STARIY YARYCHIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - A former shepherd presumed to be the world’s oldest living person celebrated his 116th birthday on Thursday with a glass of champagne — diluted with water and fruit juice.
Hyrhory Nestor’s passport — issued by authorities in post-Soviet Ukraine — shows he was born on March 15, 1891.
At that time, his home region belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire, only to become part of Poland after World War One. Later it was run by the Soviet Union after the Kremlin and Nazi Germany divided up eastern Europe in 1939.
Nestor’s birthdate makes him nearly two years older than Yone Minagawa, a Japanese women who turned 114 in January. She is currently listed by the International Committee on Supercentenarians as the world’s oldest person.
Dozens of well-wishers crowded into the modest two-story house Nestor shares with the family of his late sister’s grand-daughter, Oksana Savchuk, in a village 30 km (18 miles) east of the historic city of Lviv.
Village council members and church elders raised a glass of champagne. Savchuk ensured his was suitably watered down.
Dressed in a blue shirt and black sweater, Nestor beamed as officials offered best wishes. Bent over, but sporting a full head of silvery hair, he now has difficulty moving out of doors.
But the diminutive Nestor abruptly stood when well-wishers broke into the traditional birthday song “Long May you Live”.
A shepherd most of his working life, he never married, a fate Savchuk says was the result of a combination of enduring poverty and his short stature.
Nestor jokes he remained unmarried because he valued the freedom of single life and attributes his longevity to clean living and religious observance. He also wryly concludes that life was probably best under Austrian rule.
Among the greetings at the celebration was a telegram from President Viktor Yushchenko: “Today you are Ukraine’s oldest resident and witness to more than a century of our homeland’s history. Your life is worthy of the highest respect.”
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest any woman has lived is 122 years. The oldest man was 120 when he died in 1986.