‘Dead’ man walking in Kamchatka forest

The man from Taganrog told the police that he had deserted because of family problems. Source: Shutterstock / Legion-Media

The man from Taganrog told the police that he had deserted because of family problems. Source: Shutterstock / Legion-Media

An army deserter, presumed dead by his family, was found alive and living in a dugout in the forests of Kamchatka. After he fled the unit where he was doing military service, 11 years ago, he survived by collecting mushrooms, berries and scrap metal.

A man who deserted 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 past 11 years.

The Russian, 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.

The man, whose name the Interior Ministry’s Kamchatka branch has not revealed, was then 19 years old. He did half of his military service (one year) and then deserted. According to Russian law such an action is considered a crime, so the man was declared ‘wanted’ and an absconder. He was detained by local police after being found on November 30.

Into the forest

The police in the Kamchatka Region say a few months after he disappeared, the deserter's family identified a dead person as the young man and consequently the search was dropped. The dead person was then 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, the great numbers of bears and insects that live in Kamchatka did not appear to scare him.

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.

To isolate himself, he dug a hole a kilometre 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 bed linen, 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

He even managed to make a living in such conditions. In the summers, he collected berries and mushrooms and sold them. During the salmon season he would work as a fisherman for the poachers who work 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 have since 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.

"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

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