‘Dead’ Russian man found after living in Kamchatka forest for 11 years

The man from Taganrog told the police that he had deserted because of family problems.

The man from Taganrog told the police that he had deserted because of family problems.

Shutterstock / Legion-Media
A man thought long-dead by his family has been found living in a dugout in the forests of Kamchatka, making a living by collecting mushrooms, berries and scrap metal after fleeing from the unit where he was doing military service 11 years ago.

A Russian man who deserted from his military unit in Kamchatka and was subsequently proclaimed dead has been discovered by police in a local forest, where he has been living for the last 11 years.

The man, from Taganrog in the Rostov Region (954 miles south of Moscow), was drafted into the army in 2003 and sent to the remote peninsula of Kamchatka (about 4,300 miles from Moscow on Russia’s underpopulated north-eastern Pacific coast), to a military and fishing town called Vilyuchinsk.

Back then the man, whose name the Kamchatka branch of the Interior Ministry has not revealed, was 19 years old. He did only half of his military service (one year) and then deserted. Since according to Russian legislature such an action is considered a crime, he was declared wanted. He was detained by local police on Nov. 30.

Into the forest

The police in the Kamchatka Region say that a few months later the deserter's family identified a dead person as the young man and consequently the search was dropped. The dead person was buried.

Meanwhile the young man continued living in the forest and did not get in touch with his relatives, since he was afraid of being captured by the police. Surprisingly, he appeared not to have been afraid of the great numbers of bears and insects that live in Kamchatka.

Walking across lava fields, surfing, living on fiery ground

He had left the military base behind, walked around Avachinsk Bay, at the other end of which is the regional capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, and decided to settle down in the area, in the woods between the village of Nagorny and the military settlement of Radygino.

In order to isolate himself he dug out a hole a kilometer and a half from the highway and covered it with logs and a layer of earth, creating something between a hut and a dugout.

"From the construction material he found in various places the man built a half-dugout, half-house. It did not have normal living conditions such as water or a bathroom. However, it did have clean bedlinen, clothes and other everyday articles," Alla Ivanova, press secretary of the local Interior Ministry branch, told the TASS news agency.

Earning money in the woods

The man was even capable of making a living in such conditions. In the summers he would collect berries and mushrooms and sell them. During salmon season he would work as a fisherman for the poachers who occupy the Kamchatka rivers waiting for the fish roe. In the winter he would collect scrap metal. Recently he even worked on a private pig farm.

He was discovered only because the inhabitants of Radygino were afraid of the wanderer and eventually notified the police. The law enforcement agents who detained him were surprised to see a relatively well-dressed man. He behaved normally, according to representatives of the local Interior Ministry branch.

The fugitive told them his real name and surname and explained what he had been doing in the woods and how he was making a living. The investigation proved that he was indeed the deserter and his 2004 search warrant was found in the archives. The police then handed the material over to the military investigation department.

Now the only thing that can save the forest dweller from prison is if he proves in court that he escaped because of "exceptional circumstances." If not, he may be sent to prison for up to seven years for desertion. His roaming in the forest will probably not be taken into account.

Russian bears searching remote villages for food

"This person can be tried for desertion even if 11 years have passed. There are many such cases, which is why the authorities have experience in trying deserters," said a representative of the general military prosecutor's office.

He explained that the military prosecutor must come to court and contest the past decision to declare the deserter dead based on discovered circumstances. To do this it will be necessary to either provide the documents or bring to court the deserter himself.

The man from Taganrog told the police that he had deserted because of family problems, but he did not elaborate.

First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru

Subscribe and get RBTH best stories every Wednesday

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Read more