The world’s oldest woman is said to be Russian Koku Istambulova, aged 128
If true, it would also make Koku Istambulova – deported from her Chechnya homeland into internal exile by Stalin – the oldest person who ever lived.
The claim is made by the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation and is based on her internal passport which shows her date of birth as 1 June, 1889.
If correct, Koku – who shuns meat and loathes soups but loves fermented milk – was already 27 when the last tsar Nicholas II abdicated, 55 when the Second World War ended, and 102 when the Soviet Union collapsed a generation ago.
During the war she recalls “scary” Nazi tanks passing her family home.
She and her family were later deported along with the entire Chechen nation Kazakhstan and Siberia by Stalin who accused them of Nazi collaboration.
Asked how she lived so long, Koku, from a village in Chechnya, who claims she will be 129 next month, told an interviewer: “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.”
She added: “I have not had a single happy day in my life.
“I have always worked hard, digging in the garden.
“I am tired.
“Long life is not at all God’s gift for me – but a punishment.”
Relatives say she five years ago lost her only surviving daughter Tamara who lived until she was 104.
She is articulate and able to feed herself and walk, but her eyesight is failing.
She said: “I survived through the (Russian) Civil War (after the Bolshevik revolution), the Second World War, the deportation of our nation in 1944 and through two Chechen wars.
“And now I am sure that my life was not a happy one.
“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 dreamed of going back home,.
“Working in my garden helped me to get rid of my sad thoughts but my soul always wanted home.”
She doesn’t speak about her family tragedy but she lost several children, including a son aged six.
She recalled how Muslim restrictions on clothing eased after the end of tsarist times under Soviet rule.
Mrs Istambulova said: “We were brought up with very strict rules and we were very modest in our clothes.”
“I remember my granny beat me and reprimanded because my neck was visible.
“And then Soviet times came and women quickly began to wear more open clothes.”
Her favourite place is to sit outside her house in summer on an old bed, shaded by a tree.
She said: “Looking back at my unhappy life, I wish I had died when I was young.
“I worked all my life.
“I did not have time for rest or entertainment.
“We were either digging the ground, or planting the watermelons.
“When I was working, my days were running one by one.
Koku Istambulova said she remembers the Russian civil war
“And now I am not living, I am just dragging through.”
Officials say all her documents were lost during the Second Chechen War from 1999 to 2009.
The pension fund, a state body, claims there are 37 people over 110 years of age in Russia yet all these claims, including Koku’s, are impossible to verify because of the lack of reliable birth or early childhood written records.
Most live, like Koku, in the Caucasus which has a history of longevity among its peoples.
Since the death of 117-year-old Nabi Tajima in Japan last month, the oldest documented woman in the world is regarded as Chiyo Miyako, born on May 2, 1901, also from Japan.
The oldest documented human lifespan is Jeanne Calment, from France, who lived 122 years, 164 days, dying in 1997.
As a girl she met Vincent van Gogh.