Mikhail Kalashnikov, the 93 year-old inventor of the world’s most popular automatic rifle, has been admitted to a cardiology hospital in the Russian city of Izhevsk, in the Urals.
The engineer’s health is said to have worsened during a routine check up on December 20, and Kalashnikov has stayed in intensive care ever since.
According to his biographer Aleksandr Uzhanov, the weapons designer, who has until recently regularly attended work at the military plant in named after him, “feels good and plans to leave the hospital in the coming days.”
Doctors confirm the life of the increasingly frail Kalashnikov is not in immediate danger.
His son Viktor, also told the Russian media that his father’s health problems have been exaggerated, and the inventor is undergoing “routine procedures.”
His personal assistant sounded a less upbeat note.
"When I visited him at home last week, he told me that nothing seemed to hurt, but that he simply had no strength left," Nikolai Shklyayev told RIAN news agency. "It seems that this is just his age showing."
When a wounded 23 year-old Mikhail Kalashnikov lay in bed drawing up his first plans for a new type of assault rifle in 1941, he could not have imagined that he was fashioning one of the most iconic objects of the 20th century.
Although maybe as many as a hundred million of them were manufactured (in all their infinite variants) the Kalashnikovs was always more than just a gun – but a symbol.
Mikhail was the seventeenth child of a family of prosperous peasants. When he was eleven, his family was stripped of their assets as class enemies, and exiled to Siberia.
The future inventor only finished nine classes of formal education, but was called into the army, where he found his true calling, demonstrating an immediate affinity with technical equipment.
By the time the German blitzkrieged through the Eastern Front in 1941, Kalashnikov had already pioneered several minor inventions for tanks, and was given an inscribed watch personally by Georgi Zhukov, the leading Soviet general of World War II.
Kalashnikov’s frontline experience was cut short when an artillery shell hit his tank months after the war started.
The next six years were spent in conceiving and improving what would be Kalashnikov’s greatest design. The AK-47 combined elements of previous weapon models, including (despite strenuous denials) those of the StG 44, the assault rifle pioneered by Hitler’s army.
Yet the final model resembled no other weapon that had been seen before.
Easy to maintain and assemble and even easier to shoot, reliable in any weather conditions, it was the ultimate user-friendly weapon, even at the cost of accuracy over longer distances (due to all the jamming-proof loose parts).
The AK-47 was adopted as the primary rifle of the Red Army in 1949.
But if it was just the regular rifle used by the Soviet Army, the Kalashnikov would have been just a respected design, like the US mainstay M16.
It is the proliferation of the assault rifle that made it emblematic of many conflicts.
Initially, the Soviets provided both the rifles and the blueprints to make them just to their allies in its proxy conflicts against the West during the Cold War.
Soon enough, the USSR lost control of their manufacture. By the 1980s almost any revolutionary, militant, child soldier or armed terrorist was most likely brandishing a Kalashnikov. The Soviet Army was just as likely to see the other side using modified versions of their own guns, as any other.
Designed for the harsh Russian climate, the easily-sourced and re-supplied weapon was also just as good for the desert, the jungle and the mountains.
Meanwhile, Mikhail Kalashnikov presided over the same, but greatly expanded, factory in Izhevsk that could churn out millions of his assault rifles every year. His team designed many other models, and modifications of the original weapon, though a modernized Kalashnikov still remains the standard gun of the Russian Army in the 21st century.
In recent years the factory has run into financial trouble, as the army is already stocked with reportedly as many as 17 million excess AK-47s. A recent re-organization is aimed at modernizing the product range, and attracting foreign customers, who are mostly interested in more modern specialized rifle models, used by hunters and policemen.
The death toll from the Kalashnikov likely runs into millions, though no one can ever find out the true figure.
Despite the damage the AK-47 has inflicted, Kalashnikov has remained unrepentant about his own brainchild.
"I invented it for the protection of the Motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it," the inventor has repeatedly claimed in interviews.