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Zambia seeks answers after student imprisoned in Russia dies in Ukraine war 

The 23-year-old student was serving a jail sentence at a medium-security prison on the outskirts of Moscow, Zambia’s foreign affairs minister said.
Ukrainian tank on a road near the front line in Donetsk.
Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region this year. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Zambia has asked Russia to explain how one of its citizens who had been serving a prison sentence in Moscow ended up on the battlefield in Ukraine, where he was killed, Zambia’s foreign affairs minister said on Monday.

Stanley Kakubo said in a statement that Russia had notified Zambia about the death in September of Lemekhani Nyirenda, but did not provide details.

The Zambian student was serving a jail sentence at a medium security prison on the outskirts of Moscow after being convicted of contravening Russian law, Kakubo said, without specifying the offence that occurred in April 2020.

“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,” Kakubo said.

It was not clear how the prisoner was recruited and by whom. Reuters could not independently verify the details surrounding his death.

“He was serving the prison sentence when he was conscripted into the army to go and fight in Ukraine but we don’t know who conscripted him,” the student’s father Edwin Nyirenda said.

Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the circumstances of his journey to Ukraine and subsequent death.

The 23-year-old, who was studying nuclear engineering at a university in Moscow, was convicted and jailed for nine years and six months, according to Kakubo.

His father said Lemekhani was jailed for drug trafficking while doing a part-time job as a courier.

According to Edwin Nyirenda, his son was given a parcel, which contained drugs and the police were not able to identify the person who gave it to him.

Kakubo said further details would be provided once official communication was received from the Russian authorities on the circumstances surrounding the Zambian’s death.

His remains have been transported to the Russian border town of Rostov in readiness for repatriation to Zambia, Kakubo added.

“We just 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,” Nyirenda said.

The family said they were planning to go to Russia to identify the body.