|Two Sisters: Agafia Lykova and her sister Natalia. Agafia, now in her seventies, is the only |
surviving member of the family; she lives alone in the taiga, high above the Abakan.
An article, by Mike Dash, in Smithsonian recounts the story of a Russian family who were living in a remote part of Siberia, isolated from all human contact, unaware that the Second World War had taken place, unaware that man had landed on the moon, and unaware, for that matter, of the many modern conveniences and comforts of life.
They were discovered in 1978 when geologists were out prospecting southern Russia a few hundred miles from the Mongolian border. Traveling by helicopter, they flew over a thickly wooded valley adjacent to a river that acted as a tributary to the mighty Abakan. It was there that the helicopter pilot saw evidence of human habitation, 6,000 feet up the mountainside.
This was an unexpected find, since the Soviet authorities had no record of anyone living here, the nearest settlement being 150 miles away, and yet this is precisely what this family of six—the Lykovs— wanted, to remain undetected.
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 of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900.I would recommend that you to read the rest of this article. If this story shows anything, it is that some individuals will do anything to maintain their beliefs and their way of life, both carrying with them a sense of belonging and identity. That such beliefs against modernization will in a few cases drive some people underground might trouble some persons; the story is a fascinating encounter with the power of faith and belief, and survival it seems, and how these innate human characteristics can overcome comfort. For this family, it was survival that was the defining and driving force.
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.
You can read more of this article at [Smithsonian].