By Livingstone Mtetwa
The death of a 23-year-old Zambian student who had been recruited to fight for Russia in Ukraine has left the family devastated, Business Wave has learnt.
It’s not just the mere fact that he died in Ukraine, but also the unanswered questions over the young man’s brutal death in a foreign land.
Lemekhani Nyirenda was serving a drugs-related prison sentence in Russia but was freed and deployed to the front lines in Ukraine.
“We want to know how he was conscripted without his family being notified? Was he coerced?” asked Muzang’alu Nyirenda his sister.
The family felt “robbed” by her brother’s death, she added.
Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stanley Kakubo announced on Monday that Nyirenda, who had been studying at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, was serving a nine-year prison sentence for a drug offence.
He said Nyirenda was killed on the front lines in September, but Russian authorities only just informed Zambia of the death a few days ago.
Kakubo said that Zambia had demanded answers over the student’s death and why he had been sent to Ukraine.
Most Zambians are shocked by the news, but also frustrated that the government has not shared more information to explain the circumstances that led to the student being deployed to Ukraine.
“The people that took him to that war looked down on us as a family, he was nothing to them. They used him,” she said.
The drugs arrest
Nyirenda was working as a part-time courier when he was arrested in 2020 with a parcel containing drugs, his sister said.
“We believe he didn’t know what was in the package he delivered, he told us he didn’t. He would get text messages for pick-ups and instructions on where to deliver them,” she said.
“On one occasion he was stopped by the police and searched and they found drugs in the package. He explained he was working for an online courier and didn’t know about the parcels but he was arrested,” Ms Nyirenda said.
The family, however, always remained hopeful that he would return home safely.
But while he was serving his term at a medium security prison he was recruited, his family believe, by the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group that has been conscripting prisoners to fight for Russia in Ukraine in exchange for their freedom.