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Russia's 'Rambo' recluse dies after shoot-out with police
From WILL STEWART in Moscow
A heavily armed recluse nicknamed Russia's Rambo of the Forest has been gunned down in a shoot-out with police.
Alexander Bichkov, had lived a semi-feral existence in the woods for 20 years, terrorising locals and the police if they ventured near him.
A giant at 6ft 7in with a wild straggly beard, the man lived in an old shack and self-made camps, hunted animals for food and only ventured out of the forest in summer when he wouldn't leave footprints leading back to where he lived.
Russian police said he descended from a family of criminals who were exiled by Stalin to the Kostroma region 450 miles east of Moscow, in the 1940s.
At the end of Soviet times nearly 20 years ago he disappeared from his home in a village in the region after refusing a court order to pay alimony to his ex-wife following an acrimonious divorce.
He was declared dead by his family in 1997 because he had been missing for so long.
But now it is known the former forestry worker had fled into the dense Kologriv woods near his village, which were designated as a nature reserve a few years ago.
Terrified local police refused to go into the woods to hunt him down ever since he captured a local commander while out hunting and held him at gunpoint for hours before freeing him and then disappearing into the trees.
Even after he burned down 30 holiday homes in the area belonging to rich Muscovites, police refused to pursue the man they dubbed "Rambo", after the popular action-film hero played by Sylvester Stallone, who was skilled in weaponry and survival.
They did not know - until killing him on March 14 - his true identity, which was obtained from documents they found and through checks with his family.
He was finally shot after the head of the Department of Natural Reserves in Moscow, angered by the inaction of local police, ordered a surveillance operation on him.
After finding out where he lived, six specialist policemen - including Afghan war veterans - from outside the local police and four armed Park rangers went into the forest on snowmobiles to hunt him down and try to arrest him.
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But the hermit, who carried two shotguns and a home-made pistol, ambushed them and wounded two.
He then set alight a swathe of forest as a diversion, tracked behind the men and was apparently preparing to start firing on them again.
But a police sniper managed to shoot him in the head, killing him instantly.
One of the policemen, Andrei Potemkin, said: "He ambushed us and I told him to surrender and that we wouldn't hurt him.
"He yelled 'I've nothing to lose' and opened fire.
"He hit two of the others and fired at me. My bullet-proof vest saved my life. He then set his place on fire, and everything was covered with smoke.
"He's a real professional. While we were helping the wounded, he made a circle around us, hiding in the smoke, and cut us off.
"It was pure chance the sniper suddenly saw his figure in the trees and pulled the trigger. He shot him right in the head and he died in a flash."
Police later found in his semi-destroyed lair more weapons, dozens of furs, hundreds of traps and books about hunting and survival.
Locals told of their relief that the man who had haunted the region for so long was dead.
Maria Muzhalova said: "Parents would not let their children go to school without dogs going with them.
"He would steal boots from outside people's homes and steal potatoes from the fields. If you came across him in the summer, he was way too scary-looking to confront him."
Director of the Kologriv nature reserve, Maxim Sinitzin said; "We were all sick and tired of him. He kept leaving traps for animals everywhere.
"We'd break them and he'd make more. Once he trapped three of our inspectors and told them he'd kill them if he ever saw them in the woods again."
Police said that the man used to be a forestry worker.
After his wife left him and the court order against him, he turned into a recluse, cutting himself off from society.
He lived at an abandoned forestry station, miles from the nearest village.
Police sources said: "At the time the forest had not been designated as a nature reserve so no one bothered him for years.
"Then his parents died and his sister and her husband had him declared legally dead - as they had not seen him for so long - and sold his house.
"We think this may have enraged him, making him angry at anybody who moved into the region to build a house, so much that he would burn down their homes because he had none of his own."
When the forest was later made into a nature reserve, hunting was banned, leading to violent clashes between Bichkov and park rangers who would remove his traps, police said.
"He felt he was the king of the forest," one said.
"He had his house, a shed, and his hunting traps. When we went after him he fought to the end. "It was all he had left. He had nowhere to go."