Lost in the Taiga

The Siberian taiga in the Abakan district. Six members of the Lykov family lived in this remote wilderness for more than 40 years–utterly isolated and more than 150 miles from the nearest human settlement.

Best ofSiberian summers do not last long. The snows linger into May, and the cold weather returns again during September, freezing the taiga into a still life awesome in its desolation: endless miles of straggly pine and birch forests scattered with sleeping bears and hungry wolves; steep-sided mountains; white-water rivers that pour in torrents through the valleys; a hundred thousand icy bogs.

This forest is the last and greatest of Earth’s wildernesses. It stretches from the furthest tip of Russia’s arctic regions as far south as Mongolia, and east from the Urals to the Pacific: five million square miles of nothingness, with a population, outside a handful of towns, that amounts to only a few thousand people. When the warm days do arrive, though, the taiga blooms, and for a few short months it can seem almost welcoming. It is then that man can see most clearly into this hidden world–not on land, for the forest can swallow whole armies of explorers, but from the air. Siberia is the source of most of Russia’s oil and mineral resources, and, over the years, even its most distant parts have been overflown by prospectors and surveyors on their way to backwoods camps where the work of extracting wealth is carried on.

Karp Lykov and his daughter Agafia, wearing clothes donated by Soviet geologists not long after their family was rediscovered.

Thus it was in the remote south of the taiga in the summer of 1978. A helicopter sent to find a safe spot to land a party of geologists was skimming the treeline a hundred or so miles from the Mongolian border when it dropped into the thickly wooded valley of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, a seething ribbon of water rushing through dangerous terrain. The valley walls were narrow, with sides that were close to vertical in places, and the trees swaying in the rotors’ downdraft were so thickly clustered that there was no chance of finding a spot to set the aircraft down. But, peering intently through his windscreen in search of a landing place, the pilot saw something that should not have been there.

It was a clearing, 6,000 feet up a mountainside, wedged between the pine and larch and scored with what looked like long, dark furrows. The baffled helicopter crew made several passes before reluctantly concluding that this was evidence of human habitation—a garden that, from the size and shape of the clearing, must have been there for a long time. It was an astounding discovery. The mountain was more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement, in a spot that had never been explored. The Soviet authorities had no records of anyone living in the district.

The Lykovs lived in this hand-built log cabin, lit by a single window “the size of a backpack pocket” and warmed by a smoky wood-fired stove.

The four scientists sent into the district to prospect for iron ore were told about the pilots’ sighting, and it perplexed and worried them. “It’s less dangerous,” the writer Vasily Peskov notes of this part of the taiga, “to run across a wild animal than a stranger,” and rather than wait at their own temporary base, 10 miles away, the scientists decided to investigate. Led by a geologist named Galina Pismenskaya, they “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends”—though, just to be sure, she recalled, “I did check the pistol that hung at my side.”

As the intruders scrambled up the mountain, heading for the spot pinpointed by their pilots, they began to come across signs of human activity: a rough path, a staff, a log laid across a stream, and finally a small shed filled with birch-bark containers of cut-up dried potatoes. Then, Pismenskaya said,

beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish—bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it…. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see. The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. He looked frightened and was very attentive…. We had to say something, so I began: ‘Greetings, grandfather! We’ve come to visit!’ 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 sight that greeted the geologists as they entered the cabin was like something from the middle ages. Jerry-built from whatever materials came to hand, the dwelling was not much more than a burrow—”a low, soot-blackened log kennel that was as cold as a cellar,” with a floor consisting of potato peel and pine-nut shells. Looking around in the dim light, the visitors saw that it consisted of a single room. It was cramped, musty and indescribably filthy, propped up by sagging joists—and, astonishingly, home to a family of five:

The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins.’ The other, keeping behind a post… sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realized we had to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Agafia Lykova (left) with her sister, Natalia.

Led by Pismenskaya, the scientists backed hurriedly out of the hut and retreated to a spot a few yards away, where they took out some provisions and began to eat. After about half an hour, the door of the cabin creaked open, and the old man and his two daughters emerged—no longer hysterical and, though still obviously frightened, “frankly curious.” Warily, the three strange figures approached and sat down with their visitors, rejecting everything that they were offered—jam, tea, bread—with a muttered, “We are not allowed that!” When Pismenskaya asked, “Have you ever eaten bread?” the old man answered: “I have. But they have not. They have never seen it.” At least he was intelligible. The daughters spoke a language distorted by a lifetime of isolation: “When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer–a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.” But these centuries-old hatreds were conflated with more recent grievances; Karp was prone to complain in the same breath about a merchant who had refused to make a gift of 26 poods [940 pounds] of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900.

Things had only got worse for the Lykov family when the atheist Bolsheviks took power. Under the Soviets, isolated Old Believer communities that had fled to Siberia to escape persecution began to retreat ever further from civilization. During the purges of the 1930s, with Christianity itself under assault, a Communist patrol had shot Lykov’s brother on the outskirts of their village while Lykov knelt working beside him. He had responded by scooping up his family and bolting into forest.

Peter the Great’s attempts to modernize the Russia of the early 18th century found a focal point in a campaign to end the wearing of beards. Facial hair was taxed and non-payers were compulsorily shaved—anathema to Karp Lykov and the Old Believers.

That was in 1936, and there were only four Lykovs then—Karp; his wife, Akulina; a son named Savin, 9 years old, and Natalia, a daughter who was only 2. Taking their possessions and some seeds, they had retreated ever deeper into the taiga, building themselves a succession of crude dwelling places, until at last they had fetched up in this desolate spot.

Two more children had been born in the wild—Dmitry in 1940 and Agafia in 1943—and neither of the youngest Lykov children had ever seen a human being who was not a member of their family. All that Agafia and Dmitry knew of the outside world they learned entirely from their parents’ stories. The family’s principal entertainment, Vasily Peskov noted, “was for everyone to recount their dreams.”

The Lykov children knew there were places called cities where humans lived crammed together in tall buildings. They had heard there were countries other than Russia. But such concepts were no more than abstractions to them. Their only reading matter was prayer books and an ancient family Bible. Akulina had used the gospels to teach her children to read and write, using sharpened birch sticks dipped into honeysuckle juice as pen and ink. When Agafia was shown a picture of a horse, she recognized it from her mother’s Bible stories. “Look, papa,” she exclaimed. “A steed!”

But if the family’s isolation was hard to grasp, the unmitigated harshness of their lives was not. Traveling to the Lykov homestead on foot was astonishingly arduous, even with the help of a boat along the Abakan. On his first visit to the Lykovs, Peskov—who would appoint himself the family’s chief chronicler—noted that “we traversed 250 kilometres [155 miles] without seeing a single human dwelling!”

Isolation made survival in the wilderness close to impossible. Dependent solely on their own resources, the Lykovs struggled to replace the few things they had brought into the taiga with them. They fashioned birch-bark galoshes in place of shoes. Clothes were patched and repatched until they fell apart, then replaced with hemp cloth grown from seed.

The Lykovs’ mountain home, seen from a Soviet helicopter.

The Lykovs had carried a crude spinning wheel and, incredibly, the components of a loom into the taiga with them—moving these from place to place as they gradually went further into the wilderness must have required many long and arduous journeys—but they had no technology for replacing metal. A couple of kettles served them well for many years, but when rust finally overcame them, the only replacements they could fashion came from birch bark. Since these could not be placed in a fire, it became far harder to cook. By the time the Lykovs were discovered, their staple diet was potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds.

In some respects, Peskov makes clear, the taiga did offer some abundance: “Beside the dwelling ran a clear, cold stream. Stands of larch, spruce, pine and birch yielded all that anyone could take.… Bilberries and raspberries were close to hand, firewood as well, and pine nuts fell right on the roof.” Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion.

Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders. More often than not, though, there was no meat, and their diet gradually became more monotonous. Wild animals destroyed their crop of carrots, and Agafia recalled the late 1950s as “the hungry years.” “We ate the rowanberry leaf,” she said,

roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops, and bark. We were hungry all the time. Every year we held a council to decide whether to eat everything up or leave some for seed.

Famine was an ever-present danger in these circumstances, and in 1961 it snowed in June. The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation. The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.

Dmitry (left) and Savin in the Siberian summer.

As the Soviet geologists got to know the Lykov family, they realized that they had underestimated their abilities and their intelligence. Each family member had a distinct personality; old Karp was usually delighted by the latest innovations that the scientists brought up from their camp, and though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky,” and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.”

“What amazed him most of all,” Peskov recorded, “was a transparent cellophane package. ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!'” And Karp held grimly to his status as head of the family, though he was well into his 80s. Savin, his eldest child, dealt with this by casting himself as the family’s unbending arbiter in matters of religion. “He was strong of faith, but a harsh man,” his own father said of him, and Karp seems to have worried about what would happen to his family after he died if Savin took control.

Certainly the eldest son would have encountered little resistance from Natalia, who always struggled to replace her mother as cook, seamstress and nurse. The two younger children, on the other hand, were more approachable and more open to change and innovation. “Fanaticism was not terribly marked in Agafia,” Peskov said, and in time he came to realize that the youngest of the Lykovs had a sense of irony and could poke fun at herself. Agafia’s unusual speech—she had a singsong voice and stretched simple words into polysyllables—convinced some of her visitors she was slow-witted; in fact she was markedly intelligent, and took charge of the difficult task, in a family that possessed no calendars, of keeping track of time. She thought nothing of hard work, either, excavating a new cellar by hand late in the fall and working on by moonlight when the sun had set. Asked by an astonished Peskov whether she was not frightened to be out alone in the wilderness after dark, she replied: “What would there be out here to hurt me?”

A Russian press photo of Karp Lykov (second left) with Dmitry and Agafia, accompanied by a Soviet geologist.

Of all the Lykovs, though, the geologists’ favorite was Dmitry, a consummate outdoorsman who knew all of the taiga’s moods. He was the most curious and perhaps the most forward-looking member of the family. It was he who had built the family stove, and all the birch-bark buckets that they used to store food. It was also Dmitry who spent days hand-cutting and hand-planing each log that the Lykovs felled. Perhaps it was no surprise that he was also the most enraptured by the scientists’ technology. Once relations had improved to the point that the Lykovs could be persuaded to visit the Soviets’ camp, downstream, he spent many happy hours in its little sawmill, marveling at how easily a circular saw and lathes could finish wood. “It’s not hard to figure,” Peskov wrote. “The log that took Dmitry a day or two to plane was transformed into handsome, even boards before his eyes. Dmitry felt the boards with his palm and said: ‘Fine!'”

Karp Lykov fought a long and losing battle with himself to keep all this modernity at bay. When they first got to know the geologists, the family would accept only a single gift—salt. (Living without it for four decades, Karp said, had been “true torture.”) Over time, however, they began to take more. They welcomed the assistance of their special friend among the geologists—a driller named Yerofei Sedov, who spent much of his spare time helping them to plant and harvest crops. They took knives, forks, handles, grain and eventually even pen and paper and an electric torch. Most of these innovations were only grudgingly acknowledged, but the sin of television, which they encountered at the geologists’ camp,

proved irresistible for them…. On their rare appearances, they would invariably sit down and watch. Karp sat directly in front of the screen. Agafia watched poking her head from behind a door. She tried to pray away her transgression immediately—whispering, crossing herself…. The old man prayed afterward, diligently and in one fell swoop.

The Lykovs’ homestead seen from a Soviet reconnaissance plane, 1980.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the Lykovs’ strange story was the rapidity with which the family went into decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the fall of 1981, three of the four children followed their mother to the grave within a few days of one another. According to Peskov, their deaths were not, as might have been expected, the result of exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity. Both Savin and Natalia suffered from kidney failure, most likely a result of their harsh diet. But Dmitry died of pneumonia, which might have begun as an infection he acquired from his new friends.

His death shook the geologists, who tried desperately to save him. They offered to call in a helicopter and have him evacuated to a hospital. But Dmitry, in extremis, would abandon neither his family nor the religion he had practiced all his life. “We are not allowed that,” he whispered just before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.”

The Lykovs’ graves. Today only Agafia survives of the family of six, living alone in the taiga.

When all three Lykovs had been buried, the geologists attempted to talk Karp and Agafia into leaving the forest and returning to be with relatives who had survived the persecutions of the purge years, and who still lived on in the same old villages. But neither of the survivors would hear of it. They rebuilt their old cabin, but stayed close to their old home. Karp Lykov died in his sleep on February 16, 1988, 27 years to the day after his wife, Akulina. Agafia buried him on the mountain slopes with the help of the geologists, then turned and headed back to her home. The Lord would provide, and she would stay, she said—as indeed she has. A quarter of a century later, now in her seventies herself, this child of the taiga lives on alone, high above the Abakan. She will not leave. But we must leave her, seen through the eyes of Yerofei on the day of her father’s funeral:

I looked back to wave at Agafia. She was standing by the river break like a statue. She wasn’t crying. She nodded: ‘Go on, go on.’ We went another kilometer and I looked back. She was still standing there.

Sources

Anon. ‘How to live substantively in our times.’ Stranniki [‘Wanderers’], 20 February 2009, accessed August 2, 2011; Georg B. Michels. At War with the Church: Religious Dissent in Seventeenth Century Russia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995; Isabel Colgate. A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses. New York: HarperCollins, 2002; ‘From taiga to Kremlin: a hermit’s gifts to Medvedev,’ rt.com, February 24, 2010, accessed August 2, 2011; G. Kramore, ‘At the taiga dead end‘. Suvenirograd [‘Souvenirs of Interesting places’], nd, accessed August 5, 2011; Irina Paert. Old Believers, Religious Dissent and Gender in Russia, 1760-1850. Manchester: MUP, 2003; Vasily Peskov. Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness. New York: Doubleday, 1992 A documentary on the Lykovs (in Russian) which shows something of the family’s isolation and living conditions, can be viewed here.

839 thoughts on “Lost in the Taiga

  1. If they had only been discovered after 1991, the story would be even more a modern-day Seven Sleepers. This article is full of great quotes:

    “Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion.” — evidence of the endurance running hypothesis.

    ” ‘What amazed him most of all,’ Peskov recorded, ‘was a transparent cellophane package. ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!’ ‘ ” — In a 1940 US survey, ‘cellophane’ was voted the 3rd most beautiful word, after ‘mother’ and ‘memory’.

    “When they first got to know the geologists, the family would accept only a single gift — salt.”

    “We ate the rowanberry leaf….” — showing detailed knowledge of their environment.

    “The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels.”

    It’s as if this family, by necessity, reverted or rediscovered the life of primitive humanity.

  2. This is totally “a made up story” untrue as if a man is in the sky floating on a cloud. Sime things people will do to write a story!

  3. What I learned of Siberia in school, was much in keeping with what you wrote – it has a larger population than one might think, but it is intensely compacted into some cities and towns, and that it is common that one might walk 120+ miles in any direction, in some areas, without encountering another human being or human dwelling.

    Siberia is about 33% bigger than the USA, with only 12% as many people. That means the population density of Siberia is only 9% of that of America, and there are far, far fewer small cities or or towns or villages, and very few outlying places of inhabitation. The 40 million people who live there are concentrated into relatively few places. So this . . .

    It stretches from the furthest tip of Russia’s arctic regions as far south as Mongolia, and east from the Urals to the Pacific: five million square miles of nothingness, with a population, outside a handful of towns, that amounts to only a few thousand people.

    . . . is much closer to the truth than one might think.

    • Siberia has a population density of about 8 people per square mile. By itself, that’s less than any US state except Montana, Wyoming and Alaska. But Siberia is equal in size to 51 (!) Wyomings, and it has more wilderness area (defined as less than one person per square mile) than ALL of the USA, plus an additional Alaska. There are only relatively tiny parts of America that have anything like the same lack of population that nearly all of Siberia has.

      Even if you put all of Siberia’s settlements into an area the size of Alaska, there could be miles of empty space between them, and the population density still would be lower than two-thirds of American states – around the same density as Arizona.

      And there would still be more than six entire Alaska-sized spaces with no one living there at all!

      In other words, those five million non-urban people share a space that’s considerably larger than all of the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii. And another Alaska.

  4. Thanks Mike Dash, very interesting story, I’ve been googling the story, tried to watch the doc but didn’t find a captioned version.

