A Russian pensioner who claimed to be the oldest person who ever lived has died at the reported age of 123.
Father-of-eight Appaz Iliev, from the republic of Ingushetia, near Georgia, said he was born under the last Russian Tsar, served in World War One, was declared too old to fight in World War Two, and spent most of his life thereafter as a shepherd.
However, his birth records were lost so his age could never be verified. The oldest verified living human was Sarah Knauss of the USA – who died in 1999 at the age of 119 years and 97 days.
Appaz Iliev, a father-of-eight who claimed to be the world’s oldest living person, has died at the reported age of 123
Iliev said he was born in March 1896, meaning he was alive when Russia’s last Tsar was on the throne, but his birth records were lost so it cannot be verified (passport, pictured)
Some people attribute the title to Jeanne Calment, a French woman who claimed to be 122 years and 164 days old when she died in 1997, but there is some debate over her authenticity.
The oldest man to have ever lived was Jiroemon Kimura, of Japan, who died at 116 years, 54 days old in 2013.
The oldest currently living person is Kane Tanaka, also of Japan, who is 116 years, 127 days old. She claimed the title after the death of 117-year-old Chiyo Miyako in 2018.
Iliev attributed his long life to getting 11 hours of sleep per night, retiring every day at 7pm before rising at 6am to tend his flock.
He avoided doctors and medication as much as possible, although at the reported age of 121 he underwent eye surgery because of a cataract.
He ate only eat only fresh vegetables from his own garden, and local meat in his remote village of Guli in the Russian Caucasus Mountains.
He drank dairy milk and fresh spring water.
Iliev explained how he went to work aged seven as a shepherd, and fought for the Red Army in the Russian Civil War 1917-22, it is claimed.
But at the age of 45 he was deemed too old to fight in the Second World War and instead became a tractor driver.
Iliev said the secret to his longevity was staying active (pictured in his vegetable garden) and getting a solid 11 hours of sleep every night
The super-centenarian spent most of his life as a shepherd, living and working in the Ingushetia republic, near the border with Georgia
Those living in Russia’s Caucasus mountains often claim to reach extreme ages, but because of poor record-keeping few – if any – of the claims can be verified
In 1944 he was deported by Stalin along with other ethnic Ingush people to Kazakstan where he lived in abject poverty in internal exile.
The head of Ingushetia republic, Yunus-Bek Evkurov, posted: ‘Our long living man, the eldest citizen of Russia, Appaz Iliev has died at the age of 123.
‘Appaz lived through epochs and generations, raising eight children. He had 35 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and several great-great-grandchildren.
‘He remained a kind and loving old man who loved this life. I know this myself because I met him several times.’
Reflecting on his long life, Iliev once told reporters: ‘Value what you have and share it with others.’
He spoke his native Ingush language and although he was dubbed ‘Russia’s oldest man’, he never learned the Russian language.
Born in March 1896 under the last Tsar Nicholas II, he was a shepherd in the mountains aged seven and left ‘absolutely alone’ to look after the sheep.
He worked as a shepherd most of his life, having up to 800 animals in his herd.
Several years ago he recalled: ‘The first time my parents sent me alone to shepherd sheep at the age of seven.
‘I cried all day long because I was so afraid. There were many soldiers in the mountains, I was so scared.
‘It is over 100 years ago but I still remember that fear.’
At the age of 115 he could still mount a horse and went to the fields to tend the cattle. He was still mowing grass until the age of 119, say local reports.
At the same age it was reported that ‘he still has all his own teeth’.
Iliev also shunned doctors and medicine in general, but two years ago – at a reported age of 121 – he underwent surgery for cataracts
Iliev’s family said that his advice to them was to always help out people in need, to stay active, and to be a role model for their families
Appaz claimed to have come from a family of centenarians, telling reporters that his own grandfather 120, having remarried at 80 and fathered eight additional children.
Appaz’s wife, Madinat, died in 2014.
The couple met in Kazakhstan when he was on his tractor and saw another tractor driving the wrong way.
He followed it and found the woman driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.
He jumped onto her tractor and they fell in love.
Appaz has been listed in the Russian Book of Records as the country’s oldest man since 2015.
Before the veteran’s death, his grandson Mustafa Iliev, 33, said: ‘Grandpa tells us the first thing is to be active, to be in motion.
‘He loves to say: ‘If you see some man in need of help – don’t turn your head away. Jump up and help him.
‘Looking at you, people should say – well done, whose son is he? What family is he from? – because you are in charge not only of your own dignity but of the dignity of your whole family.’
‘His second piece of advice is to value what we have and to share it with others. He often kills his animal for meat and shares it with poor people.
‘When living in exile in Kazakhstan, our family was often hungry, we know all about life in poverty.
‘They worked at the fields but could not eat the crops. Every day when they were going home, their pockets and hats were checked for stolen corn.
‘But soon they learned to wear high boots and managed to hide some corn in them… this is how they survived and fed the family.’
Many people are deemed to live to exceptional ages in the Caucasus – but birth records seldom survive so their great ages are impossible to verify.