A 23-year-old Zambian student named Lemekhani Nathan Nyirenda was killed while in combat in Ukraine, Zambia’s foreign ministry announced on Monday.
Nyirenda, who was jailed in Russia, was being sponsored by the Zambian government to study nuclear engineering at the country’s prestigious Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. But in 2020, his educational dreams came crashing down when Russian authorities convicted him for unspecified crimes CNN noted.
In a statement, officials from the ministry said they were notified about Nyirenda’s death “on 9th November 2022… at the battlefront of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.”
According to the statement, the ministry wasn’t aware that the young student was fighting on the frontlines for Moscow. Now, they’re searching for answers.
“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,” the statement read.
Russian military officials have been offering prisoners hefty rewards for joining the military
Back in August, a deep CNN investigation revealed that Russian authorities were recruiting prisoners into the military and offering rewards to reduce their lengthy sentences. An anonymous prisoner told the outlet that hundreds of inmates had been approached by the Russian military. Many of them had died since the war began.
“They will accept murderers, but not rapists, pedophiles, extremists, or terrorists”, the source said. “Amnesty or a pardon in six months is on offer. Somebody talks about 100,000 rubles a month, another 200,000. Everything is different.”
The unnamed source said the offers were being made by a private military contractor firm. The source also admitted that they wouldn’t be opposed to joining the military if the deal was in fact “real.”
“I’m all for it. It can make a real difference for me: be imprisoned for nearly a decade, or get out in six months if you’re lucky. But that’s if you’re lucky. I just want to go home to the children as soon as possible. If this option is possible, then why not?” the prisoner added.
Could this impact Brittney Griner?
It’s unclear how many other African citizens have been recruited since Russia and Ukraine began their turbulent war against one another. But Nyirenda’s unfortunate story has now raised concerns for detained basketball star Brittney Griner, who was recently sentenced to nine years in prison on drug smuggling charges. Earlier this month, the former Phoenix Mercury star was transferred to one of Russia’s notorious penal colonies, which are known for their unsafe and health hazardous conditions. Could she be forced to fight for Russia now that she’s finally serving her sentence? It’s still unclear.
When Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February, thousands of African students fled the country to seek refuge. Many said they faced racism and discrimination as they tried to cross Ukraine’s border to safety.
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