  5. […] Μακροσκελές άρθρο μα θα σας συναρπάσει!Οικογένεια επιβίωσε πλήρως αποκομμένη από τον ανθρώπινο πολιτισμό για 40 χρόνια […]

  6. […] An astonishing Russian family that for 40 years, virtually lived in another world […]

  7. […] fascinating, beautifully written- “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars” […]

    • Shooting a flame into space probably seemed much more plausible to someone with a 1930’s knowledge of science than an actual manned spacecraft. I’m not sure if they mention it in this particular article, but he said he thought they were fires that had been shot up there or something along those lines.

  8. […] What technology do you need to survive 40 years wilderness isolation? Here are some ideas […]

  9. […] Amazing story of isolated Old Believer family found in taiga, all they wantd from modern world was salt […]

    • In my Chinese history class the professor did a great job of explaining how important of a role salt played. While China was ruled by monarchs the government held a monopoly on the salt trade, and because it is a necessity for life salt was by far the largest source of tax revenue, and subsequently was also the source of many grievances. During the early stages of the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai Shek encircled and besieged the communists, planning to starve them to death by cutting off their salt supply. This of course forced the communists to break out, and start the Long March.

  10. This is incredible: The story of a Russian family, discovered in the 70s living in Siberia, who knew nothing of WW2

  11. […] For 40+ years, one family lived alone in the Russian taiga. On history, isolation, survival, and the cost of contact […]

  12. […] Brilliant RT @jonawils: Astonishing piece about a family living in isolation in Siberia for 40 years […]

  13. […] Astonishing piece about a family living in isolation in Siberia for 40 years […]

  14. […] The principal entertainment was for every1 to recount their dreams. Russian family cut off from other humans for 40 yrs […]

    • How much information might that actually provide us with, though? There are individuals living in relate-ably harsh conditions (food scarcity, harsh climates, etc.). But, I would argue that the differing factor of this situation is the lack of contact with civilization (specifically, the children). Having learned to read and write from their bible, and thus learned the tenants of their belief-system, we’d simply have to look at the doctrines of their religious faith to understand some of their thinking processes. I’m interested in their dreams because that is subconscious/unconscious information being displayed. Having that information might be akin to having the dream-journal of early man. We might see great differences and great similarities. The differences could likely be attributed to their experiential-confinement. For example, where as we might dream of being in a location that we had seen in a movie or something, they might dream of being in a certain location simply from imaginings of the oral stories told to them about these places. Television has saturated our modern minds with a great number of backdrops and plots. They may be unique when combined, but much of their source can be attributed to what we have seen elsewhere. The input source for these isolated people is trees and snow and their small family, only. Also, the similarities between their dreams and the dreams of “civilized” man could possibly reveal some over-looked internal yearning or factor or setting that we had never considered universal to the unconscious mind of humanity.

    • Not just the dreams, but everything that happened up until that point of first meeting the outside world.
      It’s like a completely new society and culture discovered, albeit an incredibly small one. Record the “dialect” the daughters were speaking, their dreams, their stories, the process of growing the food and how they found sustenance, fucking everything.

      • Ha. Personally, I wouldn’t analyze them with any intent to find deeper meaning. I was simply wondering what the content of the children’s (those that had never experienced other human-beings) dreams might be. Having never seen anyone outside of their family, with no real knowledge of the current affairs or even borders of earth, how might their dreams differ or relate to the dreams of modern man. I can’t help but think it would be like observing the unconscious mind of a much earlier human, and that’s what would fascinate me.

  15. […] What a story! “The family’s principal entertnmnt, the Russian jrnalst noted, was for everyone to recount their dreams.” […]

  16. […] The incredible, poignant story of a family isolated for 40 years on a remote Siberian mountainside […]

  17. […] Incredible. The daughters spoke a language distorted by isolation “it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing” […]

  18. When I saw the wall of text after following the link I was worried but after the first 2-3 sentences I couldn’t stop. What an amazing story.

  19. Once again religion shows it’s ability to completely overpower rational thought and make a total mess of peoples lives. A truly sad story

    • @raymond: “Once again religion shows it’s ability to completely overpower rational thought and make a total mess of peoples lives. A truly sad story.” –Yes how irrational it was for those Christians to not stand still and make it easier for Stalin’s thugs to kill them. They truly messed up their lives by not letting themselves be murdered. On a more serious note, this is an amazing story, and the Lykov’s have lived incredible, amazingly different and amazingly full lives.

    • ” Once again religion shows it’s ability to completely overpower rational thought and make a total mess of peoples lives. A truly sad story. Posted by raymond on January 29,2013 | 02:22 PM” So, when discussing an article about a Christian family trying to avoid Communist persecution, your reaction is to talk about the irrationalism of religion? Haven’t you got any self-awareness at all? “Rational,” atheist Communism, aka Scientific Socialism, killed 200 million people in the last century, including Mr. Lykov’s brother. That is why he fled into the wilderness in the first place. Had he not done so, it is likely that he would have been shot or sent to the gulags – quite a number of Old Believers ended up there, I believe. At least his “irrationalism” prolonged his and his family’s life for forty years – your fellow atheists, all “rational” to the core, would have killed him for no other reason that he didn’t happen to agree with their opinions!

    • Err, Raymond, surely militant atheism also had something to do with their misfortunes? But of course it’s easier to blame the monolith that is all religious sentiment expressed throughout the whole of history.

    • 1. Don’t attack Raymond for his opinion. He too can have an opinion that is different from uours. So what now, drive him into the deep of Taiga? 2. I was born and raised in USSR. This story was told and we were just as amazed as you guys. But we of course saw it as an oddity and a testiment to human sbility to survive. Although there was never an accent placed on the religious aspect. Just the fact that they were deeply religious. As a kid living in USSR that aspect didn’t impress us at all. I must say that there were many families like that and one can say that there ia a good chance there still may be some. Taiga is vast and still very unexplored. This is not the only region in Russia. The asian part of Russia is mostly deep wilderness that had offered escape for many folks through out centuries including Escaped prisoners, relegious folk and those that simply called it home since forever. This isn’t the first annd certainly the last familly to be “found” there… 3. Don’t judge the geologists for leaving Agafia. This ia a very Russian thing to do. Religion or not iit’s a common part of Russian character to see life for what it is – a long and dusty road that streches far into horizon. They navigate that road with a speed of a long song and a pace of a walking horse pulling a large cart. There is time to rationalize, love, cry, be happy, think of reasons to live, and the death itself. So they left Agafia because each of them knew the road has been already cjosen and there is not a question about changing it. They met them as passers by and left them as such…. Never to forget each other… And tell the story. This is jow Russian unique folk stories get born and live for centuries.

  20. I wonder what would be their reaction when they see an iPad?

    will they say “Magical” or “Satans demonic curse!”?

    • Waving goodbye to Agafia got me right in the feels. Talk about torn. Leave all you’ve ever known (and likely feeling as though doing so would betray everything that you were raised to believe), or stay with what you’ve known, but be utterly alone.

  21. […] THIS is a true story you will remember. What meaning can it have for our lives? […]

  22. Amazing! This STORY IS BOTH HEART-WRENCHING AND INSPIRING. IT SHOWS THE RESILIENCE AND LOVE OF A FAMILY THAT HAD NO ONE BUT EACH OTHER.

  23. This is the most fantastic news article that I have ever read! Keep up the great work! And thank you for taking the time to write this!

  24. An incredible story ! And we have the nerve to complain about conditions in our ” excess of everything ” daily lives.

  25. Yeah, the lack of intellectual curiosity involved in seeing a plane fly over now and again for decades and never seeking out the answer to how the heck that is possible can really only be explained by religion and incest.,,,

    • In this case “seeking out the answer” would have meant a perilous trek, on foot, over hundreds of miles of dangerous and imposing terrain to a settlement controlled by the very government they were in hiding from. Not so much a lack of intellectual curiosity as a different set of priorities.

      • Seeing as how millions of their countryfolk perished in a war of civilizations, many by way of those wonderful aircraft, it’s tough to say they made the wrong choice.

    • I wondered this also, not because I thought it’d be hot but because I can’t even imagine how loving crazy it would be to have no other humans in your entire world than your immediate family. I mean not even having the possibility of ever looking at another human, not even a loving photo of another human. Imagine going through puberty never ever having seen a girl (or boy) before. Or a picture of one.

      They probably didn’t though, because look at that place, there’s zero privacy for anyone.

      • In the OP when they first describe their encounter with the family it gives some insight into how those kids must have felt. That girl who was born in the wild and knew no one else was hysterical and from her words sounds like she thought the visitors were demons or angels of death etc considering all she had for education was the bible.

  26. My husband sent me this article this morning. I can’t believe Agafia is still living out there completely alone! How often do you think people check up on her? SHOULD people check up on her?

    • @fruiting body Apparently people do check up on her! And they bring her food and animals and supplies. That makes me feel so much better.

  27. This is an amazing article and I would love to read more about this family and how they survived for so long. It does make you realise how easy our live are compared to some others out there.

  28. Honestly, having just been sexually harassed on the way to work, my own cabin in the Taiga with a garden sounds quite nice. Once they got knives, salt, etc, it doesn’t sound so bad. I’d miss showers, I wouldn’t miss cubicles and men trying to touch me on the L. I’m headed off to Siberia to meet up with Agafia.

    This may also be related to my childhood obsession with the boxcar children.

    • @DullHypothesis it all seems remarkably similar to my bad-day-at-work daydream of moving to a cabin in the Rockies, surrounded by snow and wolves, and living in quiet forever.

  29. […] Insane story about a Russian family that lived without human contact in Siberia for 40 years […]

  30. […] An incredible story of a family’s survival for 40 years in the Taiga, entirely cut off from civilization […]

  31. […] Whoah. RT @realjohngreen Via @naturallysteph, an astonishing story of a family isolated in Siberia for forty years […]

  32. […] I am reading this crazy article about a Siberian family cut off from the world for 40 years […]

  33. […] Prachtverhaal: familie woont 40 jaar in afzondering in Siberië en mist daardoor WO II […]

  34. […] Astounding. The Siberian family found in a forest in 1978, having spoken to nobody since 1936 […]

  35. One thing I wondered in reading this was: what did they expect was the end game here? I understand the fleeing to the wilderness out of fear part, and maintaining a gap between yourself and civilization for religious reasons or fear of persecution but… what did the father think would happen, ultimately, to his family over time? Did he intend at some point to go back and never did? Did he figure they’d live out there for the rest of their lives and then just … die out? I presume, based on what they report Dmitri and the surviving daughter saying and doing, that they believed that whatever happened was God’s will, but at the same time you’ve basically lived his terrible way (and because you left civilization you KNOW it’s terrible – you’re watching your wife die of starvation when food is known to exist elsewhere) to maintain a religion that then will just die out when your family does. I guess this is just how extreme religious belief plays out?!

    Based on there not being any additional generations of children it doesn’t seem they practiced any incest (THANK GOD) and that would probably have been well outside the bounds of the religion anyway, but I wish they’d either probed a bit on the long-term motivations and end-game expectations of Karp or, if they did, explained some of that. I would sincerely have loved to know what he thought was going to happen to his family both when he immediately fled or over time.

    • marylynn, I think you might be underestimating the effects of time and distance here. They lived out there for about a quarter of a century before his wife died. (They fled in ’36, she died in ’61) I’m not sure how real the outside world was to them by that time. Two of the children had never even seen another human.

      But beyond that, there’s the idea that him walking to the nearest town, getting food, and walking back before she starved would even have been possible. About a 300 mile round trip, when they were found in the ’70s. Maybe farther in 1961.

      He was probably starving as well, and I expect travel would have been slow. The terrain was pretty rough and would be difficult even for a healthy man. Then he’d have had to find a settlement, convince someone to give him food – he had no money and it doesn’t sound like he had anything to barter.

      Then he’d have to walk back.

      Even if you leave their beliefs out of it, they weren’t in a position to make the kind of decisions that might seem normal to us.

      As far as what he (and his wife) thought the ‘end game’ would be, I expect they figured that eventually God would call each of them and they’d go to Heaven, or Hell. But at least they wouldn’t have been persecuted and murdered for their beliefs.

      I expect they lived in fear. Fear of persecution, fear of Hell.

      “The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins.’ The other, keeping behind a post… sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realized we had to get out of there as quickly as possible.”

  36. […] Mike Dash writes another astonishing article – “For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact.” […]

  37. Russian people doing bad-ass stuff in far-away places! It’s kind of my favorite thing! Ian Frazier mentioned this in ‘Travels in Siberia,’ but I’m glad to read a fuller version. Thanks!

  38. The daughter is the only one left and she chose to live in the same place she has lived most of her life and that’s where she will die, especially when she can’t gather the food and water to feed herself. She knows this and has made the choice to live in the only world she has ever known, in the wilderness of Siberia and she is happy there for she knows of no other way to find happiness as she hasn’t experienced the happiness others feel when they have more contact with humans.

  39. […] This story about Russian geologists’ encounter w a family cut off from world for 40 yrs is incredible […]

  40. […] This story is unbelievable–Russian family living completely alone in Siberia for decades. Fascinating read […]

  41. As a boy there was a common game that friends would play, which was — if Newton were to come back today, what technology would he be most shocked about.

    I found this quote interesting, and I think shows how hard it may be to predict such things:

    “What amazed him most of all,” Peskov recorded, “was a transparent cellophane package. ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!'”

  42. My grandfather was born in Abakan, and published several books on the history of the region. He visited Agafia several times by helicopter with my uncle, after the other members of her family had passed.

    When I was around 15, he showed me a video of their first encounter with her, and to this day I cannot get the image of the pure terror on her face out of my mind. She had multiple visitors before, but something about this visit scared her so much that she hid inside for hours.

    It turned out that this was the first visit where someone in the crew had brought video equipment (one of those big shoulder-mounted VHS cameras), and Agafia would later tell my grandfather that she thought this thing would ‘steal her soul.’ She wasn’t shocked in amazement at the new technology, this was pure fear.

  43. I just glanced at this story. I’m actually familiar with this family and used to read a lot about them in early 90s. In fact, Peskov used to write pretty frequently about them in “Komsomolskaya Pravda,” a very popular newspaper publication in Russia, ever since he located the family. He even found relatives of this family who invited Agafia to live with them, but she declined. Really interesting and kind of makes you think about the vastness of Siberian wilderness and that this kind of stuff is even possible in today’s day and age.

  44. This is absolutely amazing. This woman is more of a man than any man I know, living in some desolate valley for all of those years now absolutely ALONE? One word: Wow.

  45. Truly unbelievable acts of everyday survival. Had to smile at the thought of Dmitry stalking elk in the winter barefoot. Tough family of pioneers, a testament to the resilient spirit of humankind.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing story!

  46. I’ve often thought of the hermit life, really makes you think of how tough a guy has to be to make it in the bush. living on potato pancakes and birch bark for a decade or so certainly sounds like a harsh go.

    • Your thought can be considered valid in this world, but that is probably part of the reason the founders of the family did what they did.
      I find the story enlightening.

  47. Very cool read! Too bad the family was ever discovered, as mentioned with no immunities to combat illnesses, it didn’t take long to wipe them out.

  48. I’m actually from Russia, and I can safely say that this story is one of many. To the point where Old Believer settlements are constantly being found even today. Some of these people left mainstream society as far back as the 1600s and have not had contact with the outside world since. You can read about it on wikipedia by seraching: “Old Believers”. They have some really whacky beliefs.

    Notably, as far as sexual relations and isolation go (as someone commented) this story is unique because most old believers left in groups which turned into settlements and small communities.

    I would definitely have more respect for their way of life (i.e. like the stone age societies in the amazon which followed their own unique strand of anthropological development) were it not for the fact that their religion was completely nuts. (Notably, there are old believers who remained part of mainstream society who do not necessarily believe the same things) They have been predicting the end of the world continuously for hundreds of years stemming from the destruction of what they consider to the be true Orthodox Church. They left the Church over subtle ecunumerical differences with Patriarch Nikon who attempted to (ironically) revive the lost traditions of the Greek orthodox church. Very minor stuff like crossing one-self with two fingers instead of three and so on. They also have very violently contested differences between Old Believer sects, but what religion doesn’t?

  49. […] Bored tonight & open to reading an incredible story about a lost family of mountain folk badasses? Damn right you are […]

    • Some of their material culture and survival techniques are not too far of from those of the indigenous people of Siberia and Arctic Russia. I have Sami ancestry by way of Sweden and some of what they did is not that different from the Sami, either. Even thought they were in a very remote area, it should be remembered that Siberia and the Arctic all the way from Scandinavia, to the Pacific have hosted a wide range of cultures for thousands of years. This is beyond the Benedict option and is reversion even further back. which is impressive.

