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Uzbekistan: US Sister City Aids Uzbek Rocket Victim

Bellingham, Wash., 11 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Akhror Rakhmedor was 21 at the time -- a Tashkent medical student joining with others to celebrate the marriage of a friend.

That was when it happened: A homemade rocket intended to salute the happy event instead bounced off a pole and struck Rakhmedor's face, then exploded.

Somehow, the young man survived. But the center of his face was destroyed in the blast. It left him without a nose, a sinus system, an upper mouth and much of his tongue and depriving him of the ability to speak or eat normally.

Today, three years later in Tashkent's sister city of Seattle, Akhror Rakhmedor has begun the painful, costly and long-term process of rebuilding his face.

This process is possible because of the 25-year relationship of the people of Seattle and the people of Tashkent, through a sister-city program that, nearly ten years ago, saw residents of the American city in the northwest corner of the United States, build what they call Peace Park in Tashkent.

Akhror Rakhmedor's home during this long-term rebuilding project is provided, without charge, by the private, not-for-profit Providence Hospital in Seattle. There, he takes his meals through a tube and communicates, in rapidly improving English, in writing. His Tashkent doctor, Murad Yunoson, is in Seattle also, learning from the young man's Seattle doctors reconstructive surgical skills that the 40-year-old physician will take back with him to Uzbekistan.

Rakhmedor hopes to regain the ability to speak and eat normally.

Earlier this month, the members of the sister-city association held a fund-raising party and auction of their collections of Uzbek and Central Asian items, from rugs to paintings, to support Rakhmedor and to salute the courage of the young man. Rakhmedor himself attended as guest of honor as more than 150 people turned out on his behalf for the event, which was held in Seattle's Russian Community Center.

One of the organizers, Joyce Jones, tells RFE/RL that the group's goal is to raise $200,000 to support Rakhmedor, as well as Doctor Yunoson and the doctor's family during their prolonged stay in Washington state, through a series of similar fund-raising events and direct appeals for private help.

On the arrival of Doctor Yunoson and Rakhmedor in Seattle last March, the young man was found by the Seattle doctors to be too thin and too weak to undergo the rigors of the extensive reconstructive surgery that is necessary to create a new nose and upper mouth and repair his broken jaw. Through a regime of four daily feedings, by September Rakhmedor had gained more than 18 kilograms and rebuilt his strength.

So that month, Rakhmedor underwent 11 hours of surgery to fix his jaw and prepare what is left of his face for a new nose. That reconstructive work is scheduled to start next month, to be followed in the coming year with a series of operations to refine the plastic surgery.

Despite the pain and hardship that have marked his life since that rocket blast in 1994, Rakhmedor remains upbeat, according to Joyce Jones and other supporters in the Seattle-Tashkent Sister City Association.

Jones describes him as "an incredible ambassador for his country," adding: "He's just such a great personality."