As of June 1, 2018, Koku Istambulova was said to be the oldest woman in the world—and she hates being alive. In interviews leading up to her 129th birthday, Istambulova stated that she hated her life, had never had a happy day, and saw her long life as a punishment. The Russian government brought international attention to her in 2018, presenting a passport with her June 1, 1889, birthday as proof to make her the official oldest person alive by 11 years.
She lived through more than a century of Russian history, a volatile period that covered World Wars, revolutions, assassinations, and forced deportation. For Istambulova, war and hardship were everyday occurrences. Although there was some doubt about the legitimacy of Russia's claims since her birth date wasn't officially confirmed, one thing is for certain: this old Russian woman is tough as nails. She lived through history as it happened, and she hated every minute of it.
Koku Istambulova claimed that she resented her long life, saying:
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.
It seems only fair that someone of such advanced age would be ready to move on, but Istambulova's denial that any of her days have been happy is certainly uncommon. What she believed God punished her for is anyone's guess.
Istambulova told The Daily Mail that she honestly doesn't know how she has managed to live for as long as she has:
I see people going in for sports, eating something special, keeping themselves fit, but I have no idea how I lived until now...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. And now I am not living, I am just dragging through.
Koku Istambulova is certainly no stranger to war. Besides WWI, WWII, and the Bolshevik Revolution, she also witnessed the Russian Civil War and two Chechen wars during her long lifetime. The Russian Civil War took place between 1918 and 1920, while the rest of the world was wrapping up WWI. Driven by anti-Bolshevik sentiment, it tore Russia apart, with some areas like Finland splitting off from Russian control completely and falling into a civil war of its own.
While the Russian Civil War was far from Istambulova's home, the Chechen Wars involved her people directly. Some believe that the First and Second Chechen Wars destroyed any hope of a true Russian democracy.
Koku Istambulova has seen the deaths of all of her children, including a son who was only 6 years old when he passed. According to Istambulova's relatives, her daughter Tamara passed away at the age of 104. Supposing that all of her daughter's documents (birth certificate, etc) were in order, it could lend some credence to Istambulova's title of oldest living person.