There had been rumours. Talk of his name on a war memorial on a faraway hilltop. But it was not until the 81-year-old's friend was awarded a 60th anniversary medal this year - for liberating Ukraine from Nazi occupation during the Second World War - that the truth came out.
Georgy, a former Red Army infantryman from the southern Russian city of Stavropol, fancied a medal too for his part in pushing the 'Hitlerovtsi' out. Yet when he called the Ukrainian military commissariat, the official said: 'You can't have it. You died in 1943.' Only now has Georgy been able to get a court decision proving he is very much alive. Next week he will get his medal.
Behind the mix-up is a tale of survival that has turned Georgy into a minor celebrity.
It was winter 1943 when the teenage sergeant led his platoon of nine in a desperate attack on a German bunker near the Ukrainian village of Sofievka. They crept up with their grenades but came under fire, and a shell exploded next to Georgy as he and his men retreated, the shock wave catapulting him into the air.
When he regained consciousness hours later, all was dark and a great weight pressed down on his body. Fighting for breath, Georgy realised the full horror of the situation: he was underground. 'My right hand was hit by shrapnel and didn't work, but I could move my left and I began to claw the earth away,' he recalls.
Luckily, the soil was dry and crumbly. 'I wanted to live; the instinct was strong. I was about a metre deep. Finally, I made a hole and got my head out, then my torso.' Deafened and lost, he stumbled into enemy territory and a German patrol found him.
Only at the end of the war did he find out what had happened. Georgy had imagined he was covered by debris from the shell. By chance, he ran into an old comrade from his platoon, Aleksei Chuykov. 'Don't you recognise me?' Georgy remembers asking him. Chuykov went white: 'My God, I buried you myself.'
It transpired that, under fire, Georgy's comrades had presumed him dead and buried him with several comrades, in the crater where he fell. As the senior soldier of the group, he was laid on top of the pile of corpses.
Escape from an early grave was not the final horror of Georgy's war. After capture he was sent to Germany by train. En route he escaped, but was recaptured and sent to Auschwitz. There his weight dropped to 35kg and he only survived because a friend in the kitchens slipped him extra portions of turnip soup.
Back home after the war, his amazed family showed him the letter that stated he was dead. Georgy later married, had children and worked as an engineer.
Only this year did things come to a head. When Georgy applied for the veterans' medal promised by the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, the bureaucrats replied: 'If you're alive, prove it.'
Now bed-ridden, Georgy requested a court hearing at his home to confirm his identity.
'All his documents and witness statements allowed us to confirm he was the same man who "died" there,' said Stanislav Saneev, the judge at the hearing.
Georgy has invited court officials to attend a dinner where he will wash his medal in vodka, according to tradition. He reserves the greatest thanks for the man who buried him alive. 'Stalin had given an order to remove warm clothes from all corpses. But Chuykov left me in my padded jacket and my hat. Without them I would have frozen to death.'