A woman believed by Russian government officials to be the oldest person who ever lived has died quietly while saying her prayers.
Koku Istambulova, a survivor of Stalin’s repressions against the Chechen people, would have been 130 in June, according to records accepted by the country’s state pension fund.
She was older than a woman listed in the Russian Book of Records who died last month supposedly aged 128, officials said.
Koku made headlines last year by saying she had only lived a single happy day in her long life – when she entered the home she built with her own hands on return from exile in Kazakhstan.
Koku Istambulova would have turned 130 in June according to her Russian passport and pension papers
Her Russian papers say she is 129 which is confirmed by the Russian government and her pension documents
Her grandson Iliyas Abubakarov said she had supper as usual on January 27 at her village home in Chechnya.
‘She was joking, she was talking,’ he said.
‘Then she suddenly felt unwell, she complained of a chest pain.
‘We called the doctor, we were told that her blood pressure had dropped, and injections were made.
‘But they failed to save her. She died some time later. She died in a quiet way, fully conscious, praying.’
She has been buried in her home village Bratskoe, survived by five grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
A Muslim who was born before the last Tsar Nicholas II was crowned, she outlived the Soviet Union by a generation, according to her internal Russian passport.
Her date of birth was claimed to be 1 June 1889 – when Queen Victoria was on the throne in Britain.
But her passport gave only a year of her birth, not the exact day and month.
In extraordinary and moving testimony broadcast last year she spoke emotionally of the appalling day her native Chechen people were deported en masse by Stalin to the steppes of Kazakhstan 75 years ago.
She told how people died in the cattle-truck trains – and their bodies were thrown out of the carriages to be eaten by hungry dogs.
If her age was correct, Koku was 54 at the time, having earlier lived through the coronation of the last tsar Nicholas II two days before her 7th birthday – and his toppling when she was 27.
‘It was a bad day, cold and gloomy,’ she said of the February morning in 1944 when the entire entire nation was banished from their mountain homeland in the Trans-Causacus.
‘We were put in a train and taken … no one knew where. Railway carriages were stuffed with people – dirt, rubbish, excrement was everywhere.’
She remembered how Chechen people were deported en masse by Stalin to Kazakhstan
After Stalin’s fall she was allowed to return to her native home and built this house herself
Deportation of the Chechen nation in 1944. Koku explained the deplorable conditions on the trains in a harrowing interview last year
‘Carriages were stuffed with people – dirt, rubbish, excrement was everywhere,’ she said
Stressing the cruelty of Stalin’s action, she told journalists determinedly in her native Chechen language: ‘Write that – there was excrement in the carriages.
‘We were not allowed [to go] anywhere.’
Young Caucasus girls died because from the rupturing of their bladders – they were ashamed to go to the toilet in crowded stinking the crowded trains.
Older women tried to crowd round them to stop their embarrassment as they relieved themselves.
Yet there was worse.
‘On the way to our exile, dead bodies were just thrown out of the train,’ she said.
‘Nobody was allowed to bury the dead. Corpses were eaten by dogs. My father-in-law was thrown out of the train in this way.’
The guard fed them ‘rotten fish’, she said.
‘We had hard times when we were deported.’
A paranoid Stalin had alleged the Chechens were collaborating with the Nazis.
‘We were told that we were bad people and that’s why we had to leave,’ she said.
‘I don’t know what we suffered for… I felt no guilt.’
Deportation of the Chechens to Kazakhstan by the Soviets 1944-57
On February 11 1944, the politburo discusses ‘liquidating’ the Chechen-Ingush Republic.
February 22-23 will be remembered in Chechnya with horror. The Chechen and Ingush peoples are systematically rounded up, herded into cattle-trucks and shipped off en masse to Kazakhstan and Siberia.
Koku suffered devastating personal bereavements in her Kazakh hell – her two sons both perished in the harsh conditions
The deportation was prepared since at least from October 1943 and 19,000 officers as well as 100,000 NKVD soldiers from all over the USSR participated in this operation
Villages are sealed and communications cut off. Huge lorries are deployed to carry the people to the train stations. Many of those unable to travel, the old, very young and the infirm, are slaughtered.
Russians and Dagestanis are moved into Chechen homes, books in Chechen and Ingush are destroyed, gravestones are used to pave roads, and the Chechen-Ingush Republic is removed from Russian maps.
