By Enyichukwu Enemanna
The body of a 23-year-old Zambian student who died while fighting for the Russian army in the war in Ukraine has been returned home.
The body of Lemekani Nyirenda, who was studying nuclear engineering in Russia before joining the military, arrived at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka on Sunday.
Although he had been a student, Lemekani was convicted of drug trafficking in April 2020 and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
He was later pardoned through a special amnesty on condition that he participate in the war and he was killed while fighting in Ukraine.
Zambia’s government has requested that Russian authorities give details of Lemekani’s demise, the foreign affairs minister, Stanley Kakubo, said.
“We were told that on August 23 he was conditionally pardoned and was allowed to participate in a special military operation in which he was killed in September,” said Kakubo in a statement. “We then demanded that officials provide details, not just of his recruitment.”
He said that DNA tests to confirm his identity have been conducted and Russian compensation will be given to his family.
Zambia will work to ensure that nothing like this happens again to a Zambian studying in Russia and that there are no other Zambians in Russian prisons, said Kakubo.
Zambians have expressed sadness that a young student was pressed into the Russian military to fight their war in Ukraine.
“The pain of losing a loved one in unclear circumstances is unbearable. How can Russia start recruiting our citizens studying on scholarship to fight their war? It’s definitely not right and our government should ensure they protect the lives of our citizens in Russia,” said Catherine Mwenya, a Lusaka resident.
Another Zambian urged the government to condemn Russia for the death.
“This death requires government to strongly censure Russia and tell them to stop sacrificing our young people studying there to fight this unwanted war with Ukraine. I just hope they do that and draw a clear line for what can be tolerated or not,” Kendricks Phiri said.
Family spokesperson Ian Banda said the body will be taken to the mortuary at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka where the doctors will conduct forensic pathology on the body starting Monday.
Banda said the burial program will only be announced after the pathology results have been established.