Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Russian family that lived in isolation for 40 years

Mike Dash at Smithsonian tells the fascinating story of a family that fled to the woods, and stayed there for decades.

An aerial view of the Siberian taiga, where a family of five lived from the 1930s through the '70s, far enough from civilization to have never heard of World War II.
An aerial view of the Siberian taiga, where a family of five lived from 
the 1930s through the '70s, far enough from civilization to have never heard of World War II
I
n 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:  
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!" ...
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."

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