40 Years in the Russian Taiga with no Human Contact.
Cut off from all other humans; even WWII Passed them By!
In 1978, four Soviet geologists could not believe their eyes. As they were flying over the cold, barren and unforgiving Russian taiga, they saw a clearing about 6,000 feet up a mountainside made of deep furrows. They passed over the clearing a few more times and decided that, incredibly, this was clearly the site of human habitation.
This home-site was 150 miles from the nearest settlement in a never before explored area and there were no records of habitation there. The scientists decided to investigate and finally began to see sign of humans: a log bridge across a stream, foot paths and finally a small shed full of potatoes in birch bark containers. The house was truly a shack and was black with rain and the ravages of time. One of the scientists Galina Pismenskaya recalls that,
The old man did not reply immediately.... Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: 'Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.'
The home was cold, cramped and like a soot blackened kennel.
The ‘home’ was little more than a burrow and was something from way back in time. It was cold, cramped and like a soot blackened kennel, home to a family of five wearing scraps of hemp clothing that had been made after the patching and mending of their original clothing had finally failed years earlier.
The family was terrified, especially the two girls who had never met anybody but their family members, had never eaten bread and spoke in a language that was hard to understand and sounded like a slow, blurred cooing. Over the next few days, the scientists visited the family often and gained their trust. The father, Karp told them how he and his wife Akulina, son 9-year-old Savin and 2-year-old daughter Natalia had first come to live in this unforgiving land.
Karp Lykov was an Old Believer, a pacifist member of the fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect who worshipped in a style dating back to the 17th century. This group of believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great and Lykov saw him as “the anti-Christ in human form” speaking as if he knew the man personally. When the atheist Bolsheviks took power, for families like the Lykovs, things got worse and many believers fled to Siberia. Lykov’s brother was shot by a Communist patrol while Lykov was working beside him and his response was to disappear into the forest in 1936.
Bundling up an old spinning wheel, their clothing, a few possessions and some seeds, the Lykov family walked further and further into the taiga finally settling in their spot 150 miles away from humanity. Later two more children were born: Dmitri in 1940 and Agafia in 1943.
The children were told about cities and life on the outside; read from an old bible and Akaluna taught her children to read and write using sharp birch sticks dipped in honeysuckle juice.
Survival of The Fittest and the Luckiest.
The late 1950's were the "hungry years"
Living in such a harsh climate with no shops or other humans nearby is testament to the strength of human will. Their shoes wore out and were replaced with galoshes made out of birch bark; their pots and pans soon fell apart from rust and wear reducing their diet to potato patties made of ground rye and hemp seeds and their clothes finally fell apart and were replaced with hemp clothing.
When Dmitry was old enough to hunt in the 1950’s, he spent days away from home tracking and killing for meat. He was tough and hardy and went without shoes in winter, slept in the freezing cold and carried his kill across his shoulders. However, their gardens were often ravaged by animals or crops were eaten by rabbits and bears; famine and starvation were always lurking behind the door. They ate rowanberry leaf, roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops and bark and were hungry all the time.
In 1961, it snowed in June and a hard frost killed everything they had painstakingly planted in the garden. They resorted to eating their shoes and bark. Akaluna chose to let her children eat and she died of starvation. A miracle was at hand though and a single grain of rye sprouted in the pea patch. It was lovingly nurtured, protected with a fence and guarded day and night to fend off rodents. This tiny spike gave them 18 seeds and with this they rebuilt their rye crop.
The scientists learned more and more about this family through their visits and were amazed at their intelligence and distinct personalities. The father Karp was especially interested in new innovations and was delighted with cellophane that he thought was glass that crumpled. Savin the eldest son was the family arbitrator when it came to religion but his father said he was, “strong of faith, but a harsh man.” The other son Dmitri fascinated the scientists and knew the taiga like the back of his hand. He had built a stove for the family, fabricated birch bark buckets and was adept at cutting and hand planing logs. He was invited to the Soviet camp downstream and enjoyed spending time in the sawmill there.
Sadly, in 1981 three of the four children died. Dmitry died of pneumonia perhaps contracted from his new friends, and Savin and Natalia passed away from kidney failure as a result of their harsh diet. Some speculate that the girls might have died from kidney failure after accepting some salt from the scientists, something that they had lived without but craved. The salt was apparently the only gift they would take at first – but later they accepted cutlery, grain, pen, paper and an electric torch.
Father Karp and Agafia could not be persuaded to leave the forest and in 1988 on February 16th Karp died.
Agafia buried him on the mountainside and returned to her home.
A few years ago a crew flew across the frozen taiga to see Agafia, after going through the countless levels of Putin’s government for permission. She could, they were told, be located after a seven-day canoe trip in summer and by helicopter in the winter. They chose to go in the winter months.
She was now better established and had some small outbuildings, cabins, goats, chickens and preserved food at her site. She also had a neighbor, Yerofei Sedov. He initially came to the region to work as an oil prospector at a camp but was let go from his job, returned to the city where he lost a leg to gangrene and then returned to help Agafia. She says, these days it is she who helps him cut wood and survive and that they sometimes get together to listen to the radio, their only contact with the outside world. She did however, get away years ago in the 1980’s, just before her father died, to do a tour by plane, car and train after author Vasily Peskov’s articles made her into a phenomenon. She returned home to the taiga though, never tempted by the stores, shops and cities she had seen saying, “It’s scary out there. You can’t breathe. There are cars everywhere. There is no clean air. Each car that passes by leaves so many toxins in the air. You have no other option but to stay at home.”
Vasily Peskov’s book is now out of print and is selling at Amazon from between 189.00 for used copies right up to 725.00 for collectibles.
Amazon Price: $109.96 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 2, 2013)