December. He went to fight in Ukraine in May and led a secretive reconnaissance unit that was part of the GUR, an intelligence organization in the Ukrainian military.

Kane TeTai, a New Zealand veteran fighting in Ukraine

Kane Te Tai in an interview with CNN in Vulhedar, Ukraine, recorded in February 2023.


Te Tai did a tour in Afghanistan and then worked as a private security contractor before going to Ukraine.

In February, CNN interviewed Te Tai as he trained new recruits in Vulhedar, where he and other foreign soldiers said they understood they could be killed fighting for a country that isn’t their own.

Jordan O’Brien, another New Zealander fighting in Ukraine, told Insider he knew Te Tai as  “a solid soldier who did his part to help a country in need.”

Insider spoke to Te Tai not long before he died and was in the process of arranging an interview.

The soldier, who was active on social media, frequently documented what fighting on the front lines in Ukraine looked like. Earlier this month, a video showing his unit’s rescue of a Ukrainian prisoner in Bakhmut, went viral.

Footage from Te Tai’s bodycam showed the moment the prisoner recognized him, shouting “New Zealand! New Zealand!” Te Tai, overjoyed, yelled “my brother!” in response.

The captive, identified as Alexei Gordeyev, was found while Te Tai and his unit stormed a basement on Russian territory, according to Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian government.

“It was the best thing to happen to me in this God-forsaken war,” Te Tai captioned the video. “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.”

In an interview with Newshub on Tuesday, friend Aaron Wood said Te Tai was a “man amongst men,”

“A guy like that, who you can rely on in extreme circumstances, you don’t run into that too often,” he said.

Te Tai told The New Yorker in December that he was not afraid of dying, saying: “I’ve had a good life, I can die happy.”

As of Wednesday, New Zealand media reported that efforts were underway to bring his body home.

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