Family of Russian hermits discovered in wilderness after 40 years

Deepest Siberia — Russia's taiga (snow forest) — is just as beautiful as it is inhospitable. Towards humans, it can be merciless. The summers are suffocatingly hot, with extremely high humidity. They're also short. Snow stays on the ground well into May and starts falling again in September when the north begins to freeze again. A huge part of the region is only inhabited by few hundred people.

Back in 1978, a helicopter carrying Soviet geologists was flying over the taiga when the team noticed furrows down on the ground that looked like a kind of garden.

The helicopter circled back over the area several times until the researchers were certain: people were settled here. But who in the world could live up here, so far from any populated area? They had to send an expedition to find out. Expedition leader Galina Pismenskaya, together with her group, prepared gifts for whomever they would meet there. They also carried weapons, just in case.

The scientists approached the terrain they'd seen from the air, full of anticipation. Soon they encountered someone: an old man in dirty clothing. He only reacted after they'd spoken several times, but then he led them into his sparsely-built cottage. 

Inside, it looked as if they'd returned to the middle ages. Six people lived in the hut: Karp Ossipowitsch Lykow, his sons Sawwin (45) and Dimitri (36) and his daughters Natalja (42) and Agafja (34). Their mother Akulina Karpowna had died years before of hunger.

The Lykow family were pious Christians, "Old Believers" in fact, and — facing state persecution in 1936 —they fled to the forests of Siberia and hid there where no other humans lived. They subsisted on whatever they could find in the wilderness, and were therefore often hungry. 

The Lykows rejected modern technology and lived as if in the 17th century. Slowly, they began to speak with the researchers who'd discovered them.

The scientists could hardly believe that the family had really missed everything that had happened in the world in the last 40 years: World War II, the Moon landing, and much more. Only the blinking lights of airplanes and satellites hinted to them at what was going on in the outside world.

The discovery of this wilderness family soon became a national sensation. They were visited by more and more researchers and journalists. 

In 1981, the eldest three children all died and their father Karp followed them in 1988. The youngest daughter Agafja still maintains active contact to the outside world. She corresponds regularly by post with the governor of the Kemerovo province and has spoken extensively with numerous reporters about her life, which has been depicted in a book and a documentary film.  

Agafja enjoys having contact with other people but she chose to stay in the taiga where she spent her entire life. (In early 2016 she was apparently airlifted to the hospital for treatment, however, and had to remain there for some time.)

What a tough, but strong, life this woman must have lived, she and her whole family. And just think, if it hadn't been for that helicopter of attentive scientists, we'd never have known who was out there, defying the roughest Northern wilderness — and surviving.


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