A 23 year old Zambian student studying Nuclear Engineering in Russia has died in Ukraine while fighting on the war front.

Lemekhani Nyirenda was a student at Moscow Engineering Physics Institute.

Two years ago, Mr. Nyirenda was convicted for drug possession and sentenced to 9 years and six months in jail.

According to records from the Zambian Embassy in Moscow, he was serving his sentence at Tyer Medium Security Prison on the outskirts of Moscow.

While studying at the Russian university, Mr. Nyirenda found a part time job at a courier company and it is reported that one day as he was delivering goods, he was stopped and searched by the Russian Police.

He was allegedly found with drugs, a crime which led him to serve two out of his 9 years jail term before he met his fate in Ukraine.

At a press briefing held in Lusaka, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs and International Corporation Minister Stanely Kakubo broke the news of the student’s demise.

“The Ministry is saddened to inform the nation that, on 9th November, 2022, it was notified of the demise of Mr. Nyirenda, at the battlefront of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Through the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Moscow, the Ministry immediately proceeded to verify this information where it was established that Mr. Nyirenda indeed passed away on 22nd September, 2022, in Ukraine,” said Mr. Kakubo.

Circumstances of his recruitment and travel to Ukraine are still unclear.

In recent months, with Russia facing huge resistance and loses on the battlefront in Ukraine, social media stories of prisoners in Russia being recruited to fight in Ukraine surfaced.

The Zambian government is now asking for answers on how its citizen found himself on the battlefront.

“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,” said Mr. Kakubo.

Following his death, Mr. Nyirenda’s remains have now been moved to the Russian city of Rostov awaiting repatriation to Zambia.

Mr. Kakubo has visited the family of the deceased to update them on the developments.

But when reached for a comment by this blogger, Mr. Nyirenda’s family refused to comment, citing privacy.

Zambia has 711 students studying in Russia, 555 of whom are on government sponsorship while the remainder are on self sponsorship.

The deceased was on government sponsorship. Zambia has thousands of Russian trained professionals in fields such as medicine, engineering and mathematics.

Russia was one of the first countries to recognize Zambia’s independence in 1964 and maintains a cultural center in Lusaka.

On an annual basis, Zambian students get government scholarships to study in Russia.

Photo: AMISON via Iwaria