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Missing Soviet Soldier Found Alive In Afghanistan After 33 Years

Destroyed Soviet tanks and armored vehicles in Afghanistan, a grim legacy of Moscow's decade-long occupation that began in 1979.
Joel Saget
AFP/Getty Images
Destroyed Soviet tanks and armored vehicles in Afghanistan, a grim legacy of Moscow's decade-long occupation that began in 1979.

More than three decades ago, Soviet soldier Bakhretdin Khakimov went missing in Afghanistan after he was wounded in battle with Afghan mujahedeen forces.

His whereabouts remained unknown until two weeks ago, when he was tracked down by a team from the Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a Moscow-based nonprofit that looks for Soviet MIAs in Afghanistan.

Now a widower, he goes by Sheikh Abdullah and works as a traditional healer in Shindand District of Herat province in western Afghanistan.

As a soldier in a motorized rifle unit, Khakimov had "received a heavy wound to the head in the course of a battle in Shindand District in September 1980 when he was picked up by local residents," the organization said in a statement posted on its website.

Rather than return to his unit, Khakimov decided to stay, changing his name, converting to Islam and eventually marrying an Afghan woman.

"He now leads a semi-nomadic life with the people who sheltered him," the organization says.

Alexander Lavrentyev, the head of the organization, told a news conference on Monday that after he was wounded, Khakimov, an ethnic Uzbek from Samarkand, was nursed back to health by a local faith healer, who taught him the trade.

"He was just happy he survived," Lavrentyev was quoted as saying by Russia's RIA news agency.

RIA describes him now as an "an elderly-looking, impoverished widower with a wispy beard."

When he was found, he had no ID but was able to identify other Soviet soldiers, which helped confirm his own identity.

"He could understand Russian a little bit, but spoke it poorly, although he remembers his Uzbek language," according to the organization's statement. "The effects of his wounds were clearly manifested: His hand trembles and there is a visible tic in his shoulder."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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