We told him not to go

Nemes Tarimo died fighting with the Wagner Group in Ukraine last October, his family has learned

Nemes Tarimo’s family in Tanzania warned him against agreeing to fight with Russian forces in Ukraine, but the 33-year-old had a big incentive to sign up.

It is now three weeks since his relatives learned of the news that confirmed their worst fears. He had died in combat.

Everyone at the family home in the city of Dar es Salaam looks exhausted as they waited for news about when his body might come back.

The waiting is taking its tool.

There are about 15 people in the compound, but relatives are coming in and out every day wanting to hear if there are any updates.

One says they last heard from him in October when he had said he had agreed to sign up with the Russian mercenary group Wagner.

“Nemes informed me and some other family members about joining Wagner, and we advised him not to,” the family member, who did not want to give them their name, tells the BBC.

But for the young man, whose relatives describe him as polite, God-fearing and supportive, there was an offer that was hard to resist.

The family says that Tarimo had been in Moscow as a student at the Russian Technological University, but he was then imprisoned for what were described as drug-related offences.

Last year, he was enticed with a deal: sign up and be pardoned or stay in prison.

“He said he would join free himself,” says the relative.

This case echoes that of 23-year-old Zambian student Lemekhani Nyirendawho had also been in prison in Russia and died last year fighting with Wagner.

Zambian Foreign Minister Stanley Kakubo told parliament that he had been informed about how prisoners could be pardoned if they agreed to fight.

Last September, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin was seen in leaked footage outlining the rules of fighting, such as no deserting or sexual contact with Ukrainian women, and then giving the prisoners five minutes to decide if they want to sign up.

Tarimo’s family has learned that he died at the end of October while on a combat mission in Ukraine with Wagner.

We last communicated with him on October 17, when he was already a member of Wagner.

“We then got information in December from his friends over his death,” which according to media reports, was a result of Ukrainian artillery fire.

Relatives have been in touch with the embassy in Moscow, but the Tanzanian government, which has remained neutral on the conflict in Ukraine, has yet to publicly comment on the student’s death.

The family wants to bury Tarimo in their village in the Southern Highlands region, but until his remains are returned they cannot make any plans.

“We don’t want to believe that he is gone until we receive the body…we are really sad because we have lost a well-respected young man in this area.”

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