Missing soldier found: A Russian soldier who went missing for 33 years in Afghanistan and was recently found is one of 263 soldiers who have disappeared in the country during the Soviet Union invasion of the country.
A Russian soldier who had gone missing in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was found alive 33 years later, can speak no Russian, but wants to meet his relatives. His rescue was part of an effort to find Russian soldiers who disappeared during the conflict that left more than a million Afghanis dead between 1979 and 1989.
The man, Bakhretdin Khakimov, who now goes by the Afghan name Sheikh Abdulla, was tracked down by a search party with the Moscow-based Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee near Herat, reported state-run Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday. The activists spent a year following Khakimov, who was also an Afghan traditional healer.
Khakimov was one of the 263 former Soviet soldiers who went missing in action during the invasion. The New York Times, in a report last October, pointed out that many are believed to have chosen quiet lives, and Khakimov appears to have done the same: marrying a now-deceased Afghani wife, adopting local customs, converting to Islam, taking on the language, and earning a living as a traditional healer.
Alexander Lavrentyev, the deputy head of the organization, said last year that “I am confident some are still alive, and the problem is that they are afraid to contact us,” according to the Times. There might be the possibility that those who went missing in the conflict might not know that the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore, meaning they might want to keep in hiding.
“Sometimes people ask, ‘why are you working on this issue and reopening old wounds?’ And I always have the same answer: I recommend to everyone that they go to the mother who has lost her son and she will tell you his story,” Lavrentyev said, according to the paper.
The Committee said that it has tracked down 29 missing Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. Lavrentyev told CNN on Wednesday that 22 of them chose to be returned to their homes, while seven said they wanted to stay in Afghanistan.
Khakimov, who was only 20 when he went missing, also chose to stay in the country. He said that after suffering head trauma during the war, he was helped by a local Afghan elder. The now-deceased elder essentially adopted him and taught him the trade of traditional healing with herbs, according to RIA.
“He was just happy he survived,” Lavrentyev, who met him, told the news agency and elaborated that he did not try to contact his family.
The organization said that “he could understand Russian a little bit, but spoke it poorly, although he remembers his Uzbek language.” It added, “The effects of his wounds were clearly manifested: His hand trembles and there is a visible tic in his shoulder.”
In 2006, Gennady Tseuma, a Ukrainian former soldier in Afghanistan came forward, also said he would stay in Afghanistan. He was taken prisoner by Afghan resistance fighters during the Soviet invasion.
“They said, ‘You have a choice. If you want to live, become a Muslim and stay here. If you don’t, we’ll kill you.’ I agreed to cooperate,” Tseuma told NPR. He adopted the name Nik Mohammed.
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