      • This is incredible, but also consider, if you were fleeing religious persecution, would you choose an option that would separate you from the sacraments for the remainder of your life? I probably wouldn’t – the Benedict option at least implies a somewhat larger religious community, centered around ordained men who can provide the sacraments. This is something else entirely, more akin to the desert hermits.

    • Yes and no. Yes they withdrew from civilization, but when contact was reestablished the culture and technology transfer went from the outside world to them.

      • The Old Believers all chose a life without the sacraments when they split from the Russian Orthodox Church, because none of the Orthodox bishops joined them. Without bishops, no new clergy could be ordained, and once the original Old Believer priests had died there could be no more. From that point on the Old Believers were without the sacraments. (I presume that they have continued to perform baptisms, which do not absolutely require a priest, but I do not actually know.)

        Since then the Old Believers have split into several sub-groups, some of which have been able to restore an episcopal hierarchy and thus once again have clergy. So there are now “priested” Old Believers and “priestless” Old Believers. The Lykov family seem to be priestless Old Believers, although the article does not say so.

    • This is not at all the Benedict Option, not remotely or even close, at least if we understand the Benedict Option as being modeled on actual Benedictines. Yes, some withdrawal is part of the Option, but the Benedictine pattern of life is also premised on mission, service, and hospitality. The Benedict Option therefore has an element of “defense” and saving yourself from a crazy world, but it is also so much more than that. Any monasticism is fundamentally driven by love for the world, at some level understanding itself as a member and at the service of the larger universal Church, or else it is degenerate. A genuinely Benedict-patterned Option would therefore has roots, stability and localism, but also a certain cosmopolitanism that is at least implicit in any genuinely Christ-centered outlook, a desire to do a service to the world even as it remains distinct from the world. That has been the classic Benedictine pattern for centuries. Perhaps that aspect of the Option needs to be more foregrounded in Rod’s presentation of it, but I’ve always assumed that to the degree the Option had kinship not only with Alasdair MacIntyre but the actual real life St. Benedict, that these outward-oriented dimensions were part of it.

      • BTW, this extremely negative view of human sinfulness also helps explain their unwillingness to return; no doubt the priestless Old Believer ideas combined with a perfectly understandable siege mentality compounded over almost a half century to make them extra super recalcitrant about the outside world.

  50. […] This piece about a family cut off from the world reminds me of Petrushevskaya’s “New Robinson Crusoes” […]

  51. […] years in the far reaches of Siberia, a story hard to believe, but apparently true […]

  52. […] Survivalism, Russian style. “she thought nothing of hard work, either, excavating a new cellar by hand […]

  53. […] A superb read! For 40 years, this Russian family was cut off from all human contact #longreads […]

  54. […] Unbelievable. 40 years of NO human contact and a family living in isolation. They didn’t even know about WWII. READ. […]

  55. […] This Russian family lived in such a remote area that they didn’t hear about World War II until 1978. Amazing story […]

  56. […] If you still haven’t read this account of being stranded in Siberia without human contact for 40 years you must do now […]

  57. […] Incredible piece on how a family lived in isolation in frosty Siberia for 40 years […]

  58. (Jaw dropping) It was the TV that killed them by ushering in a future that had no room for their convictions, destroying their world view, crushing their spirit!

  59. Someone posted an article with a link to this but I think it’s been buried–Russian news video of Agafia, still surviving

    Google/me translated: “The authorities of the Kemerovo region awarded the famous hermit Agafya Lykov a medal “for faith and goodness.” We think Agafya Lykova reacted to the medal with concealed surprise, because in return, she asked to be brought her rubber boots, a goat, a return of the deceased, and the rooster, and then it does not sing (?). As the saying goes, two worlds – two children. The world of Agafya Lykova, who is the last of a large family of Lykovs discovered in the late 70’s by geologist Yerofei Sedym, is nearly impossible to get to. You can only fly there by helicopter. However, our correspondent Vladimir Shcheglov discovered that, through MOE, it is still possible. The first part of an exclusive story.”
    Also this, a documentary about her, it looks like?

    Just YouTube “Агафья” (that’s Agafia) and all sorts of stuff comes up.

    • can anybody who speaks russian comment on her russian? I’m curious about how much a language can be changed in isolation in only one generation.

      • It is quite different sounding, however, regionally, Russian is bound to sound differently as well. In addition, the schismatics lived in seclusion for several centuries, with limited interaction with outside world.

    • I don’t know much Russian, but I did find it interesting that her lilting, sing-song way of speaking had survived decades without her family and intrusions from the rest of the world.

      • There’s a certain point in adulthood where it’s hard to change speech patterns. My wife’s grandmother still has a British accent after decades living in the US. Her sons do not.

      • The article did state that she was very smart, and that she was a very hard worker. The guy with the beard at the end is probably Yerofei Sedym because there were older b&w photos of them together … perhaps he helped her? Still, it’s gotta mostly be her work. Amazing woman.

      • Same, was a fascinating but almost eerie read. They would be really interesting to see their views on life besides being highly religious and simple.

  60. It’s a sad and somewhat affecting story. At first it seems hard to believe. But when you think about it, pre-history must be full of cases like this, where people for one reason or another ended up completely isolated in the wilderness.

  61. […] In today’s world of increasing inter-connectivity, the idea of living off the grid, in the middle of nowhere, with no contact with the outside world is almost inconceivable. We’re constantly updated on the lives of our friends, both far and near. We get instant reports on the world’s wars and financial woes. And that’s why a new article in Smithsonian magazine about a family that lived in isolation for decades is so fascinating […]

  62. In late 1989 I arrived at a small liberal arts college for an interview and tour. Included in the day’s itinerary was a chance to sit in on a class. The professor walked in and initiated a conversation with the class about the falling of the Berlin Wall, that historic event that was, justifiably, dominating the news. In one of the most surreal experiences of my life (up to that point), not one of the 12 students in the class had any clue that this was happening in the “real world”. As I had been living at home (where we had a daily subscription to the NYT, televisions that were almost always on, and parents that were news junkies) I knew as much about it as anyone who wasn’t actually in Berlin could. I spent 10 minutes filling them in and answering questions. That completely blew my mind, but I was at least encouraged by the fact that these students were genuinely interested and excited about the news and did know a whole lot about history – just not history that was happening while they were on campus.

    I ended up attending the school and was mostly news-free myself during school terms until my last semester when the house I rented off-campus with friends came with a TV (though we watched more “Northern Exposure” than CNN). Now that all students have constant internet access I’m sure they don’t miss a thing that is going on off-campus (including, unfortunately, the meme of the day, celebrity scandals, LOLcats, etc.). I don’t know if they are better off, though. There is something to be said for taking a few years off to focus on the “big picture” of history rather than the 24 hour news cycle…. as long as there are some members of the community (teachers, the kids who do follow the news) to let everyone know when something big is going down and one emerges from the cave finally with the skills to discern what is important and why, how it fits into the bigger picture, and the desire and drive to join the human race as a conscientious citizens of the planet. That pretty much describes the majority of my college friends.

  63. funny, this was in 1978 lets not forget, as a child in my elementary years we had just moved into a modern housing complex one of the first in the northwest, this community was pushed into an old countryside where the closest store was about 15 miles away as was the school, high school 30.. near this comunity of about 30 new homes was a ranch and between that a cliver of property where there dwelled an oolder black man and an older white man both living in home made shacks, no running water or electricity, we called them hermits, they never spoke and lived off the land the best they could.. this wasnt so uncommon up into the 70s until strct codes prohibited it and pushed people further out.. also I have an uncle who upon his arrival back from the VietNam war moved out to the Olympic penninsula and hasnt been heard from since by family members only a few articles in the papers, him and a few friends live off the land apparently gathering supplies in Forks wa maybe once a year, still there as far as I know..

  64. […] Fascinating story of a family isolated in the Russian wilderness for 40 years. (Love Dmitry’s astonishing endurance.) […]

    • Yeah. Dmitry was that much of a badass. He literally ran down game barefoot in the middle of winter, taking them down with his bare hands.

  65. […] Astonishing story of one Russian family’s decline after being cut off from humanity for 40 years […]

  66. What happened to the incest babies? That is surely a thing that must have happened. Some kind of crude abortion? Perhaps when starving, they would eat the dead fetus. These people had their disturbing secrets.

    • There is a book about the family with more details. The father said once that he was worried about what might happen with his kids during puberty, so he separated them. He lived in the main cabin with his wife and his daughters, his sons lived in another cabin some miles away. He never actually said what he was afraid of, but one can easily imagine he was afraid of incest – so he prevented it. They actually seem to have been very faithful. The book’s title was “Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness” and it’s by Vasily Peskov.

    • Bob, pray tell what led you to this conclusion? I saw no mention of such in the article. Are you basing this on the assumption that you, if placed in a similar situation, would have an incestual relationship with your sister(s)? Bob, I find this a very indicative commentary on our current culture that is absorbed with sex at every turn, and is unable to see a story of a religious family and their survival as just that.

    • bob, I hope that I am not the only reader who is insulted that you assume incest, abortion & cannibalism would have occurred amongst this family. Regardless of how offended you are by their unusual & devout faith…incest, abortion & cannibalism are more commonly found in today’s culture thanks to “sexual liberation”, on-demand child killing (abortion), & the used of aborted fetal parts by pharmaceutical & food companies. Your assumption is far more disturbing than any perceived secrets you seem to be so sure of. Few of us would have the psychological or physical strength to live such a life for even a month, let alone 40+ years. Blessed repose & eternal memory for the departed members of the Lykov family, & may God protect Agafia for the remainder of her days on earth.

    • Who are these “people” that find only the ugly bizarre things but miss the beauty of humanity in this story? I’m truly glad people are so miserable and pathetic that they can only find religion to blame for this. It’s exactly what people who think that way deserve. By the way, thanks to all the people who pointed out that religious persecution caused this in the first place. Take note America.

      • Actually, I thought “too bad those kids died never getting laid” and then I thought “well, maybe not”. Are we sickos or have we just seen the Blue Lagoon too many times?

      • Whether it’s a bad thought or not I cannot say, but “One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins'” did nothing to disuade my suspicions.

    • It’s an excellent question and I see no reason why it’s getting everyone so angry. Sexuality is a basic human need.
      I imagine they were strict about it given their religiosity, which mandates traditional family relationships. The children likely experienced no sexuality, outside of masturbation natural to everyone – unless it was caught and restricted.
      As for the parents – they lived in a house with only a small window – lots of darkness. Or maybe they go away by themselves to pick berries or whatever.

  67. […] Whatever your plans today, set aside 15 minutes and make sure you read this absolutely unbelievable story […]

  68. […] This story re a family living alone in remote reaches of Siberia blew my mind. Amazing, sad, weird […]

  69. […] Amazing long form journalism – Russian family discovered after 40 years in isolation […]

  70. I am just stunned! What can be said about this family’s story? The indomitable spirit of man lives on as does man’s incomparable faith in a Higher Being, I call God. My heart is bleeding and the burden is heavy.

  71. […] You have to read this amazing story. I could not write a word after reading this […]

  72. […] Most unsurprisingly part is how they loved TV: For 40 years this Russian family was cut off from all human contact […]

  73. […] Very good read || For 40 years, this Russian family was cut off from all human contact #longreads […]

  74. […] The incredible story of a Russian family isolated from humanity for 40 years. Utterly enchanting read […]

  75. The message here : They were forced too leave their homes due to government tyranny . We are looking at the future of those who exercise their right to worship, unless they worship “Government Approved Gods.” Obama comes too mind !

  76. […] You have a belief system and way of life that makes you distrust outsiders due to a political purge. You live a harsh life in the forest and scavenge daily to feed yourself and your family of 5. Without hunting or building equipment, you figure out how to create a “home” and hunt barefoot in the snow but mostly eat grasses, berries and bark. The only people you’ve seen for 40 years are your family members. How do you react to strangers and the new innovations they bring? Would you embrace or reject the things and ideas they brought?

    A student sent me a link to this article recently. It’s from Smithsonian Magazine about a family in remote Russia that was so far removed from society for over 40 years that they were not even aware that World War II had occurred. I will not attempt to do the story justice here, just check out the article. There is also a link to a Russian documentary about their lives at the end of the article […]

  77. Fascinating read. On the one hand, I can empathize with the family´s desire to stay away from all things Soviet. On the other, I don´t think social isolation is good for the human mind or soul.

    How would things have turned out for this family if they had stayed in Soviet society, though? Karp would surely have been drafted to serve in WWII, and perhaps the family would never have existed after that.

    I also think the article paints the Soviets in a light that perhaps was more positive than the reality, although the scientists no doubt thought they were helping these people.

  78. Interesting story. One has to wonder how long they could have lived if they weren´t introduced to society. I found the clothing part interesting, It´s hard to imagine with harsh long winters they were able to survive.

  79. Incredible. I cannot fathom the thought processes that would involve a voluntary choice to live like that even after know there was no longer danger from the government. Not condemning, just cannot fathom it.

  80. Agafia was alive as of 2011, Google tells me. She had sent a request for help to an Old Believer church.

    Sucks about the others though. Dmitry sounds like an out and out badass, and I would have loved to hear his stories and seen whether he would have ventured into the modern world. Perhaps had her siblings not died, she too would have left if they went together

  81. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn recounts a not too dissimilar story of how a plane – I think in the 1930s – chanced upon a settlement of followers of this old religion many miles from civilisation. So determined was the hard communist mentality that,. apparently, a record was made of their location and a force sent out to get them. It took many months to reach the spot. But they did it.

  82. Finally a ‘people interest’ story that is actually interesting! No more articles about anaemic puppies and one eyed scarecrows please. More articles like this one!

  83. […] beautifully written story of russian family cut off from outside world for 40 years […]

  84. […] Amazing story of family that lived alone in Siberia for decades. And we think Bolshie Koty is remote! […]

  85. […] A great story I couldn’t stop reading: For 40 years, this Russian family was cut off from all human contact […]

  86. As much as I’d like to believe people could live in the wild, undetected for 40 years I have my doubts. Their pots wore out but what about their clothing? It looks like the women are wearing wool scarves and clothing? Where did they get the fabric? How were they able to supply their clothing needs as the children grew into adults? Last week a “30 million year old aluminum cog wheel” was “found” in Russia. What’s the next strange discovery from Russia we can look forward to reading about?

    • “Karp Lykov and his daughter Agafia, wearing clothes donated by Soviet geologists not long after their family was rediscovered.”

    • From the article: “Clothes were patched and repatched until they fell apart, then replaced with hemp cloth grown from seed.” It also appears that some of the photos of the family were taken with them wearing clothing given to them.
      There were plenty of things they couldn’t replace, such as metal tools: “A couple of kettles served them well for many years, but when rust finally overcame them, the only replacements they could fashion came from birch bark.” Since they couldn’t cook with them directly over fire, they had to change their diet to accommodate that.

  87. […] This is, frankly, amazing: The Russian family that lived furthest from the world […]

  88. […] wonderful, moving tale of Old Believer family that lived cut off from world for 40 years in Siberian taiga […]

  89. […] What a story from @SmithsonianMag: “For 40 years, this Russian family was cut off from all human contact” […]

  90. very moving but I understand all comments, I find this so hard to accept and want to know more. How could the last girl be left behind alone and how will they know when and if she dies???

  91. It’s Russia, do they even have happy endings there?
    If you ask for a happy ending at a massage parlor in Russia I’m sure she just looks at you, stone faced and unsmiling and coldly states, “I will manually stimulate your genitals until release, but this will NOT make you happy.”

  92. I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My Dad told me a story about an old hermit he’d known. The guy showed up in town one day, around 1947. Somebody greeted him and said that it must have been before the war when they’d last met. “What war?” the guy answered. Don’t have to go to Siberia…

  93. There are a few ‘modern’ amenities I would have a hard time learning to live without… soap, dentistry, glass window panes, indoor plumbing, toilet paper, knives, scissors, and sewing needles, to name a few. OTOH, stories like these remind me that I could easily live with a lot less and everything would still be fine. I have so much stuff, I can’t remember what all of it is, where it came from, or why I still have it.

    • Soap at least, you can make yourself, albeit through a fairly labour intensive process – the starting ingredients are fat and wood ash.

      • Maybe those geologists could have pointed them towards some natural salt deposits, if any were in the area.

        “out of reach” depends on your skill level. They had worn out the last of their metal pots and were reduced to using birchbark bowls. Well, why didn’t they try making pots from clay?

