A former Soviet soldier has been discovered hiding in Afghanistan under an assumed identity 33 years after going missing.
Bakhretdin Khakimov disappeared during the first months of the nine-year war that was sparked when Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan in late 1979.
The ethnic Uzbek, originally from Samarkand, was wounded in battle in 1980 and rescued by nearby villagers, according to the BBC. He later adopted the local name Sheikh Abdullah and has lived by practicing herbal medicine learnt from his saviors.
Khakimov was found two weeks ago by members of the Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, or WIAC, a nonprofit, Moscow-based organization, who spent an entire year retracing his steps, reports Russia’s RIA news agency.
“Looking for missing soldiers is among our top priorities. And it’s a tough job,” WIAC chief Ruslan Aushev, who also fought in Afghanistan, told a news conference in the Russian capital on Monday. The committee has so far discovered 29 missing Soviet soldiers alive in Afghanistan, and is still investigating the whereabouts of another 263. Seven of those identified chose to stay where they were, while the others are mulling a permanent return home.
Khakimov has expressed interest in meeting estrange relatives back in Russia, something the WIAC is now trying to arrange, although he has forgotten what he once knew of the language. He married a local Afghan woman and settled in Shindand District, but his wife has since died, reports the U.K. Guardian.
Around 15,000 Soviet troops and more than one million Afghans lost their lives in the conflict, which raged between Kabul’s Kremlin-backed government and mujahideen rebels armed by Islamic neighbors and anti-communist Western powers.