A 23-year-old Zambian student who moved to Russia to study nuclear engineering was killed fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine—and Zambian officials want to know just how the hell that happened.
According to a statement from Zambia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda was killed on Sept. 22 after being sent to the “battlefront of the conflict.” The ministry said it was only notified of his death on Nov. 9.
It was not immediately clear which region he died in, or which battalion he was serving in. But the most baffling part of his death is how he wound up taking part in the war in the first place.
Nyirenda was serving a nine-year sentence in a prison in Tver when he was apparently recruited, the ministry said, without providing details on the conviction against him.
“The Zambian Government has requested the Russian authorities to urgently provide information on the circumstances under which a Zambian citizen, serving a prison sentence in Moscow, could have been recruited to fight in Ukraine and subsequently lose his life,” the ministry said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it is looking into the circumstances of Nyirenda’s death, RIA Novosti reported.
The independent Russian news outlet Ostorozhno, Novosti reported that Nyirenda wound up in prison after being caught with synthetic drugs in 2020 in a Moscow park. While his path from there to the battlefield remains murky, Russian human rights groups pointed the finger at Russia’s notorious Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked private army run by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin that has recruited hundreds of prison inmates to take part in the war.
“A young guy from Zambia came to Moscow to study … and now his body is in a Rostov morgue in a body bag, and over two years he managed to sit in pretrial detention, get a prison sentence in court, and be sent to a penal colony in the Tver region, where he was quickly signed up for Wagner … and sent to die in Ukraine,” the human rights group Gulagu.net wrote on Telegram.
News of Nyirenda’s death comes amid reports of prison inmates being forced to join the paramilitary outfit, and just days after a Telegram-channel linked to Prigozhin released a brutal video of a former Wagner fighter and prison inmate being “executed” with a sledgehammer to the head after he tried to defect.