Missing Soviet Soldier Found 33 Years Later in Afghanistan

Wednesday, 06 Mar 2013 11:17 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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A missing Soviet soldier who disappeared in Afghanistan nearly 33 years ago has been found living with locals in the western province of Herat, according to Russia's RIA news agency.

Bakhretdin Khakimov, who went missing shortly after he was wounded in battle during the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was reportedly rescued by locals. He then adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle, changing his name to Sheikh Abdullah and practicing herbal medicine.

Ex-Soviet veterans of war, along with Russia's official veterans' committee, launched a search last year to discover the fate of the 265 former soldiers who are still missing in action.

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"I am confident some are still alive, and the problem is that they are afraid to contact us," Alexander Lavrentyev, vice president of the Veterans Committee, told the New York Times in October, noting that the men may fear retribution for desertion during the war.

Officials said when they found Abdullah, he was able to name his former place of residence in Uzbekistan and some of his family members. He understood Russian but spoke it very poorly, they said. Abdullah was married, but his wife reportedly died and he has no children, according to the BBC. It's not clear whether Abdullah will return to Uzbekistan or stay in Afghanistan.

Many of the missing soldiers are believed to have adopted a new life in Afghanistan. In 2006, a Ukrainian POW came forward and explained how he was forced to take on a new life after being captured by opposing fighters.

"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," Gennady Tseuma, who adopted the name Nik Mohammed, told NPR in 2006.

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The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted nine years, from December 1979 to February 1989. Part of the Cold War, it was fought between Soviet-led Afghan forces against multi-national insurgent groups called the mujahideen. Some 15,000 Red Army soldiers and more than 1 million Afghans were killed.

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