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This Russian Family was Cut Off From Humanity for 40 Years -- How Did They Survive?

Sep 14, 2016 03:44 AM EDT
Religious Cult In Siberia
402418 09: Smoke rises from snow-covered houses March 1, 2002 in Sun City, eastern Siberia. The village was founded in 1994 near Lake Tiberkul by followers of Vissarion, a religious cult figure who claims that he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and who and preaches abstinence from meat, tobacco, alcohol and modern fuels to the mostly former Soviet intelligensia who live communally with him. Vissarionites believe that alien civilizations will notify them of a coming apocalypse in 2003.
(Photo : Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

There are little places as unforgiving as the Siberian wilderness with its freezing cold (save for the handful summer months), jagged terrain and sleeping predators. Unexpectedly, the Lykovs -- a Russian Old Believer family who retreated from civilization to avoid persecution -- survived this environment for 40 long years before they were discovered.

How They Were Discovered

According to a report from Smithsonian, a pilot was scouting the forest by a tributary of the great Abakan river when he spotted a clearing up a mountainside that spoke undeniably of human habitation. This was in 1978 and a team of geologists led by Galina Pismenskaya ventured to discover that here -- in the yet-to-be explored and remote corner of Siberia -- lived the Lykovs.

Who are the Lykovs?

The Lykovs, led by father Karp, was initially frightened at the appearance of the scientists, enough so that the group left the makeshift hut and settled a few yards away. Eventually, Karp and his four children warmed up to them.

The father was a firm Old Believer, which means he's a member of the fundamentalist Russian Orthodex sect that has been persecuted since Peter the Great. The persecution worsened when the atheist Bosheviks - members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party - rose to power. In the 1930s, a Communist patrol shot Karp's brother with him beside him. This was when Karp fled with his family to the wilderness.

By the time the geologists stumbled upon the family, there were only five Lykovs: Karp, Savin, Natalia, Dmitry and Agafia. Their mother Akulina died of starvation in 1961. The family was perpetually hungry through the years; although their staple diet by the time they were discovered consisted of potato patties with ground rye and hemp seeds, there were long years of near-starvation.

Wild animals and unforgiving frost killed their crops on certain years, reducing their food to rowanberry leaves, shoes and bark. When Dmitry reached manhood, he was able to build impressive endurance and hunt, although without weapons they only did it by digging traps or chasing the prey until the animal collapsed of exhaustion.

Surviving the Unforgiving Siberian Wilderness

Despite the harshness of life in the wild, the Lykovs persisted. The geologists realized their primitive way of life masked their intelligence and skill as even fundamentalist Karp was interested in modern innovations. Before she died, Akulina taught her kids to read and write with sharpened birch sticks and honeysuckle juice as pen and ink.

The two youngest Lykovs, Dmitry and Agafia, proved to be approachable and curious. The latter kept track of time, while the former was the scientists' favorite as a capable outdoorsman and craftsman who was charmed by technology especially the sawmill.

Tragically, most of the Lykovs died in 1981; Savin and Natalia of kidney failure, and Dmitry of pneumonia. Karp died in 1988, in his sleep. Agufia, the only one left, still lives in their taiga dwelling to this day. A report in Siberian Times in 2013 revealed she lives with some goats, cats, hens, a rooster and a dog named Taiga.

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