KABUL – A Soviet soldier has been found alive and doing well in Afghanistan 33 years after he was presumed dead following his sudden disappearance from the battlefield.
Bakhretdin Khakimov, now 50, was a fresh recruit in the Soviet army and was all of 20 when was last seen in September 1980. He was thought to have fallen in the battle with Afghan mujahideen.
But a search by Russian officials attempting to trace soldiers still missing from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to his discovery in the western city of Herat where he was found living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a healer.
Khakimov had been serving with the 101st motorised rifle unit, stationed near Herat, when he was seriously wounded during a battle near the city, before he disappeared suddenly.
Media reports said that local residents rescued Khakimov from the battlefield and treated his wounds with herbs.
He remained with the man who helped him, and acquired medical skills from him.
Khakimov – an ethnic Uzbek, originally from Samarkand – married a local Afghan woman and settled in the Shindand district.
His wife later died. The couple had no children.
He was found by the Committee for International Soldiers, a Moscow-based organisation largely made up of Soviet Afghan war veterans.
The committee’s deputy chairman, Alexander Lavrentiev, said contact was made with Khakimov Feb 23.
“Helpers from the local community brought him to Herat,” Lavrentiev said.
A black-and-white photo from 1980 shows Khakimov as a fresh-faced draftee, dressed in Soviet army uniform and with the hammer and sickle badge on his furry hat.
Now he looks different, with a wispy beard, lined features and a large turban.
“He was just happy he survived,” Lavrentiev said, who personally met Khakimov in Herat.
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 reporters in.
Some 264 Soviet soldiers who fought in the 1979-1989 war in Afghanistan are still missing.
Half are from Russia, while the other half are from now-independent former Soviet republics including Ukraine.