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Gisborne soldier’s Ukrainian godson following UK training stint

Lance Corporal Kamalani Tureia-Siataga went to the United Kingdom to help train new Ukrainian troops but returns with plenty of Ukrainian friends and also as the godfather to the son of a Ukrainian soldier.

14 December, 2022

The infantryman, from Manutuke near Gisborne, was one of 120 New Zealand Army personnel who spent three months in the United Kingdom as part of an international programme training Ukrainians at British Army camps so they can return to fight the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Basic training in the NZ Army takes 16 weeks, but the New Zealanders had only five weeks on Salisbury Plain to teach the Ukrainians basic infantry skills such as shooting accurately, working as a team, combat first aid and surviving on a battlefield.

Lance Corporal Tureia-Siataga said the start to training was quite difficult but as they got to know the translators better it  improved. He began to make friends with those involved, many of who came from farming and labouring backgrounds.

“I’ve made so many Ukrainian friends. [I’m] Also keeping in touch with my Ukrainian soldiers, just to find out how they and their families are doing,” he said.

Lance Corporal Kamalani Tureia-Siataga on Salisbury Plain, where NZ Army soldiers have been training Ukrainians in infantry skills

Lance Corporal Kamalani Tureia-Siataga on Salisbury Plain, where NZ Army soldiers have been training Ukrainians in infantry skills

A soldier and a woman stand next to a white board while talking to a group of soldiers sitting at the edge of a field, by the trees.

Ukrainian recruits take instruction from NZ Army soldiers in the basic infantry skills such as shooting, combat first aid and fighting in various environments

On the last day of training the second and final rotation, one of the Ukrainians approached Lance Corporal Tureia-Siataga.

He came up to me and asked if I could be the godfather to his baby boy, who was born while he was doing the training.

It was a special honour, Lance Corporal Tureia-Siataga said.

“Once this is all over and done with we can try and meet each other again and share a beer. Whether that’s in New Zealand or Ukraine, who knows.”

It was Lance Corporal Tureia-Siataga’s first operational deployment and he felt it was for a just cause.

The Ukrainians were training in the UK because they loved their homeland and wanted to defend it, he said.

“We are teaching them survivability and lethality and it’s a huge help to our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.”

They were really hard working and really keen to learn, he said.

“In five weeks they learned so much. They try to pick every single bit of information we’ve got to offer.

“Kiwi soldiers are helping the Ukrainians and their families. Five weeks is a short time to teach them but it should give them enough tools to go the battlefield and perform.”