  94. Old Believers are sort of like the Orthodox version of the Amish. Plus they live in BFE, Siberia. So this sort of thing just might actually be true.

  95. This is truly an amazing story. I love to see this families story made into a movie and I can’t wait to read the book.

  96. The youngest one, Agafia, is apparently still alive out there, or was a couple of years ago. There are various articles from 2010/11 talking about how she accepts and even appeals for visitors to come and help out with the Siberian subsistence chores now that she’s old. Seemingly the local authorities give her support, but discourage people from moving in with her, because the whole area is now considered a nature preserve.

    2011 post (in Russian) on some ecclesiastical site, reporting her appeal for companions: http://rpsc.ru/news/regional/obrashchenie-agafi-likovoj
    2010, she approves of Medvedev: http://rt.com/news/taiga-kremlin-hermits-gifts/print/

  97. […] In today’s world of increasing inter-connectivity, the idea of living off the grid, in the middle of nowhere, with no contact with the outside world is almost inconceivable. We’re constantly updated on the lives of our friends, both far and near. We get instant reports on the world’s wars and financial woes. And that’s why a new article in Smithsonian magazine about a family that lived in isolation for decades is so fascinating. Mike Dash tells the extraordinary story of the Lykovs, a Russian family that — fearing increasingly hostile religious persecution — fled to the Siberian forests in the 1930s and had absolutely zero contact with the rest of the world until they were discovered by geologists in 1978. For 40 years, Karp Lykov, along with his wife and children, lived in a wooden hut just a few miles from the border with Mongolia. Their shoes were made of birch-bark, their clothes from homegrown hemp. When they were found, the family had never heard of World War II, and the youngest children had never seen a person who was not a member of their family. “It’s hard to imagine this happening now,” writes Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo. Here, a sampling of Dash’s report […]

  98. […] TO DO: Set aside 20 minutes, and read this tale about an isolated family in Siberia. Worth every letter of it […]

  99. […] Fascinating Story..if you’re sitting around with nothing to do, I highly suggest reading it […]

  100. […] A gorgeously crafted story from @SmithsonianMag: Russian family survived Siberia for 40 yrs w/o human contact […]

  101. […] This is incredibly good.Fundamentalist Orthodox family in Russia lived in the taiga for 40 years. […]

  102. […] Wow, just wow; I’ve had this on ice to read for a couple of days. It’s too incredible to be fiction, I think […]

  103. Nice to know this is still possible on our planet. Brutally simple, yes, but their choice.

    Not saying I would want to do it….just glad to know it can be done.

  104. A distant cousin of mine beat the system,he owned a small share of some land that our family collectively owned (heirship) where he lived. He never paid taxes on his small share (we didn’t care). Never owned a car, was never married, never had kids, never had electricity, burned driftwood for heat, never owned anything that burned gas, walked, rowed his handmade dingy, or bummed a ride whenever he wanted to go anywhere, his birth was never recorded as he was born at home in a remote area and he never sent in a tax form or statement of any kind! When he turned 65yrs.old some family members tried to get some old age pension for him that is when they discovered that the government didn’t know he existed!! and found out why LOL. They had to get documents signed,witnessed,notarized and sent in to the government! He got a small pension but still lived off grid and up until his last year of life still burnt wood for cooking and heat. All of us kids always checked in on him and he died in his early 90’s in his sleep.

  105. I envy these people. To be that self sufficient and not need to rely on society to live. True freedom. I wanted to be just like Jeremiah Johnson. I wish instead of being forced into the public school system I could have learned the things from my father and uncles to make me a self sufficient man and capable of living a life of freedom instead of learning to be a dependent of the state. Now what used to be our farmland is a trailer park and I am a housecat instead of a mountain lion.

    • He was the only one killed by disease. The other two died of kidney failure from eating potato and mud pies all their life.

      • And the only reason he died from that infection was because he refused medical treatment for religious reasons.

      • Of course, it’s definitely plausible that his disease was caught from the visitors, but we can’t blame them for something we don’t know even occurred. It could just as easily been from the environment… It’s not like they were isolated for enough generations to have evolved away from natural defenses. He died of Pneumonia, which is not necessarily passed between people and, since he refused to go to the hospital, there’s no way of knowing where he may have gotten it.

        In any case, this family was likely subjugated to more pathogens than most people, living the way they did. If his immune system failed, it wasn’t because it hadn’t been trained, but because he encountered too many pathogens to keep up or lived in such harsh conditions.

      • Bush meat and bush living is a ticket to massive pathogen exposure. If you want a collection of fascinating skin diseases, I highly recommend a life in the wilderness.

  106. “Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders.”
    This sounds like a real badass

    • The water is so cold up here, you’ll be dead in less than a minute if you swim in the middle of any lake – about 5 people die up here every year like that.

      • Have you ever experienced it yourself?

        My first summer up here it was a beautiful sunny day and my friends were telling me about how people die in the lake every year. Being a very strong swimmer and from Australia, I didn’t believe them.

        They bet me $1000 I couldn’t stay in the water 5 minutes, which I thought I would have a good go at. I’ve swum in water below 40F before. I honestly didn’t last 30 seconds before I was scared I would not be able to get out again, because I could not feel my extremities at all. It was surreal.

        I know it sounds crazy, though it’s worth noting more than one professional canoer / kayaker has died in the Yukon from capsizing their craft only a few hundred meters from shore.
        We had a guy die not 5 minutes from town last summer, and some local Alaskans did the same thing just over the border.

      • Oh no kidding, water that cold is just something you have to experience.
        I was trying to ford a river once, to retrieve a canoe I’d put into a logjam. Had two friends with me, holding one end of a long rope from shore while I had the other end looped under my shoulders.
        Got maybe halfway across before the current was just to strong (and I was too exhausted) to keep my footing anymore – it’s just unbelievable how quickly being submerged in cold water and fighting against the current like that sucks the energy out of you.
        It was all I could do to keep my head above water and kick myself back to shore, I doubt I’d have been able to drag myself out of the river if I’d been by myself.
        And that river (north fork of the Chena) wasn’t even glacier fed, like a lot of rivers in Alaska are…

  107. […] @smithsonianMag’s biggest story this wk: Story of Russian family that survived Siberia for 40 yrs w/o human contact […]

  108. […] Een fantastisch verhaal van een gezin dat veertig jaar verstopt in de bossen van Siberië heeft geleefd […]

    • Not just the dreams, but everything that happened up until that point of first meeting the outside world.

      It’s like a completely new society and culture discovered, albeit an incredibly small one. Record the “dialect” the daughters were speaking, their dreams, their stories, the process of growing the food and how they found sustenance, fucking everything.

      • As someone who grew up on an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere, I suspect you may have romanticized the situation quite a bit. You have failed to take into account the endless infinite tedium. The nadir of boredom that only a long isolated winter can bring is neither pleasant nor interesting. Long enough and people’s minds just slowly turn to mush, you don’t sit there contemplating survival or Waldenesqe philosophy, you just stare at something till your vision locks on it and your mind blurs out, and that’s the whole day spent right there. Winter is LONG and SLOW and NOTHING happens.

      • Precisely. Their way of life is interesting simply because it so alien to our own. What they might have said is not likely to have been very enlightening. Their dreams; however, would reveal their sub/unconscious thoughts. For the purposes of gaining perspective on the imagination of early man, understanding the dreams of a person who has never seen anything but some trees and their family might be revealing.

      • I was astonished when I realized I could easily outwork the dogs on a hot day, they NEED a rest after about 6 hrs. I just always thought of them as being so much tougher and faster, but a long hot day on a Drumheller lease, and they are just dead to the world. There is a race between man and horse in the UK that has been won by humans several times, because it’s a long distance endurance race in the middle of summer. Humans deal with heat so much better than horses (ass froth). Even though horses have the ability to sweat, we are SO much better at it than them we still win.

      • Chores and big projects generally happen after and before winter. If the hopper got jammed it would have to be stopped and carefully unfucked. I had daily chores one winter when several cows we had recently bought turned up surprise pregnant. Two of them died and my brother and I were given their orphans as “real world responsibilities”. I ended up raising both of them because my brother is an ass, but I was shocked to discover one morning that they had become gay. They sucked each others dicks everytime they were near any male animal they would try to suck it’s dick. I was totally shocked by this, i thought I had screwed up and raised them wrong, but the 4H club had some pamphlets that explained everything in a perfectly enlightened way. By that time they were no longer a 24/7 project and we were able to sell them as yearlings so I didn’t have to castrate them myself (phew) there you go, another wierd farm tale. And pretty much the only time I had seriously time consuming daily chores in winter. Normally in Winter maybe 2hrs in the morning and 2hrs just before supper. But once melt starts, or if a chinook comes in, it’s suddenly constant non stop work dawn till supper.
        Edit: nearest neighbour was my Grandparents, nearest city was (still is) 45min away at highway speed, 1-2 hrs when it’s rough. Lived on Range Roads so they never got ploughed EVER. Once or twice a year Grandpa would use the front end loader with his homeade plough mod and we’d all head into town for the day and get a pisston of mail. I would buy every comic from Red Ryder to Punisher War Journal. I would just show up twice a year and clean out the fas gas comic stand old new Archie, muppet babies, Spider-Ham, anything to fight the boredom. Strange days in retrospect.

  109. What’s interesting to me about them is the complete synchronicity of all time, along with collapsing what has happened to others with what has happened to themselves. That they should view centuries old events as still alive, and three quarter century old events as having happened yesterday is something I’ve noticed in my friendships with people who still hold onto truly premodern belief systems: the past is still alive for these people; and because they are not individualists, the fact that the events did not happen to them, but to the group to which they are members is irrelevant.

    This gives amazingly strong social coherence to such groups; but it’s also the basis of some unpleasant forms of discrimination; after all, the medieval (and much later) Christian view of Jews as Christ-killers is based upon just such identification, and we know where that could lead; or at very least we know how that could contribute to nasty people such as Hitler practicing genocide.

    • Did you fail to note the reason why they left civilization in the 1930’s? The brother was shot. And this quote, “…A few centuries later, with the onset of the atheist Bolshevik regime, the Old Believers once again faced serious assault.”

      Tell me again about the understanding atheists, or was I just successfully trolled?

      • Marxism-Leninism was a religion in all but name in 1930s USSR. It had prophets (Marx, Engels, Lenin), martyrs (Chapayev, Liebknecht, Rosenberg), a semi-divine religious leader (Stalin), and an Inquisition (OGPU/NKVD) fanatically enforcing an official doctrine that dominated all aspects of an individual’s life and praised science in general terms but denied specific fields (genetics, cybernetics) in the face of empirical evidence.

        Sarcasm aside, Stalinist-era USSR was far from atheist. It was closer to state atheism during Khrushchyov’s and Brezhnyov’s time, but even then some were sentenced to mental institutions for denying “obvious truth” of Marxism-Leninism.

      • As if catholic, muslin or presbyterian communists would be any less of bloodthirsty murderous bastards.

      • So you want to start a discussion about religions and tolerance? Bring it on, lets start with the Catholic Church……after that how about a little Islamic genuflecting.? Shit, we could go on all week. Atheist is simply a word denoting, of no religion. It is not a philosophy or dogma…..an atheist communist ……bit like saying a female woman…..bit redundant.

      • Totalitarianism isn’t good for any humans ever, had nothing to do with being atheists. They only were atheistic because they didn’t want any distractions from their rigid system. If the Lykovs lived during the Inquisition they would fare just as poorly.

    • We have quite amazing fine motor skills too, what with the huge brain and whatnot. But it’s arguable whether those are purely “physical” attributes or not.
      EDIT: “Physical” as in the phys-ed sense, not in the Berkeley-vs-Comte sense.

      • Yeah, I’m thinking tool-use is more mental than physical. I’m using physical here to indicate muscular?bodily? processes in which humans have a distinct advantage over other animals, which so far seems to be just endurance running–not the philosophical physical, which would indeed encompass the brain as well.

      • But humans train themselves to be good at endurance running. I doubt that other animals are incapable of the kinds of levels of endurance that some humans have demonstrated, its just that they don’t concern themselves with training such abilities (and the mental discipline needed to do such things).
        For all the things we’re good at, even the “physical” ones, I think its difficult to count them as separate from our brain power. Its simply so much a part of who we are as a species.

      • Yes, actually, they are physically incapable–it’s called persistence hunting. When you’re running for your life, mental discipline is less relevant. Quadrupeds need to slow down to pant, whereas humans can just sweat on the move; after long enough, prey will simply die. As the theory goes, it’s one of the earliest forms of hunting by humans.

      • They physically can’t modulate their breathing rate as we can. When running, their breath is more dependent on their organs sloshing back and forth (i.e., one breath per stride).
        Additionally, they don’t have bare skin with a high density of sweat glands as we do for evaporative cooling.
        And finally, the lower bound for anaerobic running for most animals and the upper bound for our aerobic running overlaps, which is sufficient for us to keep them in sight or at least track them long enough to run them down to heat exhaustion.

      • I was astonished when I realized I could easily outwork the dogs on a hot day, they NEED a rest after about 6 hrs. I just always thought of them as being so much tougher and faster, but a long hot day on a Drumheller lease, and they are just dead to the world. There is a race between man and horse in the UK that has been won by humans several times, because it’s a long distance endurance race in the middle of summer. Humans deal with heat so much better than horses (ass froth). Even though horses have the ability to sweat, we are SO much better at it than them we still win.

      • I was especially shocked that the technique could ever be used in the Siberian taiga (both because of the cold and the dense vegetation). Compare this to a quote from the above wikipedia article “Scientists, posit that early tracking methods were developed in open, sparsely vegetated terrain such as the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.”
        Between the barefoot hunting and the persistence hunting, this story seems like it’s tailor made for Born to Run.

      • Well it’s an endurance method vs a distance method. “Run your prey ragged” I guess. You could do that on steep mountainsides just as quickly (perhaps even more quickly) than open plains. You’d just need to not lose site/sound of them in the dense forest which should be doable.

      • One theory about why we have our current body shape is we persistence hunted as homo erectus. It is still done. But the benefits of our body shape when we can’t sweat is questionable, but I’d guess you strip down and tie around your waist whatever is causing you to overheat.

        You seem to have an oddly optimistic opinion about what you can survive without getting a little crazy.

  110. Just imagine. In the event of some sort of massive plague or war that killed off most of the human population and destroyed modern infrastructure, this is more or less what we’d be reduced to; running around the forest in birch bark shoes, our pots and pans eventually giving out, eventually running out of ammunition for our guns (hard to imagine in this country, I know), our remaining books rotting, our language reduced to a series of coos and grunts. And this was a family that had a lot more basic survival skills than most of us city slickers would have today. Shudder.

  111. Interesting, but not really surprising. My father, back in his wild outdoors men days, once wandered through the Alaskan wilderness on foot and eventually bumped into a grizzled old man living out in the forest. Apparently, my father was the first human being that guy had seen in a decade.

    Keep in mind, this was in Alaska, at roughly the same time this family was discovered. Alaska was and still is more heavily populated then Siberia, so its astounding that this guy hadn’t seen another human being for that long.

    From what I’ve heard though, there are still guys like that living in the Alaskan wilderness, to this day.

  112. What a wonderful story! It shows that humans can persvere and survive even in the harshest conditions. I noticed a few comments about us westerners,something to the efect of being soft and lazy. You really dont know how many here live in much the same way as this family.We are not all Paris Hilton!My dad grew up dirt poor in the Adarondac mountains in up state New Your. He had to hunt and ran a trap line to survive.Lived in a log cabin. Some time when your bored,Google “the Donner party” They were settlers going to Califrnia by wagon and on foot.Thay were snowed in on what is Donners pas. read about how they survived. Many people here lived in isolstion back then. Back to the story,HEMP!! I wonder if any of them smoked it? It may be what kept them sane for all those years!

    • If anyone would say “yes” to the question of whether they could survive this, I believe they’d be lying. Not with living into 2013 with all the modern technology we have these days. Not for 40 years. I’ve been on month long hunting trips that were tough, but not that tough, and was more then happy to get back home.

  113. Tweets that mention Lost in the Taiga. Ku Crees (University of Kansas Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies)

    […] If you read nothing else today (and you probably should especially if you are a student), you should read this […]

  114. WOW. what an amazing story. Realities such as this, always remind me that there are those out there who suffer more that I ever will in my comfortable life. We do have it good here in North America. Whom ever mentioned incest, was utterly disgusting, the article did point out that the two kids were born in the forest before the MOM died. Typical western world thinking. She starved so that her children can live.

