A Zambian Student Jailed in Russia Was Killed on the Frontlines in Ukraine

Lemekhani Nyirenda's family are demanding answers, with the 23-year-old thought to have been conscripted from a Russian jail.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
Stanley Kakubo.
Stanley Kakubo (left). Photo:

A Zambian student died on the front lines while fighting for Russia in Ukraine after being released from jail, it has emerged. 

Zambian officials have asked the Russian government “to urgently provide information on the circumstances” surrounding the death of 23-year-old Lemekhani Nyirenda, who was convicted by a court in 2020 on vague drug charges. 

Nyirenda was studying nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and working as a part-time courier when an unknown person handed him a package containing drugs, his father, Edwin Nyirenda, told Reuters.  He was sentenced to nine years and six months in prison. 


According to a statement from Stanley Kakubo, Zambia’s minister of foreign affairs, the Zambian government was only told on the 9th of November that Nyirenda had been killed even though he died on the 22nd of September. 

Zambian officials are now demanding to know how an imprisoned student ended up on the frontlines of a war. 

“In view of this very sad development, 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. 

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Mr Nyirenda under such circumstances and commiserates with the family on their loss.”

In the past, Russia has offered early release and promises of money for hundreds of prisoners in exchange for fighting in the war against Ukraine. That’s what Edwin Nyirenda, Nyirenda’s father, believes happened to his son. 

"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," Edwin told Reuters in an interview. 

According to Edwin, his son was jailed for drug trafficking while working as a courier. He was handed a parcel containing drugs, Edwin said, but was convicted after the police were unable to find the person who gave it to him. 

Nyirenda’s remains have been transferred to the western border town of Rostov-on-Don where it will be identified by his family and prepared for repatriation back to Zambia.