A Russian war pilot presumed to be shot down in Afghanistan in the 1980s has reportedly turned up alive, decades after Soviet troops pulled out of the Islamic republic.
Officially, 417 Soviet soldiers were declared a missing or as prisoners of war in the 1979-1989 conflict that saw over 15,000 Soviet military losses.
Valery Vostrotin, the head of Russia’s union of airborne troops, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that the newly-found pilot’s return would require “not only financial but also administrative, civil society and diplomatic efforts.”
“It’s very unusual,” Vostrotin told RIA, declining to provide the pilot’s name, citing concerns over confidentiality.
The pilot was shot down in 1987 and is likely now to be in his 60s, according to Vyacheslav Kalinin, deputy head of a Russian veterans’ organisation.
Mr Kalinin said the pilot could be in Pakistan, where Afghanistan had camps for prisoners of war.
Valery Vostrotin, head of the Russian paratroopers’ union, told state media: “He is still alive. It’s very astonishing. Now he needs help.”
The missing soldier looks forward to returning to Russia, Vyacheslav Kalinin, a senior member of the Boyevoye Bratstvo (Brothers in Arms) organization, told the agency.
“What’s surprising isn’t even that the pilot stayed alive after his aircraft was shot down by the mujahideen, but the fact that we haven’t received any information about him for decades,” he was quoted as saying.
During the course of the conflict between 1979 and 1989, 125 Soviet planes were shot down in Afghanistan, according to RIA Novosti news agency.
When Soviet troops pulled out of the country in 1989, around 300 soldiers were listed as missing and since then some 30 have been found and most returned to their home countries.
Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that just one Soviet pilot was shot down in 1987, naming him as Sergei Pantelyuk, from the Rostov region in southern Russia.
He went missing along with his plane after taking off from Bagram airfield, now a US air base, north of Kabul.
The head of a local veterans’ organisation said Mr Pantelyuk’s mother and sister are both still alive.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper also traced Mr Pantelyuk’s 31-year-old daughter, who was born just months before her father went missing.
Retired colonel Frants Klintsevich told RIA Novosti that the discovery of the pilot is not the only such case, adding that he had met an ex-Soviet soldier during a trip to Afghanistan a few years ago.
Mr Klintsevich claimed the soldier refused to give his name, spoke Russian with difficulty and said it was too late for him to return.
In 2013, it was revealed that a former Red Army conscript who disappeared on the battlefield in 1980 was still alive and well in Afghanistan.
Bakhretdin Khakimov was presumed dead by his superiors after being seriously wounded, but was nursed back to health by locals near Herat before converting to Islam.
“I stayed in Afghanistan because Afghans are very kind and hospitable people,” he told the AFP news agency.