President Hakainde Hichilema has expressed his grief over the recent death of a Zambian student in the Russia-Ukraine war in Europe.
It is understood that 23 year old Lemekhani Nyirenda died in September but Russian authorities only informed the Zambian government of his death last week.
Mr. Nyirenda had gone to Russia to study nuclear engineering but he was serving a jail sentence – for drug-related charges, at the time of his death.
In April 2020, Mr Nyirenda contravened the laws of the Russian Federation and as such, he was convicted and sentenced to nine years and six months imprisonment.
However, it has been established that while serving his prison term, Mr Nyirenda was allegedly recruited to fight in Ukraine.
Speaking to CNN News, President Hichilema has said it was unfortunate that Mr. Nyirenda, who was in the custody of the Russian government, has died in a war against Ukraine.
He said the Zambian Government does not understand how Nyirenda found himself in the war when he was said to be in jail.
President Hichilema said his government was waiting for an explanation from Russia on the circumstances leading to the death of the young man.
“Lemekhani Nyirenda is a 23 year old child who went to study in Russian and found himself on the wrong side of the law, got jailed for nine years. He was serving a sentence in a Russian jail. How he got out of jail, got to the war-front, got to the arms-way we don’t know as Zambians. We have asked the Russians to explain the situation,” President Hichilema said.
“We are still waiting for an explanation. We haven’t got it up to now. It is really unfortunate that a young person like him, a foreigner under the custody of Russians, could die at war, at this war, war between Russia and Ukraine. Most unfortunate we are waiting for answers and haven’t got them yet,” he said in a television news interview.
According to Foreign Affairs Minister Stanley Kakubo, Mr. Nyirenda’s remains have been transported to the Russian border town of Rostov in readiness for repatriation to Zambia.
He said the deceased was a government sponsored student, who was pursuing nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in the Russian Federation.
Through the embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Moscow, the Ministry immediately proceeded to verify this information where it was established that Mr Nyirenda indeed passed away on 22nd September, 2022, in Ukraine.
The Minister said in April 2020, Mr Nyirenda contravened the laws of the Russian Federation and as such, was subsequently convicted and sentenced to nine years and six months imprisonment.
He said Mr Nyirenda was serving his sentence at Tyer Medium security prison on the outskirts of Moscow.
Meanwhile, President Hichilema has in the past expressed his concern about the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine saying he wished to see an end to the conflict.
Speaking when he received credentials from Diplomats, among them new Russian Ambassador to Zambia Azim Yarakhmedov, last May, President Hichilema said there was need to work together to bring the war to an end.
“Your Excellency, it is my noble duty on behalf of the people of Zambia and on behalf of I believe the global community, that the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia is of great concern to us. I think if I didn’t say that, I will be deceiving the reality of ourselves and the reality on the ground. I believe it is not just Zambia, the regional community and international countries. As a proponent of peace ourselves, Zambia I am sure the history is clear of who we are, we wish to see an end to that war,” President Hichilema said.
“And we encourage your country, Ukraine and other countries in that part of the world and all of us to work together to bring that war to an end. We have to do what it takes but you are the first call, and we would like to support that call that would lead us to achieving peace, to restore order in those countries. I am saying those countries because it is not just Russia which is affected, it is not just Ukraine which is affected, it is the Polish. It is anyone else. As you know, we had to evacuate our own students from Ukraine, we would have loved them to stay. So please, let us work together. That is our plea as the global community because when we have peace and stability we can focus on development, focus on social issues, cultural issues. So, we want to wish you the best and whatever we can do as a small decent country, we would like to do.”
Meanwhile, the South African government has sent condolences to the family of Zambian student killed in the Russia-Ukraine war
Presidential Spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya said it was tragic that the world continued to experience loss of life due to conflict.
“And it is for this reason that President [Cyril] Ramaphosa has been quite consistent in calling for a dialogue between all parties concerned in resolving this conflict”, Magwenya said.