A woman who celebrated her 129th birthday this month has said she wished she could’ve died when she was young.
Koku Istambulova, from Bratskoye in Russia, made international headlines last month when government officials announced they believed she was the oldest person in the world.
But Koku stunned reporters when she told she hadn’t had a happy day in her life.
“I see other people eating healthily and doing fitness routines,” Koku said. “I have no idea why I’ve lived so long.
“It was God’s will. I did nothing to make it happen. I haven’t had a single happy day in my life. I’ve always worked hard, digging in the garden.
“I’m tired. Long life is not at all God’s gift to me, but a punishment. Looking back at my unhappy life I wish I’d died when I was young. I worked all my life. I didn’t have time for rest or entertainment.”
Koku celebrated her birthday at the start of June with her six grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Her passport states her date of birth as 1 June 1889, government officials said. During the Chechen Wars (1994-2009) she lost all her children except for one daughter, who died in 2013.
A few years ago Koku lost her eyesight and now depends on her grandchildren to take care of her. Her granddaughter Azma attributes her longevity to a healthy plant-based diet and hard manual labour.
“Grandma hasn’t been eating meat for a very long time, not even chicken,” Azma says. “She only eats fruit and vegetables.”
Koku recalls German tanks passing by her home during World War 2. Her family, along with many other Chechens, were accused by the Stalin regime of collaborating with the Nazis and deported.
“I survived through the Russian Civil War [after the Bolshevik revolution], World War 2 and the deportation of our nation in 1944, and through two Chechen wars.
“I remember tanks with Germans passing our house. It was scary. But I tried not to show this, we were hiding in the house. Life in Kazakhstan was the hardest for us.
“When in exile – we lived in Siberia too – but in Kazakhstan, we felt how the Kazakhs hated us. Every day I dreamt of going back home. Working in my garden helped me to get rid of my sad thoughts but my soul always wanted home.”
Russian officials say Koku’s birth documents were lost during the Second Chechen War (1999-2009) and that it’s therefore impossible to verify her age.
The oldest documented woman in the world is 119-year-old Japanese Chiyo Miyako, who was born on 2 May 1901.