Monday, April 15, 2013

A Russian Family Lives Alone in the Wilderness for 40 Years

This story has been going around for a while, and has picked up steam in recent months. It is an incredible account of of a family that left civilization and went deep into the woods in order to avoid persecution. They lived there alone for 40 years before being discovered.

In 1978 a teach of Russian geologists, while flying near the Mongolian border in a helicopter, discovered a small hut with what looked to be a farm next to it in the middle of the taiga. After managing to land, they approached the hut and discovered a family living there. After some time and a few gifts, they were able to get the story of how this family had ended up in the middle of the wilderness, completely cut off from civilization.

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Above pictures: Original hut and terraced farm of the Lykov family when discovered in 1978.

The family was lead by a patriarch, Karp Lykov. They belonged to an Orthodox sect called Old Believers. During the reforms of Peter the Great, and later the Bolsheviks, this Orthodox sect experienced significant persecution.

In 1936, after his brother being killed by Bolsheviks, Karp Lykov took his family, at the time his wife Akulina and two children, gathered all his household belongings, and started moving deeper into the woods. They created a succession of camps going deeper and deeper into the wilderness, gradually transporting they belongings to the location where they eventually settled and were discovered in 1978.

The Lykovs managed to transport a significant amount of resources with them, including a woods stove, pots, a spinning wheel, a loom, and agricultural equipment. At their final location, Karp and Akulina had two more children, for a total of two boys and two girls. They survived by farming, using seeds and plants that they had brought with the. Unfortunately, one year their luck ran out, and a storm wiped out their harvest. Akulina starved to death that winter, but everyone else survived by eating their shoes and tree bark. Miraculously, a single plant had survived the storm, from which they gathered seeds to replant for the following year.

The family suffered even greater tragedy after being discovered. In 1981, within a short period of time, three of the children dies. One of them died from pneumonia, refusing to accept medical help, and the other two died from kidney failure attributed to their poor diet. Karp Lykov died in 1988 from old age, leaving only his daughter, Agafia.

These days Agafia has been brought livestock as a gift, and has even acquired a shotgun to protect her from bears. Now 70 years old, she has stated that she has a hard time taking care of herself in the taiga, feeding the livestock, gathering firewood, etc. However, she still refuses to leave her current location, which which the help of volunteers has been expanded to several buildings.

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Despite the unfortunate death of her siblings, Agafia, who still lives in the same location appreciates the fact that her family was discovered by the Russian geologists. When asked recently if she wished that the geologists who discovered her family in 1978 in the completely isolated wilderness of Siberia’s taiga forest had never found them, she shook her head. “I don’t know if we would have survived. We were running out of tools and food. I no longer had any scarves.” The reality is that by the time they were discovered, they had lost all their pots to rust, so cooking had become difficult, their clothing had fallen apart, and they were constantly living at the edge of starvation.

Here is a documentary about Agafia, showing her life in the taiga:

I think this story is amazing in that it gives us a realistic look into what subsistence living in true isolation looks like. As people who love the outdoors we often romanticize survival and living in isolation, but the reality is that it is brutal business and a constant game of Russian roulette. Constantly being at the edge of survival requires constant backbreaking work just to keep from falling off the edge. Ultimately, you can do it for as long as your luck lasts. One bad crop, one bad year of hunting, and death from starvation may be the only possible outcome without the presence of any type of safety net offered by a larger community. 

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