  115. The person who made the remark about ‘incest babies’ ought to be ashamed of himself for maligning people he doesn’t even know. You must have watched “Deliverance” one time too many. Just because a group is isolated, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost their moral compass!!

  116. We often don’t really appreciate how big Russia is–half the surface area of the moon, much of it nearly as empty. It’s easy for people to get lost there, and whole communities have historically done so deliberately. It’s also easy to “revert” to hunting, trapping, fishing, berry and mushrom picking, and so on, with agriculture as a mere sideline. In some ways the exaggerated pretensions of the state–whether Tsarist, Communist or Putinist–have been meant to counter the terrifying possibility that the whole people might just vanish into endless forest and steppe unless they were subject to very severe prohibition and penalties. Even so, note that the Lykovs took off into the wilderness at the very height of Stalin’s terror! If an endless frontier in America is supposed to have nurtured freedom and individualism and limited government, isn’t it odd that in Russia it had the opposite effect?

  117. How I wish the video was available with subtitles! I am a fan of Solzhenitsyn’s *Gulag Archipelago*. When he was initially arrested he was a devout communist and atheist. It was in part his exposure to the persecuted “Old Believers” in the Gulag that led to his adoption of Christianity. He saw them as being among the few who were able to maintain a moral center in a situation in which “man was wolf to man,” as the saying goes. I am a bit struck by the parallel between the isolated life lived by this family, and the way the Solzhenitsyn family lived in the woods while in Vermont, largely cut off from the world by a barbed wire fortress of their own creation. I have often thought of that as an example of “institutionalization,” i.e. when people who are incarcerated or institutionalized internalize aspects of their oppression. But though the Solzhenitsyns in Vermont weren’t being persecuted for their religion, I understand that they chose to live in isolation at least in part from a desire for religious and cultural “purity.” It seems to me that this family’s situation resulted both from extreme religious persecution (that is hard for us to imagine living in the US, despite Holocaust education) and profound cultural conservatism and ideas about what is pure. It also seems obvious to me, though this is an assumption, that there must have been a lot of love in that family or they never would have made it for so long. How resourceful they were, and how independent (Though, in relation to the American political scene, I don’t think that many people would want to live that independently. God bless representative government and infrastructure!). To us it seems difficult….I wonder how they thought of their lives, if they were simply stoic in their faith during the hardship, or if they also found beauty in the taiga and in their way of life. Thanks for the article!!

    • The first and the last time I have observed satellites in the sky was about 20 years ago in Kirov Oblast (Russia). They were fainter than the brightest stars but still distinctly visible with a few crawling across the sky at a given time. The area was rural then but not completely desolate with several villages within 10k radius. There should be large areas of the US where there is comparable or lower level light pollution than in Kirov Oblast. Depending on where you live such an area might be only a few hours drive away.

      • Just to clarify:
        Yes, you can see a number of satellites from even the densest urban areas. I could usually see three planets from Manhattan. But I never once had the desire to go lie in Central Park after dark and stare at the sky. Compared to that, even yellow sky is amazing. I frequently find myself stopping on the way from the car to the house at night to stare at the sky, and I think to myself: “And this sky isn’t even that good.”
        So I hear about this family, isolated, zero light pollution, probably far enough north for good Northern lights, and it’s no wonder to me that they would have noticed satellites. How could they not be staring at the night sky constantly? It must be heart-achingly beautiful there.

  118. Is it possible that the kidney failure could have been caused by the new diet that would have been introduced by contact with the Scientists?
    It could have even just been the salt (the article implies that the kids had never even tasted it). Perhaps their bodies were so finely tuned to their semi-starvation diet (and worn down by malnutrition) that the sudden introduction of richer food put their systems over the edge?

  119. I thought this was really interesting. Persistence hunting, what Dmitri was doing, is a prehistoric form of hunting used by humans.

  120. Kidneys handle salt processing. It’s mentioned in the story that one of the first things they got from the scientists was salt. It’s possible that an influx of salt did some damage to already stressed kidneys that weren’t used to it.

      • This is a MAJOR problem for malnourished and dehydrated babies and young children. The treatment was that you basically had to very carefully very slowly sip feed them diluted milk. So 1 volunteer could save 1 starvation victim at a time and it took all their attention to do so.
        So somebody invented an old fashioned cure…

      • This really is a SIGNIFICANT problem for undernourished and dehydrated infants + children. The treatment was that you basically had to very carefully very slowly sip feed them diluted milk. So 1 volunteer could save 1 starvation victim at a time and it took all their attention to do so.
        So somebody invented an old fashioned cure..

  121. […] @AKvltGhost requesting you change your name to “a hundred thousand icy bogs” […]

  122. he whispered just before he died. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.” Fantastic. This particular statement brought tears.

  123. I couldnt amagin.How they could survive that long.Not just the weather a factor but no drugs to fix infected areas or anything to fight infection and so on.Food would not be a problem with a lake close by many animals and fish to eat..Todays world everything is based on cellphones and computers xboxes and TVs.This brings a new meaning to what life really means..

  124. Mike, that’s famous. Great, great thank you for published work. Truthfully, so stirringly. [Google translated] > Addition. 1. Forest Siberia is not that extensive, but rather a steppe, forest areas are located along the river banks. And for “level Tobolsk” begin swamps and tundra. http://www.ecosystema.ru/08nature/world/geoussr/3-1-2.htm#42tai (or are looking ‘ Vikipedia) 2. Weapons were supposed to geologists the instructions for protection from wolves and bears, but “out of the instruction” had in mind the protection of the “two-legged beasts” (for example, hiding criminals. in the USSR, there were no very much, but have been).

  125. Here we are decades later and it’s becoming popular to go off the grid. However, the challenges cause most that try to give up quickly, and here’s a family that already did it for decades.
    Reply

  126. […] Incredible, apocalyptic and true. Family survive in Russian forest undiscovered for decades […]

  127. This is a pretty incredible story, you could bold all of it. This family managed to survive famine conditions for decades, eating what they could scavenge and protecting the single loving grain of rye from mice and squirrels. I couldn’t imagine being that far away from people but then again, what else is there to know? They scraped by for decades, it was all they knew. I’m sure many of us have had indecision for what to eat for dinner at some point.

    It’s amazing that they were able to last as long as they did. I think most of us would be unable to handle ourselves for more than a few days even with provisions in the wild. The Lykovs were able to not only survive in Siberia, a place already considered very inhospitable in settlements, but out many miles from anyone else and alone in the woods. Their fate is pretty sad. Natalia and Savin died from kidney failure shortly after their encounter. Dmitry died of pneumonia likely from an infection with outsiders. Karp died 27 years to the day after his wife. Agafia still lives, presumably, out in the Siberia wilderness taking care of herself. She has got to be one of the hardest, toughest women out there.

    As amazing of a story it was, I was hoping you would go into more detail about filling them in about world events but nonetheless, very interesting.

    • I have to imagine that they would not really care about world events just because they knew so little about the world. What would the the assassination of JFK mean to people who did not know what America was or who JFK was? Very interesting article though, hard to believe people could live for so long in such a horrible place.

    • Nah, I’m sure they bathed regularly, like clockwork… each year on that one day when the ice melted and it was semi-sunny and a balmy -1 degrees.

      • Siberia can actually get pretty balmy in the summer (26C/80F in the region they lived in), which of course means those 100,000 thousand icy bogs become mosquito infested regular bogs. So really, just an awesome place year round.

  128. I initially resisted the idea of picking this article about a hermetic family of Old Believers because it sounds like some strange-but-true tabloid piece. But this has to be one of the most fascinating things I’ve read in a while. I admire the strength of the family’s religious beliefs and determination to survive in one of the loneliest, harshest places on earth. I also abhor the idea that the children were denied many of the pleasures and experiences we take for granted, and that they ***spoiler alert*** died essentially preventable deaths. And yet the surviving child (who’s become something of a celebrity in Russia) continues to live in her family’s home in the wilderness.

  129. Interesting, I would like to read the whole story. I wonder though, what the point is of struggling to survive all those years? What did their struggles accomplish? They lived a lifetime of misery so that they could avoid death? Seems to me death may have been the better option.

  130. I read this a few days ago. Their method of hunting was to run down an animal until it was too exhausted to go on. Huh? Neanderthals figured out pretty quickly that this was pretty fucking inefficient. I mean, I could almost see not thinking of a bow and arrow but a spear? In 40 years? What about traps or snares? They lived next to a freshwater mountain stream and knew how to make twine from hemp. No one thought to weave a net or make a fishing pole? Fish, berries and pine nuts are a pretty good diet. Instead they tried to farm.

    That shack was falling down and filthy. Maybe they didn’t know any better but I’m thinking Karp taught the crazy to his poor kids.

    • Try doing that in Siberia. 9 months out of 12, the ground is pretty much frozen, and I bet the water is too at least for 6 months a year. I guess they farmed, gathered, hunted and fished whenever they could, but it’s the winter months that have been hard.

  131. Fascinating article, thanks for posting. I wonder what it was like psychologically for this family to have such a small group of people to talk to.

  132. […] Surreal archival story: Russian family isolated in Siberia for 40 years, misses WWII and space race […]

  133. During the famine along the Volga River and Ural region in Russia in the 1920’s, children fell victim to cannibalism as peasant villages were devastated . In this picture, several ragged, starving kids were posed with the remains of what was a young boy, maybe 7, who looks to have been disemboweled and quartered.
    Its so interesting to me that the mom ,Akulina, starved herself so her kids could eat while there were others who ate their kids so they could live. What could have been the distinctions in making that choice? Maybe a famine feels more hopeless than starving in isolation because famine affects the whole community. if the whole community is dead, there’s no one to care for little kid if you died and they’d suffer worse than a quick death. But if you lived in a community made of family members (albeit 5 other people) , and you knew your death would bolster their shot at survival, would starving yourself be the least worse choice?
    Perhaps its more to do with the children’s age. By 1961, the kids were adults and stood some shot at survival.
    Or religon? I seem to recall a story in the bible about a guy that sacrificed himself for the greater good. Being an ultra conservative fundamentalist means you believe every word of the bible is the absolute,literal truth so that would aid self sacrifice.
    Its just such incredible will power, to stop eating while everyone else gets some meager portions. I understand it doesn’t take a lot of moral restraint to not eat your kids when your tummy gets rumbly, but to not freak out and eat something is amazing. But eating any food would have fucked her kids to a slower death than bonking them over the head and getting it over with.
    Fascinating, either way.

  134. Today, most American 5th graders don’t about WWII either. And if they do know something, it’s most likely wrong.

    Plus far too many American 5th graders would love to wear clothes made from hemp and eat hemp seats while smoking hemp.

    Most Americans can’t make bread and don’t know how and they isolate themselves from others while just pretending they’re socialized.

    But if you put most Americans in that environment, they’d be crazy within the month if they lived that long.

  135. I watched the YouTube “Lost in Taiga” videos in Russian and they mention that the whole family traveled for two days (with overnight camping) over to eat the killed animal. Whether it was this 30km one or a different one is unclear.

  136. This is a pretty incredible story, you could bold all of it. This family managed to survive famine conditions for decades, eating what they could scavenge and protecting the single loving grain of rye from mice and squirrels. I couldn’t imagine being that far away from people but then again, what else is there to know? They scraped by for decades, it was all they knew. I’m sure many of us have had indecision for what to eat for dinner at some point.

    It’s amazing that they were able to last as long as they did. I think most of us would be unable to handle ourselves for more than a few days even with provisions in the wild. The Lykovs were able to not only survive in Siberia, a place already considered very inhospitable in settlements, but out many miles from anyone else and alone in the woods. Their fate is pretty sad. Natalia and Savin died from kidney failure shortly after their encounter. Dmitry died of pneumonia likely from an infection with outsiders. Karp died 27 years to the day after his wife. Agafia still lives, presumably, out in the Siberia wilderness taking care of herself. She has got to be one of the hardest, toughest women out there.

    As amazing of a story it was, I was hoping you would go into more detail about filling them in about world events but nonetheless, very interesting.

  137. “The Lykovs were Old Believers – members of a persecuted Russian sect”…. It’s not a “sect”. You act like it was some kind of cult. It was people that took the Russian Orthodox church very seriously. They are Russian Orthodox with strict beliefs just as the Amish or the Mennonites are Christians with strict beliefs. They appear on and off throughout Russian History from the time that Aga Khan took over through Peter the Great, who, in his attempt to Modernize Russia, tried to stamp them out, and all the way through Stalin and Lenin. No one in America would say that the Amish are anything other than Christians, and no one in Russia would say that the “Old Believers” are anything else but Russian Orthodox.

  138. Truly amazing. They are made of much more hardy stock then myself. We went without power for ten days after Hurricane Sandy and I almost lost.my.mind. Humans are not meant to live without running water. I understand why they left for seclusion but for them to force their children to live like that, I don’t know. Seems a bit cruel.

  139. Now let’s talk about the psychological implications. Socially stunted children, possible incest between siblings, lack of language skills or any education beyond their religion and “don’t eat that leaf, it’s poisonous”…

  140. Wow. People in Russia starve to death for the right to live free of persecution, and we won’t get off the couch to change the channel.

  141. […] @fenner403 You find something cool bro? check this out…now THAT would be epic to shoot/capture/tell […]

  142. What a really neat story of survival and determination. It is long but once you start reading it, you can’t stop!

  143. “Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders.”
    jees, talk about overly manly man…

  144. […] @GuevaraTara Like stories about people? This is one of the most fascinating things I have ever read […]

  145. […] That mad story about the Russian family isolated from society for decades is like a real-life Bela Tarr film […]

  146. […] Our Southern editor turned me on to an astonishing story by Mike Dash in Smithsonian magazine, about a Russian family who spent forty-two years in isolation, deep in the Siberian forest, and were discovered by geologists in 1978. According to Dash, the patriarch refused to believe that man had walked on the moon, but “he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when ‘the stars began to go quickly across the sky,’ and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: ‘People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.’” […]

  147. Finally read this @SmithsonianMag story about a family living in isolation for 40 years – creepy sad & fascinating

  148. Wow, there really isn’t much to say about this. It’s amazing that Agafia stayed even after everyone else has died! I’m going to be sharing this story with many of my friends.

  149. My friend just posted this story on FB a couple hours ago. Very interesting read. Amazing how important salt can be in a persons diet, being it was the thing he missed the most.

    • More here
      http://www.wernerherzog.com/62.html
      I really recommend it. The people survive their arduous living conditions by continually preparing for the next season. They’ve done the same things more or less for generations, always working, and pretty much cut off from modern civilization. Makes you realize how happiness is a fairly relative value. Their lives are completely defined by the need to survive, and as long as that’s accomplished things are good.

      • It sounds romantic but their existence seems to be miserable, especially the filth. I’d love to live off the grid for a while as long as there is basic hygiene

  150. Kind of a similar story…the Vice crew met with Heimo Korth who has lived in Arctic Alaska for most of his life. I found this to be a great documentary and that Heimo and his family are really personable despite their isolation. Also, he is ten times the man I will ever be. Link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq0rZn8HFmQ

  151. In that Russian video she seems to have a fair bit of furniture and a more well constructed dwelling than when they were originally contacted. I assume she accepted more help over the years?

    • Yeah if you watch the video the story created lots of interest in Russia after the initial contact and they got more supply drops as a result with more modern devices.

  152. Karp died 27 years to the day after his wife died. How did they know the exact day of the death of Akulina? They did not have a calendar. Did they managed to keep track of the days, months and years from the day they left their village? They did suffer from incredible harships, from not having many basic necessities to famine. In those conditions could they really have kept that accurate track of the passing of time?

  153. As a linguist the stuff about the children’s language is pretty interesting. They obviously learnt Russian from their parents but even after one generation of isolation the language was already starting to change in unusual ways. If they lived in a slightly larger community and been there for a few more generations I wonder if it would have become completely unintelligible to outsiders.

    • I’m not a linguist but I found that observation very interesting as well. I mean whatever quirk, mannerisms, expressions in speech that the parents ad would have been passed to the children obviously. It’s not too far a stretch to think that a dialect would develop and maybe a few generations down the line it may have been mutually unintelligible from Russian or Russian dialects.

    • That’s pretty much how it used to be, yeah. I read somewhere that in ancient China it was common for peasants from one village to be unable to understand anything their neighbors from two villages over were saying. In a few ways this still holds true. Most Chinese TV shows are subtitled, because dialects and pronunciations vary so much between regions.

