Puzzle of Zambian student jailed in Russia for nine years but died fighting in Ukraine

Local residents look at a graffiti made by Banksy on the wall of a destroyed building in Borodyanka, near Kyiv on November 12, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • The 23-year-old Nathan Nyirenda's remains have been transported to the Russian border town of Rostov ahead of repatriation to Zambia.

Zambia's foreign minister on Monday said a Zambian student who had been jailed in Russia was killed in fighting in Ukraine, and demanded an explanation from the Kremlin.

Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda, 23, who had been serving a prison sentence in Moscow, "passed away on September 22, 2022, in Ukraine," minister Stanley Kakubo said in a statement, adding he died "at the battlefront."

The statement said Nyirenda, who had been studying nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, had been handed a jail term in April 2020 of nine years and six months.

He was incarcerated at Tyer medium security prison on the outskirts of the city, it said. The statement did not specify the alleged offence.

"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," Kakubo said. 

Ukrainian officials say the Wagner mercenary group has been sending thousands of soldiers recruited in Russian prisons to the front line, with the promise of a salary and an amnesty.

Several Ukrainian soldiers on the front line in Bakhmut said last month that alleged ex-convicts were being used as bait to draw fire and reveal Ukrainian positions.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Wagner may have recruited up to 2,000 former prisoners to fight.

Niyrenda's remains have been transported to the Russian border town of Rostov ahead of repatriation to Zambia, the statement added.


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