(GIN)—Zambian officials are seeking an explanation of the death of Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda, a former student of nuclear engineering in Moscow, who died in September fighting on the side of the Russian army.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian paramilitary Wagner group, acknowledged in early December that they recruited the Zambian student from a Russian prison but claimed he volunteered for the job.
“Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda, on September 22, was one of the first to enter the enemy trenches, showing courage and bravery,” Mr. Prigozhin, Wagner’s head of operations, posted on his social network.
Mr. Prigozhin said he remembered the young man of 23 years of age, he claimed, “died as a hero” in combat.
Zambian Minister of Foreign Affairs Stanley Kakubo is calling on Russian authorities to provide further details regarding the recruitment of Mr. Nyirenda and how he ended up fighting in Ukraine.
Mr. Nyirenda, sponsored to study nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, had been working as a part-time courier when an unknown person handed him a package containing drugs, his father Edwin Nyirenda told the Reuters news agency.
This led to his conviction on unspecified crimes in April 2020 and a sentence of nine years at Tyer medium security facility on the outskirts of the Russian capital. The family was not told who conscripted his son from prison and, the father added, only “received a message from a man we do not know in Russia who told us that there was a will, which our son left, and we should travel to Russia.”
The youth was killed on Sept. 22 after being sent to the “battlefront of the conflict,” the minister told media outlets. The ministry learned of his death on Nov. 9.
Zambia has traditionally sent students to Russia to study on scholarships, as was the case with Mr. Nyirenda.
The circumstances of his release from prison are not yet known, but Russia has offered freedom to some prisoners in exchange for fighting in its war in Ukraine.
Zambia has taken a neutral position on the Russia-Ukraine war, as many other African countries have, but says it condemns any form of war.