  154. It’s amazing how much toughness and ingenuity people show when put into harsh circumstances. Their DNA isn’t any different than ours, so this really shows that we have enormous potential or endurance and cleverness. Thought I’d rather live this easier life.

  155. Makes the folk of Deliverance seem down-right Cosmopolitan!

    On a sadder note, this will probably give M. Night Shyamalan “an idea” for a sequel to The Village…

  156. Incredible story. The only modern comparison that comes to mind is the Sentinelese islanders, a tiny Indian ocean community that continues its Bronze Age existence in complete isolation to present day.

  157. Incredible story, what a way to live. Unimaginable to me, obviously.

    Reminds me of that Japanese soldier in the Philippines who didn’t surrender until 1974, Hiroo Onoda.

  158. I can’t believe their entire existence came down to one single grain of rye. One mouse or a bad freeze could have killed their whole family because of that single grain.

    • The more relevant question is what are the odds that the year they ended up down to just a single grain of rye and someone had also just passed away that they actually made it through by resorting to cannibalism.

  159. I love stories like this. Massive countries with huge wilderness really fascinate me as some one from Britain where we have 60 million people crammed into an island smaller than idaho

  160. As someone from St. Petersburg, Russia, this is really not that uprising to me. When Peter the Great modernized Russia, he forced a number changes which some people didn’t accept. If you didn’t accept the changes then you had no choice, but to flee to Siberia. I doubt you could even find too many Old Believers outside of Siberia until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. While this case of isolation is extreme, I’m sure if you looked at how the rest of the old believers lived, it’s not that big of a jump.

    You guys should look up some stories about people fleeing from the gulags. In some areas when you fled you took a person with you that was dubbed “the cow.” If you couldn’t find anything to eat, you ate that person which would usually see you through to wherever you wanted to get.

    • How did you find someone for this; or was it a secret? Would two guys set off into the woods with each believing the other was “the cow”

    • Quote from Applebaum’s Gulag, A History:

      Not all escapes involved clever flights of fancy. Many — probably the majority — criminal escapes involved violence. Runaways attacked, shot, and suffocated armed guards, as well as free workers and local residents. They did not spare their fellow inmates either. One of the stnadard methods of criminal escape involved cannibalism. Pairs of criminals would agree in advance to escape along with a third man (the “meat”), who was destined to become the sustenance for the other two on their journey. Buca also describes the trial of a professional thief and murderer, who, along with a colleague, escaped with the camp cook, their “walking supply”:

      They weren’t the first to get this idea. When you have a huge community of people who dream of nothing but escape, it is inevitable that every possible means of doing so will be discussed. A “walking supply” is, in fact, a fat prisoner. If you have to, you can kill him and eat him. And until you need him, he is carrying the “food” himself.

      The two men did as planned — they killed and ate the cook — but they had not bargained on the length of the journey. They began to get hungry again:

      Both knew in their hearts that the first to fall asleep would be killed by the other. So both pretended they weren’t tired and spent the night telling stories, each watching the other closely. Their old friendship made it impossible for either to make an open attack on theo hter, or to confess their mutual suspicions.

      Finally, one fell asleep. The other slit his throat. He was caught, Buca claims, two days later, with pieces of raw flesh still in his sack.

      Although there is no way of knowing how often this type of escape occurred, there are enough similar stories, told by a wide enough range of prisoners, from camps from the early 1930s to the late 1940s, to be certain that they did take place, at least from time to time.Thomas Sgovio heard the death sentence pronounced on two such escapees — they had taken a boy prisoner, and salted his flesh after murdering him — when he was in Kolyma. Vatslav Dvorzhetsky was told a similar story in Karelia, in the mid-1930s.

  161. […] faced with life in a siberian gulag, one brave soviet family decided to…basically build their own siberian gulag […]

  162. I am overwhelmed. Talk about living history! I studied Russian history in college. This brought it to the present tense to me, conveyed by living humans who had experienced many effects in the present time.

  163. Incredible story all that suffering just because they could not practice their faith nothing changes then, the last surviving member must miss them all terribly.

  164. […] Also read and marveled over Mike Dash’s article in Smithsonian, on a Russian family, members of a sect persecuted by Stalin that fled in to Siberia’s vast reaches, and were discovered 40 years later, barely aware of civilization and oblivious to modern history. I blogged about the story earlier in the week, and have been sharing it widely. An amazing story, the kind of true tale I loved publishing in book form when I edited the Kodansha Globe series in the 1990s […]

  165. This whole Siberia thing… I’d been watching a lot of Tunguska documentaries and, while not related in any way, they’re fascinating given the sheer unconceivable size of that place, especially when filmed from a helicopter.

  166. Wow what a fascinating story. I would have tried hard to resist the urge to bundle them off somewhere with warmth and food whether they liked it or not.
    I found it quite sad the surviving daughter was left alone after everyone else had passed on, and yet she still wanted to stay.

    I was reminded a little of Hanna Hauxwell. I know Yorkshire is hardly comparable to Siberia, but still.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Hauxwell

  167. There is an excellent book about them called Lost in the Taiga. A relative gave it to me randomly, and it was a great read. Agafia (the daughter, still alive methinks…) has to be one of the most bad-assed bad-asses i’ve ever heard of. Also, religion makes people do some crazy shit.

  168. Wow. Cool. They should be plopped down in the middle of NYC. See how they react to the people and clothing and technology. Interesting experiment. They’d probably go insane though.

  169. • A truly inspiring story of Karp Lykov and his family who lived in the Siberian taiga in the Abakan district for 40 years without human contact
    • They were Orthodox Christians and were persecuted by atheist leaders in 1930s. Therefore they hid in the taiga to survive.
    • A Russian geologist team accidently found them in 1978, and tried to help them and learn their story.
    • By 1988 all members of the family died due to contracting diseases or kidney failures except the youngest daughter.
    • Who still lives in her home. Alone. And still insists on living their until her death…

  170. Wow. Interesting story and a little sad. Sad in how the family members died for. Disease after survviving so long in the wild.

  171. Very interesting read here folks. As you can imagine, conditions were miserable and even these hardy people spent most of their lives fighting starvation. Makes you think about the “living off the land in the nearest national forest” approach.

  172. I always liked to open the skull of Gaia believers, take a crap in there and close it back up. The way I do that is to tell them this….

    If we accept that Gaia is a living, possibly cognizant colony-type entity made up of the totality of Earth’s biosphere, then one must conclude that Gaia shares the common characteristics of the lifeforms that make up Gaia. The most fundamental goal of life on Earth is to reproduce. So how, exactly, would a planet-wide entity like Gaia do that?

    The only way I can see that reproduction occurring is through a piece of Gaia traveling to another planet, taking the Gaia seed with it and establishing another Gaia entity there. So Gaia spawned us, an intelligent, tool-using, space-fairing species that is bound to do exactly this.

    Is not reproduction a real strain, if not harmful or even fatal to individuals in every species? So the fact that we have taxed Gaia seriously is only natural. Now we are on the verge of going forth to spread Gaia across the galaxy.

    For we are Gaia’s gonads.

    Then I turn and walk away. Looking back over my shoulder, the look on their face as they struggle with the idea of humans not being evil and outside of nature entirely, but instead as Gaia’s eproductive organs; a natural and most vital part of the Gaian organism; is priceless.

    But there is some validity to this even beyond the Gaian hypothesis/religion. Not only are we now trying to save our biosphere, we must take it with us wherever we go, thus reproducing it. So far from a cancer or virus on the Earth, we are its best hope for survival in the long run. Its precious eggs will no longer be in one vulnerable basket. What other species could possibly do such a vital service to our biosphere?

  173. What a hard life they lived. I know. But they lived in peace and paid no taxes, utility bills, or house payments.

    My husband and I live very rural. No TV, anymore. Only cell phones/internet. I wish both of those would go away (Someday). We’ll always have property taxes as long as Govt in business.

    We grow all our own food (meat (beef, lamb, goat, chicken, eggs) and grow our own fruits and veggies. We can and dry our foods. We can make our own fuels (ethanol from grains, and diesel-like fuel from fats). Horses will replace tractor. We grow our own grains for farm animals. I save our own garden seeds. We live on a creek and have access to plentiful firewood. Only have a wood stove for heat. Did I mention that we only live on 10 acres? We’ve built greenhouses. Sheds. Gardens. We read instead of watch TV. For now, we keep up on the world via evening internet (hubby’s hobby).

    Been working hard for 4 years now to be self reliant. In 2008 I saw what was coming. We want peace, but vigorously defend. We trade with neighbors. We have income for 1 more year (then retire). Ya can’t eat money. We make our own pumps and drill for our own water. Fencing already done. Saved some silver coin…but ya can’t eat coins.

    Folks… learn self sufficiency. Imagine no money and no electricity. Survival and living simply is a dying art. My goal is to never know when a depression hits. I have nice things in my home, but it’s worthless stuff. Remember B

  174. […] THE WONDER OF CELLOPHANE. Lee Bryant sent me this article from the Smithsonian by Mike Dash about the discovery in 1978 of a family of five that had lived in Siberia out of contact with anybody else for forty years. The location was more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement. They were Old Believers (a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect) who had fled from Stalin in the late 1930′s.

    The article casts light on how our ancestors must have lived. The youngest son, without weapons, sometimes hunted animals by pursuing them until the animal collapsed from exhaustion. “The family’s principal entertainment…was for everyone to recount their dreams.”

    What wonder of modern technology amazed them the most? For the patriarch it was a cellophane package: “Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!” […]

    • I did a double-take at this remark: “What amazed him most of all was a transparent cellophane package. ‘Lord, what have they thought up—it is glass, but it crumples!'” Because back in the 1960s, Mel Brooks’s persona “the 2,000-year-old man,” when asked to name the most amazing invention he’s seen in his long lifetime, immediately says “Saran Wrap!”

  175. Can anyone else see themselves in these shoes? Scary. I just hope I have the stamina and fortitude they showed and survive.

  176. You can’t get high from hemp. It’s not marijuana. In all actuality, it’s very good for you. You can buy raw, hulled hemp seeds at the grocery store. They make a good addition to trail mixes because they are a complete source of protein in that they contain the nine amino acids that our bodies can’t produce and need to function properly (30grams meets the daily requirement). It’s perfect for extended hikes when you don’t want to carry meat.

    It really is a great survival plant. It can be harvested for it’s fiber to make rope, cloths, etc and as I stated above it has some very healthful benefits (also very high in omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids). But in addition to that the oil is very useful in a variety of ways including fuel oil and making your own peroxide by boiling it (so don’t cook with it). And it is easily grown because it does grow like a… weed.

  177. Believe it or not, this type of incident occurs more frequently than you’d think: in 2006 the BBC ran a shocking documentary about discovering a family in Turkey so isolated that they had developed an odd way of walking on all fours as they did their daily chores.

    • That’s a Google translation and one cannot extract any fine meaning from its results, this being a case in point.
      I read the Russian original post and the following is my translation of the excerpt from her letter:
      “… I bow to you down to the raw Earth and wish unto you from God good health, the most spiritual salvation and all sorts of good luck, and let God save the sacred [several kinds of] Church until the end of centuries from all division and heretics, [bearing evil thoughts]…”
      “I plead to you with a great request: I need a helper, as I won’t survive alone, and it is also not good to live so, weeklong remaining in loneliness. Do not leave me […] the orphan […].”
      “… a sincere believer is needed here, an Old Believer, a person of male gender is needed to chop wood, cut hay. I have weakened in health and in strength.”
      Bits marked as […] I couldn’t understand.

      • You’re totally right on “сырая земля”, that was a tougher one. Perhaps “bare earth”? Anyway, thanks for the alternate translation and the perspective!

      • Ouch. Trying to recruit church followers? A bit cavalier with that description I feel. “With a great big bow to request of all: I need a man as an assistant, one whom I will not survive, [who] lives so not good, with weeks of being alone. Do not leave me for Christ’s sake. Have mercy upon a wretched orphan, who is in trouble [and] suffering.”

  178. This is so hard to believe — I have so many questions I wish I could ask Karp: Why would they accept a gift of an electric torch if they didn’t have electricity? Perhaps I am taking it too literally. Did they really build a fence around a solitary rye shoot? And how is it that the girls could talk when at first they seemed to only “coo” slowly? I want to believe it all but it is so fantastic. I hope I am not just too doubtful to believe. I will find more about this incredible family, I’m sure.

    • @Lynette, Many countries refer to flashlights as electric torches. They didn’t need electricity, just batteries or potentially it was a hand crank model. If that rye shoot was your only chance at survival, you too would keep watch and do everything possible to protect it. In terms of the “coo”, the author was stating how it sounded to him. I assume it would be similar to the language that many twins develop. To anyone listening, it sounds like gibberish but to the ones speaking, it is a full, complex language.

    • “Electric torch is probably a poor translation of flashlight!” The author of the article is Welsh and in British English a flashlight is referred to as a torch. I always find it odd Americans find that so amusing. Amazing story I wonder how many more people may be living like this in the wild places of the world.

    • “Electric torch” is probably a poor translation of flashlight!” Presumably the idiot who wrote this doesn’t realise (English spelling) that the translation was written by a Brit. It is not a “poor” translation, it is an accurate translation into “English” as opposed to “American”. It should be self evident that a Brit, translating Russian into his/her native tongue, will translate it into their own language. If you want it translated into American, look for an American translation. Good luck. Hypwe

    • It is hard to belive how many people read this story and the first thing they comment on is the “Electric Torch” debate. Torch=Flashlight outside the US, absorb it, deal with it. Oh I know how “funny” you all find ‘foriegners” but it doesn’t compare to how ignorant we foreigners find most of you. So you read a whole story about persecution, human determination to live free. Life and death, survival and tragedy and the first thing that comes to mind is “Ha ha they don’t even know what a flashlight is called” Proud of yourselves?

  179. The last ‘first contact’ with a group of Australian Aboriginals was made in 1984.
    http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/lost-tribe-happy-in-modern-world/story-e6frf7l6-1111112932308
    I had heard a version of that story where the brother who returned to the traditional life was believed to still be out roaming the desert, and if they saw smoke in the distance they knew it to be him but they’d stay away and leave him be.
    That version of the story also had someone explained the terror of seeing a motor vehicle for the first time, followed by (relatively) fat people coming out – believed to be cannibals (how else could you get so fat?) – and their first sighting of a white man. That’s quite a lot to take in over a few minutes.

  180. As best as I can discern these subordinates in Google maps are the location of the cabin in the Russian Video 52.264375,88.987083.

  181. […] Incredible: a family survived in Siberia for 40 years with no outside contact and, eventually, no metal tools […]

  182. […] As recommended by David Plotz of Slate – the family who lived isolated in the wilds of Siberia for 40 years […]

  183. […]Phenomenal article on how a family lived in the woods of Russia without human contact for 40 years! It’s a must read! […]

  184. […] Speaking of people who grew up in a hermetic atmosphere and never left it, the most mind-boggling read of the week was probably Mike Dash’s piece in Smithsonian about a Russian family who fled to the Siberian wilderness in 1936 to escape persecution and lived there in complete isolation until a team of geologists stumbled upon their compound in 1978. The story has lots of extraordinary moments, from scenes of the family’s first encounters with the outside world to tales of the hardships they endured in their forty years of solitude (Siberia is cold). It reads like a cross between an ethnography, a survival guidebook, and a fairy tale. One year, for instance, the family’s entire crop of rye (a staple of their exceedingly grim diet) was wiped out except for a single sprout, which they guarded and nurtured and used to start an entirely new crop. This story sets a new bar for the possibilities of human resilience, and it’s hard not to perceive these people as heroic, determined innocents holding out against a corrupting world. But there’s also something dark and distressing about their self-imposed isolation and their immediate response to the geologists’ offers of modern amenities (like bread): “We are not allowed that.” […]

    • inspiring for the easily inspired. yay humans grew seeds and hunted. uhh. did you miss out on ancient history? that did happen for thousands of years. nothing new.

      • gotta agree with gregory.
        plus you say story of…survival. wrong, the mother starved to death!
        and only 1 child survived.
        sounds like a brutal existence while it lasted.

      • Gregory, it’s about people who are strong enough to give up everything, including family, in order to live for what they believe in. It’s about them adapting to incredibly harsh conditions, living on anything they could find rather than cave to what someone else thought they should or shouldn’t believe. They weren’t willing to sit and be slaughtered by intolerant people. They weren’t willing to give up their beliefs in order to be safe.

        What do you live for Gregory? Would you be willing to go live in the middle of no where, risk the starvation and hardship for a belief? That’s what I find inspiring. You call me easily inspired – there was nothing easy about what they did.

