This family of refugees for religious beliefs lived in the Siberian wilderness in Russia for 40 years and was totally cut off from civilization. According to an article published Monday in the Smithsonian magazine, when archaeologists discovered the Lykov family, they were close to starving and had no knowledge of the major events of the middle of the last century, including World War II. The steep mountains and thick forests of Siberia constitute a threatening terrain known as the taiga. It is one of the most isolated and deserted places on the planet, with winters lasting from September to May. Its 13 million km² are largely uninhabited except by bears and wolves and occasionally by lonely villages that only shelter a few thousand people. These cold expanses of pine forests stretch from the furthest point of the Russian Arctic to Mongolia and the eastern Urals to the Pacific. “
The Siberian taiga in the Abakan region. Six members of the Lykov family lived in this remote desert for more than 40 years, quite isolated at more than 250 km from any nearest human settlement. (Wikicommons)
Siberia supplies Russia with oil and mineral resources, but the terrain is treacherous for moving in summer and impracticable in winter.
In the summer of 1978, a Soviet inspection team was flying over a heavily forested valley seeking a safe place to land a team of geologists. The flanks of the valley, formed by a tributary of the Abakan River, were almost vertical and incredibly narrow, with rows of slender pines and birches swaying due to the helicopter’s rotor air draw.
The pilot was looking for a place to land when he saw something he did not expect, a clearing with rows grown by man’s hand. With a mountain of more than 1800 meters, someone had digged a big garden. The inspectors reported to the four scientists on the exploratory mission that they had discovered signs of human habitation. The scientists were initially worried.
The journalist Vasily Peskov wrote in a book published in 1990, Lost in the Taiga, that in this part of Siberia, “It is less dangerous to meet a wild animal than a stranger. “
Karp Lykov and his daughter Agafia, wear clothes donated by Soviet geologists not long after their family was discovered.
The geologists, led by the scientist Galina Pismenskaya, took time to decide and rather than wait for their temporary camp 16 km away, they were going to organize an exploration. Pismenskaya reminded the team to choose a beautiful day and put gifts in the bags for potential friends. But, she said, just in case, she also took away her pistol.
While making its way up the mountain, the Soviet team began to find signs of human habitation, a path, felled trees, a hut with cut and dried potatoes. Then they found the cabin.
The Lykovs Farm seen from a Soviet reconnaissance aircraft 1980.
“Along a stream was the dwelling,” she says. Blackened by weather and rain, the cabin was surrounded on all sides by elements of the taiga, bark, poles, planks. If there had not been a window the size of my backpack, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But that was the case, no doubt about it. Our arrival had been noticed, as we have seen. The door of the hut opened and an old man barefoot stepped forward, straight out of a fairy tale, according to Pismenskaya’s description, both frightened and very attentive. “
“Greetings, grandfather,” she told him. We came to visit. “
Feverishly and apparently reluctantly, the old man tells him that having traveled so far, they would also be good to enter.
This family has spent 40 years living in nature and ignores the fact that there was World War II
The Lykovs lived in this hand-built log cabin, lit by a single window “the size of a backpack pocket” and heated by a wood stove.
They discovered five people, the old man, Karp Lykov, 81, his sons, Savin, 54, and Dimitri, 38. Karp’s two daughters, Natalia and Agaifa, were 44 and 37 years old. Karp and his wife Akulina fled to the taiga with their families in 1936 to escape religious persecution. The Lykovs were members of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect called The Old Believers, who had been ridiculed and harassed since the reign of Peter the Great.
Feeding on potatoes, leaves and a few animals that Dimitri could hunt and kill, the family survived in the wild, completely cut off from civilization. The two youngest, Dimitri and Agaifa had never met anyone outside their own family.
Agafia Lykova (left) with her sister, Natalia.
The family had endured many hardships, including the gradual disintegration of all the metal they had brought with them, eventually leading to the loss of all cookware and kettles for water. They had survived, sometimes leather shoes and leaves. Akulina died of hunger in 1961 when she decided to feed her children rather than herself.
The Lykovs initially did not accept any visitors’ gifts except salt, the deprivation of which had been a “real torture” for 40 years, said Karp. His sons and daughters had heard of the world beyond their forest, with nations and cities, and wars, but these things were totally abstract. They did not know anything about World War II or the technological advances that had occurred since the 1930s.
Karp refused to believe that the men had set foot on the moon, but was quick to grasp the concept of satellites because the family had observed from the 50’s, when “stars began to cross quickly the sky. Karp had imagined a theory that humanity had invented star-like rockets, which it could send into the sky.
The youngest son, Dimitri, became the favorite of scientists. He was the first of the family to visit the downstream Soviet camp. He was a passionate lumberjack who had learned to read the moods of the taiga day by day and season after season. The small sawmill of the camp particularly bewitched him, with his trees converted before his eyes in perfect planks, a task that required days to do manually.
Unfortunately, just three years after meeting with foreigners, three of Lykov’s children fell ill and died in the same period. Natalia and Savin died of kidney failure in 1981, swept away by years of inadequate nutrition. Dimitri died of pneumonia, probably through an infection caught in his encounters with strangers for the first time in his life.
A family has spent 40 years living in nature and does not know that there was World War II
Dmitry (left) and Savin in Siberia.
Dimitri’s Soviet friends begged him to allow him to call a helicopter and take him to a hospital to cure his pneumonia. He refused, whispering, “We are not allowed to,” a few moments before his death. A man lives with all that God gives him. “
Karp died while sleeping five years later in 1988. With the help of the scientists, his daughter Agaifa buried him and returned to the family hut. She resisted all the supplications of joining surviving relatives in villages bordering the taiga.
A Russian press photo of Karp Lykov (second from left) with Dmitry and Agafia, accompanied by a Soviet geologist.
An oil well driller named Yerofei Sedov who became close to the family wrote about his separation from Agaifa on the day of his father’s funeral, “I turned to wave to Agaifa. She was standing like a statue by the river. She was not crying. She nodded, continues, continues. We went a mile and I turned around. She was still standing in one place. “
The graves of Lykovs. Today, Agaifa Lykov still lives on her own in the family hut. She is today in her 70s.