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Soviet soldier missing since 1980 found in Afghanistan

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN
March 7, 2013 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
An undated handout photo shows missing Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov, who was found in Afghanistan after 33 years.
An undated handout photo shows missing Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov, who was found in Afghanistan after 33 years.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Former Soviet Army soldier who went missing in 1980 found in Afghanistan
  • Bakhredtin Khakimov, now Sheikh Abdullah, disappeared during the Soviet invasion
  • He suffered a head injury in the conflict and was nursed back to health by a healer
  • Russian team searching for soldiers missing in action tracked him down 33 years later

(CNN) -- A former Soviet Army soldier who went missing in action in 1980 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been found alive almost 33 years after he was rescued by Afghan tribesmen.

Now living under the name of Sheikh Abdullah and working as a traditional healer in the Shindand district of Herat Province in western Afghanistan, former Soviet soldier Bakhredtin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek.

Khakimov was tracked down by a team from Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee, a nonprofit, Moscow-based organization that leads the search for the former Soviet Union's MIAs in Afghanistan.

"He received a heavy wound to the head in the course of a battle in (Shandand) district in September 1980 when he was picked up by local residents," the organization said in a statement posted on its website. "He now leads a seminomadic life with the people who sheltered him."

The organization said it made contact with the man two weeks ago and, while he had no identity papers, he was able to positively identify photos of other Soviets who served at the time.

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

Khakimov, who was found in Afghanistan after 33 years, as a young soldier.
Khakimov, who was found in Afghanistan after 33 years, as a young soldier.

The deputy head of the organization, Alexander Lavrentyev, told a news conference on Monday that Khakimov, originally from the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, was nursed back to health by a village elder. The elder was an herbal healer who taught him his trade, Lavrentyev said.

"He was just happy he survived," Lavrentyev was reported as saying by Russia's RIA news agency. Lavrentyev met with Khakimov in the city of Herat in late February,

The former soldier -- who married in Afghanistan but is now a childless widower -- was keen to meet his relatives. That's something the committee is working to arrange, Lavrentyev told reporters.

A chief of police in Ghor province, Dilwar Dilawar, told CNN Khakimov converted to Islam in 1993.

Local reports, however, conflict with the Russian version of events.

Local journalist Sharafudin Stanekzai, who spoke with Khakimov, told CNN that Khakimov separated from his unit after stealing a gun and then handed the weapon over to Mujahedeen Islamic guerrillas.

The Warriors-Internationalists Affairs Committee is working to track down 263 Soviet soldiers whose fates are unknown after the bloody nine-year campaign in Afghanistan. So far, it says it has tracked down 29 missing Soviet soldiers.

Lavrentyev said 22 chose to be repatriated to their homes while seven elected to stay in Afghanistan.

About 15,000 of the 600,000 Soviet soldiers who served in the near decade-long war were killed, according to figures cited by RIA from the Soviet General Staff.

Regarded as one of the last Cold War confrontations, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 to protect a Soviet-backed government against rebels armed and trained by Western and Islamic countries.

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