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Lemekani Nathan Nyirenda, the Zambian student killed last year in a September battle against the Ukrainian Army, was buried Wednesday at a private ceremony in his home country.
Nyirenda died on the frontlines of the Ukraine war while fighting for Russian mercenary group Wagner.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, admitted to recruiting Nyirenda from a Russian jail, saying he chose to fight to “repay (Africa’s) debts” to Russia and “died a hero.”
“Wagner almost certainly now commands 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign,” according to the UK Ministry of Defence.
The BBC reports the organization started recruiting in large numbers last year because Russia had trouble finding people for the regular army.
About 80% of its active troops in Ukraine have been drawn from prisons, according to the US National Security Council.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is thought the Wagner Group had only about 5,000 fighters.
His family representative Dr. Ian Banda spoke to CNN Wednesday morning as the family headed to Nyirenda’s final resting place in his village.
“We are going to bury him now…. We are in a convoy… His (Nyirenda’s) mother and father are in a vehicle behind me. They are crying right now,” Banda said.
According to CNN, Nyirenda’s body was returned to Zambia last month.
On its December 11 arrival, his remains were transported to Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital Mortuary for post-mortem checks in compliance with Zambian laws.
“The funeral gathering at the Nyirenda family residence, burial and memorial service formalities shall only commence upon completion of the aforementioned mandatory statutory procedures,” a family statement said at the time.
Banda told CNN forensic investigation carried out on Nyirenda’s body had been “confirmed,” without releasing further details.
In a follow-up statement last month, the ministry explained Nyirenda was pardoned by the Russian government in August “to join a military operation in exchange for amnesty” and “was killed in September 2022 while participating in military activities.”
Nyirenda is not the first African student killed in the Ukrainian battlefront fighting for Russia in a development that has sparked fury across the motherland.
A Tanzanian national, identified as Nemes Tarimo by his country’s foreign ministry, was killed last October last while fighting with Wagner in exchange for money and amnesty.
Tarimo was a master’s student at the Moscow Technological University; he studied Business Informatics before being imprisoned for what were described as drugs-related offenses by Russian authorities. According to The Moscow Times, Russians overwhelmingly believe their police officers have “routinely” planted drugs on citizens.
Described by relatives as polite, God-fearing and supportive, the family says that Tarimo, who had ambitions to be an MP with the opposition Chadema party, was enticed to sign up and be pardoned from his prison sentence.
“He said he would join to free himself,” a relative said.
African students have been caught in the middle of Putin’s War from the very beginning
Discrimination and outright racist claims against Ukrainian officials caused many Black people in Ukraine to restrategize their exodus from the war-torn country at the conflict’s onset.
African citizens, in particular students, reported incidents of racial discrimination and abuse at the Ukrainian border with Poland.
The BBC reports Ukraine was home to over 76,000 foreign students, according to government data from 2020.
Nearly a quarter of the students were from Africa, with the largest numbers coming from Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.
Though Brittney Griner’s near 300 day incarceration made the most headlines, organizations like the Lviv Center for Urban History, Fight for Right, BOCTOK-SOS and the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights worked behind the scenes to liberate Black people left stranded.
A trio of women, Korrine Sky, Tokunbo Koiki, and Patricia Daley formed Black Women for Black Lives to provide nearby Africans and Caribbeans with information on the safest routes through areas where they might face discrimination while trying to escape.
Another group of Black women started the Black in Ukraine group chat on Telegram, which facilitated communication for more than 4,500 Black people in the country and coordinated with one another for the bare necessities of safety and transportation.
Though unable to independently verify, Newsweek reports Kyiv estimates more than 20,000 Russian troops have been killed in the war in Ukraine during the last month alone.
RIP Lemekani Nathan Nyirenda.
RIP Yevgeny Prigozhin.