Hundreds of people attended a memorial service for a Zambian student who died fighting for Russia in Ukraine on Tuesday (January 23) in Lusaka, while Tanzania confirmed the death of another student who was also being held in a Russian prison.
Family members fainted as they passed the coffin of Lemekani Nyirenda at a Baptist church in Lusaka, where the 23-year-old was a regular religious before moving to Russia to study nuclear engineering.
Nyirenda was recruited by the Russian mercenary group Wagner last year while serving a nine-and-a-half-year sentence for a drug offense and sent to Ukraine to fight.
His death in September has sparked a diplomatic row with Zambia demanding an urgent statement from the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, Tanzania confirmed on Tuesday that another student, Nimes Tarimo, was killed after Wagner recruited him to prison.
“When Tarimo was serving a prison sentence, I had the opportunity to join the Russian Army Group Wagner for money and a promise of his release after the war,” said Tanzanian Foreign Minister Sturgeomena Tax.
Tarimo agreed and was transported to Ukraine, where he was killed on October 24.
In recent months, men from Russian prisons have been recruited to fight on the front lines in Ukraine with promises of reduced sentences and attractive fees.
Tarimo, who had been studying in Russia since 2020, was arrested in March 2022 and sentenced to seven years in prison for unknown reasons.
“It is illegal for a Tanzanian to join a foreign army,” the foreign minister added.
On Tuesday (January 23), Nyirenda’s father Edwin paid tribute to his son, saying he was a hard worker who helped start the family’s beehive business.