Soviet soldier presumed dead find living in Afghanistan

Bakhretdin Khakimov , now in his early 50 s, had been living under name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a healer

A Soviet soldier who disappeared more than 30 years ago on the battlefield in Afghanistan has been seen alive and well and living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah in the western Afghan city of Herat.

Russian officials attempting to trace soldiers still missing from the Soviet intrusion of Afghanistan said they had discovered Bakhretdin Khakimov, last seen in September 1980. Khakimov – then aged 20 – had been serving with the 101 st motorised rifle unit, stationed near Herat. He was seriously wounded during a battle near the city and presumed dead.

A black-and-white photo from the time reveals Khakimov as a fresh-faced draftee, garmented in Soviet army uniform and with the hammer and sickle badge on his furry hat. He now appears somewhat different, with a wispy beard, lined features and a large turban. A widower, he had been living as a nomadic sheikh and functioning as a traditional healer.

According to officials, local residents rescued Khakimov from the battlefield and treated his meanders with herbs. The Soviet soldier remained with “the mens” who helped him, and acquired medical abilities. Khakimov – an ethnic Uzbek, originally from Samarkand – wedded a local Afghan woman and settled in the Shindand district. His spouse afterward succumbed. The couple had no children.

The extraordinary narrative follows a dogged decades-long hunting by the Committee for International Soldiers, a Moscow-based organisation largely made up of Soviet Afghan war veterans. The organisation attained little progress during the course of its 1990 s, when Afghanistan was convulsed by civil war, and then ruled by the Taliban. It resumed the search following the US-led invasion of Aghanistan in 2001, stepping up its efforts in recent years.

The committee’s deputy chairman, Alexander Lavrentiev, said contact was attained with Khakimov two weeks ago, on 23 February. “Helpers from the local community brought him to Herat, ” Lavrentiev said. Khakimov – who was born in 1960 – could still understand Russian but spoke it very badly. He had no identification documents, Lavrentiev said, and had been living under the assumed name of Sheikh Abdullah.

“He was just happy he survived, ” Lavrentiev said, who personally met Khakimov in Herat in late February.

The Soviet soldier could still recall the names of his mother, brothers and sisters, as well as the place where he was first drafted into the Red Army. “In the words of Khakimov, he would very much like to meet his relatives, if they want to and if this isn’t damaging for them, ” Lavrentiev told a press conference in Moscow on Monday.

Khakimov – now in his early 50 s – had reportedly been living a semi-nomadic life and still has a nervous tic from his head injury. Intriguingly, he also recognised a photo of two other Soviet veterans who disappeared in Herat without trace. Khakimov told Russian examiners that both were alive and that he had met them in Afghanistan , now occupies a quarter of a century after the Soviets left by US, British and Nato forces.

Some 264 Soviet soldiers who fought in the 1979 -1 989 war in Afghanistan are still missing. Half are from Russia, with the other half from now-independent former Soviet republics including Ukraine. Most are assumed dead. Over the past few decades the Kremlin’s Committee for International Soldiers has tracked down 29 former soldiers. 22 have gone back to Russia, while seven opted to stay in Afghanistan.

Ruslan Aushev, a decorated Afghan veteran who has been resulting the hunt, said the search would continue until the last man had been accounted for, Russian news bureaux reported . Representatives from his committee have attained dozens of journeys to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region, and have exhumed the tombs of more than 15 soldiers. Forensic exams using Dna from relatives have identified five of them, including three in 2012, Aushev said.

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