With the advancement in technology, humanity started relying more on gadgets and less on themselves. It’s hard to even think of living off the grid for a few days. However, after fleeing religious persecution, a Russian family of six isolated themselves 150 miles from the nearest civilization, 6,000 feet on the side of a mountain in the Siberian taiga. The Lykov family completely cut off any form of human contact for so long they didn’t even know that World War II had happened. Here’s an interesting story about a family who has survived in the wild with zero contact from the outside world.
In 1978, Soviet geologists prospecting in the wilds of Siberia, discovered a family of six, lost in the taiga.
The Lykov’s were Old Believers; a Russian Orthodox sect that had seen hundreds of years of religious persecution. Until the mid-1930’s, the family lived in a village after fleeing religious persecution. They left for the wilderness after Karp Lykov, the father, saw his brother being killed by communists in 1936.
Until 1978, the family lived undiscovered and disconnected from society. They were so isolated that they didn’t even know about WWII and had to eat leather shoes to survive in several instances.
In 1978, a helicopter filled with a team of geologists were looking for a spot to land, when they came across the Lykov settlement. According to the Smithsonian magazine, unsuspecting crew spotted the first signs of human habitation – a garden – from their helicopter and decided to investigate the position. Galina Pismenskaya, one of the researchers from the team recalls the moment,
“We chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends…though, just to be sure, I did check the pistol that hung at my side.”
When the team of four arrived at the Lykov family’s one-room hut, they described it as like a “fairy tale”.
Arriving at the premises, the team saw an old, barefoot man, who was Karp Lykov, coming out of the hut. Although unsure, the researchers greeted him in a calm and soft manner.
“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 re-patched 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!’”
Karp Lykov did not reply to the researchers immediately and took some time to analyze them. He then replied in a quiet and uncertain way,
“Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.”
Of all the members of the Lykov family, the daughters were isolated from society their entire lives.
When one of the researchers asked, “Have you ever eaten bread?” the old man answered: “I have. But they have not. They have never seen it.”
The daughters also had trouble speaking. Their language was distorted, probably due to a lifetime of isolation.
“When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”
The family had to endure several years of hardship that comes with isolation in order to survive. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, this is how the family managed the long and harsh 40 years in the wilderness:
- Birch-bark was made into galoshes (a waterproof overshoe, typically made of rubber) and clothes with hemp grown from seed.
- For boiling water, they used metal kettles until they rusted and were beyond use. One of the main courses of food was potato patties, hemp seeds, wild berries and nuts. By 1950, the son was old enough to understand the forest and hunt by himself. Thus, the family also added meat to their diet by hunting wild animals.
Although they had sources of food, it wasn’t enough to keep them well fed. The Smithsonian Magazine reports that they were frequently on the brink of starvation.
As researchers learned more and more about the family, they understood how they ended up living alone on the taiga. Karp Lykov belonged to a sect of Christianity known as the Old Believers. Since the days of Peter the Great, the group of believers have been persecuted. After atheist Bolsheviks took control, the life of Old Believers became sour, as they were being hunted.
When a communist patrol shot and killed Karp’s brother, he feared for the rest of the family. The fear forced him to make a hard decision; take his wife, Akulina, his 9 year old son, Savin, and his two year old daughter, Natalia, and make a run for the Siberian forest.