Zambian authorities said they will travel next week to Russia to retrieve the body of a 23-year-old Zambian who died while fighting for the Russian military in Ukraine. His family and the Zambian government are still waiting for answers from Moscow on how he was recruited into the army while serving a nine-year prison sentence in Russia.
Zambian ministry of information and media spokesperson Thabo Kawana confirmed that the ministry of foreign affairs is spearheading efforts to bring the body of Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda back to Zambia for burial.
Kawana said the minister of foreign affairs is in contact with Nyirenda’s family and has visited them.
“The government is also offering support during this trying moment and doing everything they can to arrange for the funeral and repatriation of the body back to Zambia,” Kawana said. “Using our diplomatic channels and our all-weather cooperation between Russia and ourselves, we will be able to get to the bottom of this matter.”
Nyirenda, a student, was born to a middle class family of lecturers at the University of Zambia, Edwin and Florence Nyirenda. He was the youngest of four children.
Nyirenda had a twin brother, Tivo. Their older sister Munangalu Nyirenda said Lemekhani had big dreams to develop Zambia. She said her close-knit family is devastated by his death.
“He was our baby brother, they have robbed him of his bright future,” she said. “Why? Why? This hurts so bad, we need some answers from Russia.”
Peter Daka, a close friend of Nyirenda’s who is based in Moscow, described him as a determined and brilliant young man.
“He was certainly a good boy, serious and determined at what he was doing; he is the guy who knew exactly what he wanted and went for it,” Daka said. “In whatever scandal he found himself in in 2020 personally I never understood, it’s sad that in the end we lost him.”
For Boniface Cheembe, a human rights defender and executive director of the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, a human rights think tank, Lemekhani Nyirenda’s basic human rights were violated by Russia.
“There are issues around human rights … especially where it concerns the consent of the individual,” Cheembe said.
The Russian Embassy in Lusaka refused to comment on the matter despite having agreed to a press request.
Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stanley Kakubo said last Monday that Nyirenda, who had been studying at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, was serving a nine-year prison sentence for a drug offense.
He said Nyirenda was killed on the front lines in September, but Russian authorities had only just informed Zambia of the death.
Kakubo said that Zambia had demanded answers over the student’s death and why he had been sent to Ukraine.
Many 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.