        As for emotions, that’s how humans feel for others. That’s how we have compassion and love and anger and hurt – it’s all about emotions. What would there be in life if we had no emotions?

  185. If you can catch it, there is a great documentary called “Happy People: A year In the Taiga”. It centers around a very remote village of sable trappers.

  186. Don’t know anything about WWII, satellites or going to the moon? That sounds like every high school graduate this country has produced for the last dozen years.

  187. romanticized…how about the Natives on remote Canadian reserves up North???…..need what the gov’t says they have to have….ya know….to live!…but they are dying and kids are huffing and and and and…..

  188. I don’t believe a word of it. This is a made up tale. They wouldn’t have survived the first two or three years out in the bush all by themselves. This story will be proved fake.

    • A long-recognized truth; the more bizarre life is, the more it is to be believed. Every fiber of my being tells me this is truth without compromise and does not answer to anyone.

      I am just stunned! What can be said about this family’s story? The indomitable spirit of man lives on as does man’s incomparable faith in a Higher Being, I call God. My heart is bleeding and the burden is heavy.

  189. […] piece on family that lived in isolation in Siberian taiga for 40 yrs just blows the mind […]

  190. I do not even know the way I finished up here, but I thought this submit used to be good. I do not recognize who you’re however certainly you are going to a famous blogger in case you aren’t already😉 Cheers!

  191. What an amazing story. It was sad that they died but perhaps it was the small changes in their diet. Perhaps after all those years without the food we take for granted (including salt) their bodies just couldn’t cope with the richness of the new foods. As for womens’ hygeine I remember reading somewhere that women in ancient day used sphagnum moss. So maybe that’s what they used. This was also used apparently for binding up wounds. Clean spiders’ webs are supposed to be good for helping blood clotting.

  192. Two remarks: 1. This tiny family was the only free family in the whole of the Soviet Union–the largest country at the time. 2. When I reached the part that their principal entertainment was narrating their dreams, it struck me as to how intense the story was. Most amazing story. Only if Solzenitzen or Dostoevsky wrote about it. Not that it lacks anything on its own, but only if they wrote about it, they would have flavored it with yet a deeper Russian spirit.

  193. They were free. The last free people on earth. They didn’t need government to give them stuff, then didn’t need the TSA or Social Security. They made it without the police or dep’t of education. Everyone reading this is a debt-enslaved robot encircled within a police state. You will never know the freedom of their life as you go to work worrying about your credit score or debt limit! You deserve the world you created so: know your place, shut your face, back to work, robot-debt-enslaved! Oh, and pay MORE social security tax because you have no choice anyhow…….slave.

    • “They were free. The last free people on earth.” a) no, there’s plenty of untouched tribes; b) they had to eat their own shoes; c) it’s already stated that one of the family was the religious enforcer. But, you know, as long as we don’t consider the position of the women being told what to do in a place so far away from habitation that they can’t leave we can call them free.

  194. I was very moved after reading your article on the Lykov family. I was born and spent my earliest years in the jungle of a small South American country. I learned to read and write at the tiny Episcopalian Mission school I recall this period of my life with great nostalgia and I understand why the Lykov family refused to move. At times I am tempted to think that yearning is genetic.

  195. […] I’m late to this, but this story about a Russian family, isolated from human contact for 40 years, is incredible […]

  196. […] Fantastisk historia om en bortglömd familj mitt i Sibiriens tundra, som inte ens uppfattat WWII […]

  197. Been nosing for about a month now and I have to say this is easily the coolest thing I’ve found on here.
    P.S. if zombies do attack, move to Siberia

  198. I had to shed a tear when they described how they guarded the single grain of rye. I would love to read a book about their story, there should be one!

  199. That was a really interesting read. Today I learned something cool and deep about people and the will to survive and stick to ideals. Even if I disagree with their reasons, they were amazing people that kept true to their beliefs in spite of the incredible challenges it created.

  200. Thanks for this great story. As a descendant of Mormon pioneers who arrived in Utah in 1847, and a person who lived in Russia in 1993-1994, I loved this story. Simply fascinating! ♥

  201. silly to think the communists would have not killed him if he had relinquished his religion , after they killed his brother ….. his religion kept him going . He was running to save his life and his families life. too bad they did not fish more with the nearby stream.

  202. Living as a kid in Canada – I envy and miss the exploring and wilderness. And of little things like building forts in the forests. For me it is easy to see why Agafia would not want to leave… I cant imagine having lived with the sounds of silence, birds, wind and water my WHOLE life… a very moving story for those of us caught in a modern world.

    • Be sure and read the Smithsonian article. Vastly superior to the Mail’s.
      Quote:

      She will not leave. But we must leave her, seen through the eyes of Yerofei on the day of her father’s funeral:

      I looked back to wave at Agafia. She was standing by the river break like a statue. She wasn’t crying. She nodded: ‘Go on, go on.’ We went another kilometer and I looked back. She was still standing there.

      • Oh wow. Just wow. Thanks, Wuffy, for this…I will be reading and researching a lot in coming days. Just wow.

        From the Smithsonian article:

        “The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation. The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.”

        And…

        “though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky,” and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.”

        Gobsmacked indeed…just big wow.

        Best-
        Herding Cats

      • Really. I have no words. Is Agafia still there?

        It is amazing absolutely amazing that most of them survived that long. But also tragic and horrible to live like that.

      • First thought: How desperate could one be!?!?!

        Then I saw her picture.She was so beautiful beforehand… After looking at him I still can’t see why she would think he was worth doing that for?? GAG! SMH

  203. […] Russian Family puts Bear Grylls to shame by living 40 years off the grid […]

  204. […] Geologists wandering Siberia find a family living 150 miles from anything. And boy do those people miss salt […]

  205. […]Amazing #LongRead, so good in fact I was thinking “how can this be true?”. Family found after 40yrs of no human contact […]

  206. Amazing story. Some of the comments are baffling though. People going ‘oh what a great, perfect life they had, no reality tv, paradise on earth etc’. No. These people may have found contentment, but they fought tooth and nail to barely survive. No nice food, hot water, warm beds. Don’t be so ignorant as to say they had it good and we have it bad. If your life is so awful because it’s filled with facebook and tv etc, why are you not throwing away all that luxury and living in the forests? You don’t because you love the luxury of modern like, but just love to complain. These people struggled and must have suffered a lot at times. Have some respect and be grateful for what we have.

    • kay, London, – – My sentiments exactly. As fascinating a story as this is, it really grinds on me when people comment saying things like, ‘must’ve been bliss’ or ‘sounds great to have been so detached from modern society’. Not one of you would last two minutes living like that before crying for your mobile, your bed, your central heating and a £5 Starbucks coffee. And then you’d no doubt be straight on Facebook to tell everyone.

  207. Absolutely fascinating, to survive out there for that long. What a strange life those children must have led. Karp’s comment about the ‘crumpling glass’ was fantastic, really gives you a little perspective when you’re typing comments to an electronic website.

  208. from _Crime and Punishment_ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866): “Do you know what some of these [Old Believers] mean by ‘suffering’? It is not suffering for somebody’s sake, but simply ‘suffering is necessary’ – the acceptance of suffering that means, and if it is at the hands of the authorities, so much the better.”

  209. Here in Nova Scotia we had “the hermit of Gully Lake” (Google that with quotation marks), a man who jumped a troop train to avoid going to world war II. He lived 60 years in the woods of Gully Lake (about 120 KM north west of Halifax) until his death in 2003. In the money driven world of ours where people are greedy, selfish and such I admire their decision to live free of debt/slavery to bankers and governments. The way world society is heading I would not mind living deep in the woods but with some alternative energy items to keep me alive like solar shower bags, solar powered motion light, shake LED flashlights, crank radios, etc. I find materialism is what our problem is in society driven by money and power.

  210. [… ] If the Mail printed stories of this quality all the time instead of constantly lying to suit their twisted agenda it would be the best newspaper in Britain, as opposed to the worst […]

  211. This reminds me of Colonia Tovar: A small German village set in the mountains in Venezuela on the early 19th Century. For decades, they were assumed to be dead and for over a century had no direct contact with population.

  212. Agafia lives alone in Taiga to this day according to the video on youtube. I will do some more research, she is doing great🙂 In regards to comments here…difference between western mentality and Russian is massive, but this movie certainly brings us (I’m Russian) more closer then all politicians combine will ever do. To me this story is about resilience of character, believe in God and unbelievable fear in communist system. Taiga was the only way for them to survive, even after 40 years they were scared of the system.

  213. Wow that is a tremendous story. It sure illustrates what humankind is capable of. It is impossible to imagine what difficulties they must have faced over the years. You can’t help but wonder if their discovery lead to their demise. A sad story indeed.

  214. I remember them being found and the scientists who look at human survival were totally unable to explain how they survived minus fifty degree Celsius winters. It goes some way to prove the migration across the top of the world from China to Canada, it is possible.

  215. the story is true.I read it back in those early 1980 ties, when I lived in Soviet Union.The son who hunted for meat,was that fast he chased animals and outran them and killed!Those “civilized” brought them the disease,they had no immunity against. To Prucey- the size of a russian backpack pocket is about 8X8 inches. Wernergerman,Latvia.

  216. I cried when I read the mother Akulina gave up her food for the family and starved to death. What an incredible mother. Brilliant article……… more of this ilk please!

  217. so fascinating and tragic. it seems they were following the wrong god if they wanted to see their line continue on this earth. their strong guilt about their sins is striking. it also makes me think for all their physical hardiness , they had, like many ‘primitive’ people, an Achilles heel in their immunity, if the article is correct and it wasn’t stress, despair, shock or alcoholism that killed them. So we need to be part of, and connected to society, but not so cosseted by its comforts or subject to its fashionable and occasionally bloodthirsty whims that we waste or lose our lives that way either. Can you imagine hunting barefoot in the snow?!?

  218. It is simply amazing how these people were able to live there for so long, and how they were better for it. A girl who wasn’t afraid of the dark forest, a boy who could sleep out in near freezing weather and bring back a full grown deer, all by himself. A mother who could teach her children to read and write, all from a single book. The ingenuity of people never ceases to amaze me. It also is a testament to the cruelty of man. It seems, to me, that their faith was a central and strengthening force behind their survival. A truly amazing story. “A man lives for howsoever God grants.” That line is going to stick with me for a while.

  219. For me, all of this raises questions about the form of the Orthodox lives of the various members of the family.

    It’s crucial to know that the Orthodox faith places a heavy emphasis on community and the belief that there is much, much, much more to the quest for salvation than the decisions of an individual acting as a spiritual free agent.

    So no World War II? OK. But no priest? No sacraments? How did the family handle that? Did they — literally — see themselves as religious hermits?

    Readers are told that the children grew up reading, logically enough, the Bible and prayer books. There were religious tensions inside the family, as well, since all questions about faith had to be settled among them — without the help of clergy or outside elders.

    Believe it or not, that’s just about all readers learn on the “why” side of the equation in this story. We hear about prayers, we are told about crosses, but the form of the family’s religious life — especially their loss of the Sacraments — is left a blank slate.

    This is hard to believe, since the story does such an amazing job — in a relatively short feature story, as these things go — when it comes to describing the practical details of their survival in the harsh realities of Siberia. We learn a lot about their bodies, but next to nothing about their souls.

    Why was the family in Siberia in the first place?

    • If I’m not mistaken, the family were Bezpopovtsy, that is, the branch of the Old Believers that rejects clergy and the attendant sacraments, including the Eucharist. That would account for the gap.

      • That certainly would explain the gap.

        Does anyone else think that would have been a crucial point to have included in the story?

        Did I miss that somehow? I mean, I saw the Old Believers reference. But the Orthodox without Sacraments?

    • Here is an OrthodoxWiki reference with TONS of information.

      http://orthodoxwiki.org/Old_Believers

      Key info:

      Since none of the bishops joined the Old Believers (except Bishop Pavel of Kolomna, who suffered execution), apostolically ordained priests of the old rite would have soon become extinct. Two responses appeared to this dilemma: the “priestist” Old Believers (??????? (Popovtsy)) and the non-priestist Old Believers (?????????? (Bespopovtsy — literally “priestless ones”)).

      The Popovtsy represented the more moderate conservative opposition, those who strove to continue religious and church life as it had existed before the reforms of Nikon. They recognized ordained priests from the new-style Russian Orthodox church who joined the Old Believers and who had denounced the Nikonian reforms. In 1846 they convinced Amvrosii Popovich (1791-1863), a deposed Greek Orthodox bishop whom Turkish pressure had had removed from his see at Sarajevo, to become an Old Believer and to consecrate three Russian Old-Believer priests as bishops. In 1859, the number of Old-Believer bishops in Russia reached ten, and they established their own episcopate, the Belokrinitskaya hierarchy. Not all priestist Old Believers recognized this hierarchy. Dissenters known as ???????????? (beglopopovtsy) obtained their own hierarchy in the 1920s. The priestist Old Believers thus manifest as two churches which share the same beliefs, but which treat each other’s hierarchy as illegitimate. Popovtsy have priests, bishops and all sacraments, including the eucharist.

  220. People say this is beautiful. I fail to see how. Fascinating? Yes, certainly.
    The man brought his family to the isolated wilderness and refused to make any attempts at returning to civilization, condemning his children to a life of poverty and perpetual hunger. Admittedly he had to do it at first in order to escape persecution, but after some time you’d think he would make attempts at returning.
    I don’t get these romanticized views of ‘man vs nature’ crap. I see this as a tragedy all around – both for the persecution he endured as well as what he subjected his family to for decades.

    • That’s not what poverty is. Poverty only exists within a society. A family surviving off the land in isolation can’t be poor… By all accounts they were happy and adapted to their situation. The youngest daughter chose to stay.

      Of course it’s an anomaly, not a way of life – without mates the family doesn’t reproduce or get sexual satisfaction. Without other people they experience social isolation etc. etc.
      you’d think he would make attempts at returning

      There was nothing to return to. The father wanted to lead a religious life, which thought the 17th century was too modern. “Returning” to civilization would mean mandatory school and medical check ups, registration for the draft, census, having to find a job, work with other people, etc. The children were brought up that way too – so that it became their free choice to live the same way.

      It’s beautiful because they did something none of us are capable of – they survived Siberia with some seeds and a Bible… and at the same time they preserved their humanity and maintained the dedication necessary to survive. It’s a tragedy if you think they could have become artists or astrophysicists and never known hunger if they got schooling. But they could also have been criminals or alcoholics or depressed people angry at the world – and our society is full of them.

      • Yeah yeah… poverty is relative… but I still feel that you are nitpicking in an attempt to ignore the dire circumstances of their situation.
        The daughter chose to stay because she never really had a choice, being brainwashed to that mode of thinking her entire life. When the geologists first arrived, the daughters started crying thinking it was some sort of punishment…
        They didn’t exactly lead a quality life when viewed from the standards available at the time…
        It’s beautiful because they did something none of us are capable of – they survived Siberia with some seeds and a Bible… and at the same time they preserved their humanity and maintained the dedication necessary to survive.
        The story loses it’s beauty once you realize that the father basically subjected his family to malnutrition and ignorance. He seemed perfectly capable of following his religious path in his home village.