Over 400,000 Chechen and Ingush people are deported in cold, cramped conditions with no toilet or washing facilities. A typhoid epidemic sweeps through the carriages, killing many. Many more are to die of cold and hunger at their destination. During the first year of the deportations, it is estimated that between 30 and 50 per cent of the Chechen and Ingush populations died.
Before the war, she recalled ‘scary’ Nazi tanks passing her family home.
She suffered devastating personal bereavements in her Kazakh hell – her two sons both perished in the harsh conditions.
‘There were no doctors, no-one to treat them,’ she said.
‘My younger boy came down with something and passed away really quickly. Such things happened in every family.
‘When women gave birth children often died because there were no obstetricians, only neighbours and friends.’
Weeping the old lady said: ‘I only kept my daughter Tamara.’
Koku Istambulova said she did not know the secret to her long life, but that God had decided to hold her in His arms
Koku told how dead bodies were hurled off cattle trains, including that of her father in law
Koku near her house that she with her own hands build using mud, water and twigs
Exile in Kazakhstan was 13 years – then, after Stalin’s death, people were allowed to return to their homeland.
When she got back, many houses had been grabbed by incoming Russians – so she set to work building her own home, complaining her husband was ‘too lazy’ for the work.
She conceded that despite her earlier claim, the day she moved into her own house, built with her own hands, after returning from internal Soviet exile was ‘happy’.
‘I built it myself, the best house in the world,’ she said. ‘I lived there for 60 years.’
Koku told last year how she never went to school.
‘I was working since early childhood,’ she said. ‘I never studied. I took care of a cow, chickens. I dug the soil in the garden, and kept digging… every day.’
She gathered cotton and corn, and nursed her younger brothers and sisters.
As a child she remembered playing with dolls made of cloth by her uncle.
She had red shoes and white stockings bought by her father at a fair – the first and only ‘nice clothes’ in her short youth.
She said: ‘Father was ill, then mother was ill. Grandma was ill. I was the oldest, how could I leave them?’
She married late when a man was chosen for her from another village.
Despite her astounding age, the 129-year-old had no problem using a pink mobile phone
Koku Istambulova being interviewed for a documentary on deportation of Chechen nation last year
Deportation of Chechen nation – Chechens in exile in Kazakhstan
The expulsion, preceded by the 1940–1944 insurgency in Chechnya, was ordered by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria after approval by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin
‘I didn’t know him at all,’ she said. But then I started to love him. What else could I do if I got married?
‘I had to endure. His name was Magomed and he was younger than me.’
She laughed as she recalled: ‘He wasn’t handsome at all.’
Asked about the secret of a long life, she previously said: ‘It was God’s will.
‘I did nothing to make it happen. I see people going in for sports, eating something special, keeping themselves fit, but I have no idea how I lived until now.’
Her receipe for a long life was fermented milk, but she shunned meat and soup.
She asked: ‘Why did Allah give me such a long life and so little happiness?….
‘I would have been dead long ago, if not for Allah who was holding me in his arms.’
Koku said: ‘It is hard to live when all who remembered you died long ago. And it is very scary to die, however old you are.’
As with Nanu Shaova, who died last month, there were no original documents proving her age despite the Pension Fund of Russia accepting that she was 129 when she died.
Unlike Nanu, Koku had vivid recollections of events deep in the past.
The Caucasus has a history of long living people yet the claims are usually impossible to verify.
The oldest documented human lifespan is Jeanne Calment, from France, who lived 122 years, 164 days, dying in 1997.
Jeanne Calment: The world’s oldest known person
Jeanne Calment was a French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan of 122 years, 164 days.
The French women, officially the world’s oldest person, celebrated her 122nd birthday on February 21 1997
She lived in Arles all her life, outliving both her daughter and grandson. She became the oldest living person on 11 January 1988 at 112, one hundred years after encountering Vincent van Gogh, who visited her father’s shop. She was declared the oldest person ever on 17 October 1995 at 120.
Although Calment came from a long-living family, there is no particular explanation for her extreme longevity. She had lived a comfortable and stress-free life, with a healthy appetite and a daily exercise routine, enabling her to walk without a stick until 114.