Living alone in the taiga for 70 years

Stories of survival are irresistibly captivating. They speak to the strength, courage and resilience of the human spirit, and is something that inspires us to wonder, what would we do in a similar situation.

The story of Agafia Lykov is one such tale. (After a long Canadian winter, I was especially drawn to her story.) Born into a Russian family that was persecuted for their religious beliefs, her father and mother packed up and retreated to a remote mountainside in the taiga, 240 kilometres (150 miles) away from the nearest town. Agafia’s family of six was mostly self-sufficient, though they faced starvation more than once and decades of bitter winters — all without human contact for years. The VICE video above is really worth watching, and here are more details of the Lykov’s incredible ordeals, via the Smithsonian Mag:

(The Lykovs’ escape into the taiga) 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, the Russian journalist Vasily Peskov noted, “was for everyone to recount their dreams.” [..]

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.

The Lykovs’ story is a mind-blowing slice of reality — almost lost to history, were they not “rediscovered” by accident. Now 70-plus years of age, Agafia is the sole survivor of this remarkable family, still living alone in the taiga. More over at Smithsonian Mag.

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