The Zambian student who died in battle in Ukraine was buried Wednesday in a private ceremony in his home country, a family spokesman told CNN.
Lemekani Nathan Nyirenda died on the frontlines of the Ukraine war while fighting for Russian mercenary group Wagner in September last year.
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 told CNN.
Nyirenda’s body was returned to Zambia last month. On arrival on December 11, 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.
Nyirenda is not the first African student killed in the Ukrainian battlefront fighting for Russia in a development that has sparked fury across the continent.
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, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Tarimo was a master’s student at the Moscow Technological University, studying Business Informatics before being sent to jail for seven years for undisclosed criminal charges in March last year, the ministry stated, adding that his body had been dispatched from Russia and was expected to arrive in Tanzania soon for burial.
Nyirenda, 23, was sponsored by the Zambian government to study nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute but was convicted in 2020 of unspecified crimes in Russia and imprisoned for nine years and six months, Zambia’s foreign ministry said in a statement announcing his death in November.
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.”
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.”