      • Overall, I agree with you, but I wanted to talk about this one part here. The Old Believers were outright not capable of following their religious path in their home villages, and there’s a reason for that. The article talks about “religious persecution” and how Peter the Great cut off Old Believers’ beards. It doesn’t tell you about what the hell was up with that.
        Some time before Peter the Great ordered the beard tax, his father established a new Patriarch in Moscow. (Patriarchs are like Orthodox popes, only minus the “direct agent of God” thing.) This patriarch was named Nikon. We need to backtrack for a moment to talk about Russian Orthodoxy. You see, after Constantinople was sacked, the Russians viewed Moscow as the third Rome, of a sort. It was generally regarded that Ivan III had protected the very concept of civilization when he drove the Golden Horde back.
        I tell you this, because you need to realize that the Russians took their Orthodoxy very seriously, and regarded their liturgy as being the last “correct” belief passed on in the tradition of Christ. These were their beliefs, and they were right.
        Well, Nikon comes along and now that it’s the seventeenth century and people can actually obtain and study the surviving texts from Byzantium, he came to the conclusion that the Russian texts were wrong. So did a majority of the council he summoned to analyze the differences between the Russian and Greek traditions.
        The minority who disagreed, however? Old Believers. One of them–a guy by the name of Avvakum–even thought that the reason Constantinople had been sacked by Muslims was because their rites were different. The sad thing is, three centuries of religious oppression could have been avoided if Nikon had attempted to interact more with his detractors. Nikon very quickly passed the reforms through, and had elicited upon his accession to the office of Patriarch a solemn oath of obedience from all the other bishops and churchly dignitaries. Instead of trying to parley with the Old Believers, the church used state authority to strip them of rights & property and ship them off to Siberia.
        Now, what were these changes that were such an anathema to the Old Believers? I bet you’re going to love this:
        Sign of the cross now done with three fingers instead of two.
        Pronounce the “Hallelujahs” three times instead of two.
        The creed: What once read “begotten but not made” in reference to Jesus’ womanly birth now read “begotten not made”, and “the Lord” is no longer referred to as “true”.
        Changed spelling of “Jesus”.
        Removal of a few words in a bunch of different prayers.
        That’s in rough order of magnitude. Little shit, right? It’s not like they’re saying, “Oh, yeah, now we believe that Jesus was a reptilian.” It’s definitely not like they’re saying, “Now we believe in seven gods, and salvation comes at the price of your left nipple.” Well, there’s two reasons that those “little” changes were actually a huge deal. Reason one was touched on above: Russians took their Orthodoxy very seriously. Every part of the action was part of the dogma was part of the belief. To change even a small part was to adulterate what was already seen as holy.
        But the major reason: all of these changes were incredibly personal. It wouldn’t be like Catholics deciding, “Hey, you know what, transsubstantiation is bunk; the wafer doesn’t literally become Jesus,” because that’s a dogmatic change that really only affects the bishops. The person who takes communion gets the same cardboard wafer. No, these are all changes that the believer themself must take on. Think about changing the sign of the cross alone. The Orthodox believer will, as a rule, cross themselves significantly more frequently than the Catholic. Why? Tradition. They just cross themselves all the damn time in church. And that’s just in church. Let’s not forget the fact that you’d cross yourself whenever you looked at the icon in the corner of your home, or that you’d cross yourself when you woke up, or when you ate, or when you’d leave your home.
        Every single day, the Old Believer would be assaulted with the wrongness of the new beliefs, and they were given two options by the state: stop believing that way or go die in Siberia where no one has to care.
        Amusingly, in response to Nikon’s reforms, there grew a movement sympathetic to the Old Believers, who courted Tsar Alexei (Peter the Great’s father) and got him to believe that Nikon was attempting to “outshine the tsar” and whatnot. And since seventeenth century monarchs were as vain as humankind gets, Alexei didn’t like that all that much. Nikon was found to have reviled the Tsar, and he was given the same treatment Avvakum and the Old Believers received.
        Alexei would keep making changes with the new Patriarch, and his sons would follow suit. But where Feodor kept on with church reforms, Peter the Great was determined to drag Russia kicking and screaming into the eighteenth century. Most of his reforms were aimed at making society function better, or fixing the military.
        In fact, the Old Believers definitely need to give Peter a break. The worst he did to them was raise their taxes–I don’t just mean the separate beard tax–and he did them a serious fucking solid by ending the anathemization practice. (Take your shit, ship you to Siberia.) But the damage was done, and the Tsardom would never again be seen by the Old Believers as well-intentioned or benevolent.

  221. There is something inherently attractive about this story. I am drawn into the details of how those things we take for granted every day would have been a struggle for this brave family. From our perspective the story seems sad, yet if the Lykovs were asked, they’d probably disagree. They seemed to have accepted their isolation. I cannot pretend to know, or judge them. They survived where many would not. If I were to walk in their shoes for only one year I might be able to get a glimpse of their incredible struggle. I am awed by this story. It is inspirational. Setting politics and religion aside, it is a celebration of human endurance.

  222. What a read. Very moving. On a sadder note, good thing they were not discovered in Canada or the U.S. They would have been thrown in jail for the hemp seeds.

  223. I met family like that in Yakutia in 1963. I worked as an ambulance paramedic in the remote district. Once I was called to a tiny village to help with the premature birth. On hte way back my driver asked if I would mind if we visited an old couple living all alone in the woods. They were slightly better off, not totally cut off from the civilization)) They were Russian by birth, and never learned Yakutian language even though they had lived there since 1914.. I was told that they escaped from their village in European part of Russia when “the lord” wanted to exercise “the first night right”. They were young and in love, so they ran! And ran… Never had children.

  224. “Once again religion shows it’s ability to completely overpower rational thought…” What are you talking about? There were early persecutions by a busybody tsar, and later persecutions by joyless Bolsheviks who actually killed one of the family. All of this was done for reasons the perpetrators no doubt thought were eminently rational. That’s what made the total mess of these people’s lives.

  225. […] a fascinating and almost unbelievable account of a Russian family of six who managed to avoid all human contact for four decades — a period of self-imposed exile that left them unaware of World War II and the Moon landings. Fleeing religious persecution during the 1930s, the family managed to survive the extremely harsh Siberian conditions, though at times coming perilously close to starvation […]

  226. The demise of the family members may have had something to do with the touch of modernity, after all: introduction of salt, possibly chocolate and alcohol after 40 years are all factors for a kidney failure, rather than harsh diet…

  227. Truly a great piece of reporting — I have only one quibble and that is the poor quality of the photographs — abviously 2nd or 3 rd generation prints. Are the originals avilable and are they any better ?

  228. Amazing story. I wonder what their expectation was for the future before they were found. Did they plan on dying out? Is that some weird form of suicide? I would think there would be some innate need to reach out to others so as to continue their bloodline

  229. Best survival story I have ever read. The facing starvation and single sprout of rye story made me cry.
    Robinson Crusoe was a piker. @_@

  230. I once built a wilderness laser.
    It was built of birch bark, field stone of high iron content, swamp gasses that were largely methane collected in a hollowed out dry gourd, the acid from recovered berries and fruits, and of course, a laser.

  231. It is worth reading the book “Lost in the Taiga”, which was about this family and discusses them in detail.

    They weren’t just fleeing persecution: the father would live with other Old Believer communities, and when they were not religiously strict enough for him, move further out until he ended up in Siberia. At the end, all that was left was him and his immediate family.

    This is actually a big problem with the Old Believer communities: when their entire reason for existence is over an insistence on doing things “the right way”, they end up in fractally-intense disputes amongst themselves over what “the right way” is.

  232. To think what the human body can adapt to is fascinating. I was particularly captivated by envisioning Dmitry persistence hunting his prey barefoot in the taiga, amazing endurance.

  233. While I do see the accomplishment and am stunned by the endurance of man, I refuse to cheer upon religious fanatism. Fleeing Stalinism doesn´t justify putting your children through famine and total isolation. Also, does anybody here believe the men in this family lived in celibacy?

  234. That is pretty fascinating that they were ‘lost’ like that, fleeing from opression. It still amazes me that they survived on pretty much nothing that long.
    Odd that even though Karp had knowledge of even basic weaponry, he did not fabricate it. They made a spinning wheel but not a basic bow for hunting?
    It amazes me that there can still be cultures completly isolated to all of our technology yet still be affected by its pollution and have our communication signals go right through them with them not knowing a thing.
    Makes you wonder about our little planet and if say, our Heliopause, blocks out signals from a more advanced civilization network that we are unaware of. What a nifty thought =)

    • A useful bow is a lot harder than one might think. You need the right type of wood, and the making of a bow that can deliver reasonable power, and not break after a very few uses is a lot harder than it looks.
      A better choice for isolates is the spear, and the spear thrower. As it is much less picky about the materials used.

      • The other consideration is the time required to make advanced tools. With such limited physical and human resources, if anyone spent too much time working on tools and not on making sure they had food and water, then they might have died of starvation before this discovery ever happened. Although farming helps make this possible, obviously the harsh conditions still made it so they barely could sustain themselves.The other consideration is the time required to make advanced tools. With such limited physical and human resources, if anyone spent too much time working on tools and not on making sure they had food and water, then they might have died of starvation before this discovery ever happened. Although farming helps make this possible, obviously the harsh conditions still made it so they barely could sustain themselves.

    • They had larch, spruce, birch and pine on hand for bows if they liked? They could have spun a string from deer intestines if they really wanted, too. Even if they had nothing like hickory handy, they could have still fire hardened a bow or two for hunting if they set their mind to it, right?

      • Well for one pine wouldn’t work, spruce probably wouldn’t either. Larch is tolerable, Birch is decent. Have a list Scraggly though is a very real problem. It really is just not that easy. Bow making is a lot more complicated than you think. Also if you don’t know this information there is no internet, you would have to trial and error through a lot of very time consuming work.
        Something to consider is that with a short growth season, a bitterly cold off season, there just might not have been that much large protein on offer. It is completely possible that one family in a very steep valley could hunt the deer population very low.
        (As an aside hickory is a tricky wood to make a bow from)

      • Spruce, birch and pine will definitely NOT work for a bow, not sure about larch, but I strongly doubt it. The shittiest wood you can actually make a bow out of is juniper, but you really need yew for a decent bow. You can use spruce branches for making arrows, though. And intestines won’t work for making a bowstring, you really need animal tendons for that.

  235. i like that their method of hunting wild fucking animals was chasing them into exhaustion.
    Sidenote: this will work on rabbits. Baby rabbits especially have zero endurance. I used to chase them all over the yard, until they wouldn’t play anymore. Why won’t the baby bunnies wake up, Mom?

    • I believe that animals can’t pant without pausing, even briefly. Like we can’t sneeze without closing our eyes. Panting heavily would require stutter stepping, and it would slow the animal down enough that we could catch it.

  236. This is a rather long story. But well worth reading. Talk about religious persicusion this family suffered. Then having lived in the wilderness the way they did for so many years in Russia is trully worth the read. Judy Palmer

  237. I live in Kemerovo and our governor Aman Tuleev often helps Agafya Lykova. She is still alive. Last time he brought her radio with a lot of batteries and some meat. She is a quite famous person among people here.

  238. Amazing story, but the end was incredibly disheartening. Imagine, their saviors in a way, turned out to be their undoing. Sad, truly sad.

  239. I haven’t stopped thinking about this family. And I think that something was off about the dad.
    I can see planning to hide out for a year or two- or hiding out except for a once/twice year “trip to town” for supplies…but to hide out for that many years ESPECIALLY when things are so bad one of your party starves to death (and everyone else is suffering of malnutrition) smacks to me of craziness or delusion.

    If I was terrified that my family was going to be captured/persecuted etc., I think I would hide them out in the woods and try to survive like they did. BUT I would make a trip or two a year, under cover, to buy, borrow, beg or steal some basic supplies from town. Especially in that situation when they only had like 7 seeds to start food for the next year!

    I feel really sorry for the kids who were forced into that situation.

  240. This is just simply amazing. I love hearing stories like this, and it just makes me smile. That life sounds hard to us, but to them it was just an everyday constant. Fuck doomsday prepers, these people are the ones who would survive if shit hits the fan

  241. There are probably still whole tribes of people, most likely in dense isolated jungles, that have been cut-off for hundreds maybe even thousands of years

    • Matthew Matzek: Having grown up in both remote Fiji and remote Papua New Guinea, there are more than you might imagine. Three days hike south of where I am typing this right now, there are said to be tribes that have had no contact with the outside world, ever. The highlands of PNG was only discovered in the 1930’s. There are guys alive today who remember when the first white men came into the area.

  242. Clothes were patched and repatched until they fell apart, then replaced with hemp cloth grown from seed.

    Damn reefer smokers! Always doing all kinds of crazy stuff!

  243. Amazing! The next time some well-to-do American resident say that he will “Go Galt”, share this story with them. True self-reliance is harsh. Life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (T. Hobbes)

  244. It was mentioned in the article that their entertainment would be to recount their dreams to one another.

    I’ve heard that the faces in your dreams are faces from your memory while awake. I wonder if the younger children who had never seen other’s besides their family, had dreamt of other faces (they knew that other people/communities/countries existed). Their dreams might have been limited to their family or their surroundings. Wish I knew.

  245. It seems inconcievable to live that way for so long, But when I was @ 18 I took a job as a camp counsoler at a religious camp in the mountains in New England. We were kind of cut off from the outside. No radio, phones (except one land line used with permission and good reason only) no tv obviously, no newspapers, no towns or stores nearby. What is amazing is how differently the time seemed to pass. Our focus was on the people around us and whatever present task was in front of us. I’m still not sure to this day if the isolation slowed time or sped it up. It’s hard to explain, and I guess the best way to describe it is, time and the passing of days was just uneventful, didn’t matter. When we drove about an hour down the moutain one day to a general store I saw magazines and newspapers with headlines about celebrities and events that I knew nothing about. It was only then that I became kind of self conscience of my isolation. So in a very very small way I can understand how they stayed for so long. Their entire world was in that clearing in the mountains.

  246. What an incredible story of survival. Back in the 1960’s my boy scout troop camped out for two weeks living off the land. Our scoutmasters did bring along beans, rice and vitamins so we wouldn’t starve. The Indiana woods did have a surprising number of edible plants. Made wiers to catch fish in a river. Ate several rattlesnakes. Spent most of the daytime gathering. We were hungry all the time and after two weeks nobody had any fat left on them. I can see how they lived on the verge of famine. After that experience I never refused to eat any prepared foods.

  247. One of the most touching stories I’ve read. Their courage and success in their survival is an ode to all humans. What is especially endearing is the gentleness and respect given by the Russian geologists. Thank you for bringing this to us. I’ve forwarded it to many friends.

  248. What an amazing story. Getting a glimpse as to how people thought and lived before modern society is one of the most exciting and odd things I have learned about. What kind of person would I be in that situation? Who am I without all of the knowledge that my society and culture has provided me with? We have altered the environment that we live in to be so different from the one we evolved in and are “made” for that seeing someone “revert” back to that natural environment provides to me a lot of insight as to what we really are.

  249. What’s interesting to me is that this isolated family did not go feral, they wound up being a sort of control for human nature. I’m astounded by the fact that the father noticed when ‘stars began to move quickly across the sky’ and surmised that it was mans work, accurately reasoning the existence of artificial satellites.
    This is a very interesting article for someone fascinated by human nature.

  250. There are so many facets to this story that are compelling, it is difficult to list them, but the contrast between the geologist checking his pistol before entering the hut and Agafia’s response about working outside after dark (“What is there to hurt me?”} is particularly revealing. They were hiding from Soviet “man” while having no fear of wild animals, afraid of encounters with other humankind, and refused to rejoin same. Sad commentary on humankind, the most fearsome animal out there.

  251. Incredible story (I actually, literally, out-loud, said “wow!” when I finished reading it). Thank you very much for sharing it.

  252. Its undoubtedly an amazing occurance. I also want to thank the writer for doing such an amazing job with this article! Kept me super engaged the whole time. Beautifully described. Felt like a novel.

  253. Read the full article. Amazing!! That should stop the complaining for a day or two!!

    “If you think you have it hard, read history books”!! Bill Maher

  254. Amazing! This is an extremely unique, insightful and well written article. However, although I knew of the Smithsonian, I did not have any idea the quality of materials published. I am pleased to say this article has met and exceeded all my expectations and I could not break away from this article; I was compelled to continue reading on and look forward to the next article I stumble upon by the Smithsonian. Thank you, Mike H (mike.sk.ca)

  255. Very interesting, the survivability, stubbornness, intelligence, and faith we as humans can possess. It can both strengthen us to great survivability and cause us to thrive, or weaken us to the point that it destroys us.

    • I’m tired of this back-slapping “Isn’t humanity neat?” bull****. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.

      Bill Hicks

      • Maybe we are a cancer, maybe we are the virus of the earth, but we are also a species capable of rational thought, (well some of us), and the ability to get off our asses and do something about the destruction we have caused to this world. Someone, somewhere right now is thinking of a way to improve the state of the earth, to undue what damage we have done, so yeah, I do think that is pretty neat.

  256. One can only marvel at this family’s courage, fortitude, and resourcefulness, but the gospel does not call us to be lifelong hermits. I cannot fathom confronting Stalinist persecution for my beliefs, and I do not begrudge this family for fleeing and hiding for a time, but by cutting off their children from other people — from the opportunity to marry and start families of their own, or to be salt and light somewhere in this dark world where others do not know Christ — the parents were ultimately undermining the bride of Christ.

    It is like something I read from Jeffrey Goldberg (whom I am loath to give credit for anything): modern Jews should not praise the “heroism” of Jews at Masada in AD 73, who committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. If all Jews at the time had done that, there would not be anymore Jews!