Agafia Lykova has lived her entire life in the depths of the immense Siberian wilderness known as the taiga. For more than 70 years, she has lived over 150 miles from the nearest town on a homestead painstakingly cleared and built by her family.
As she has aged, she has accepted more and more help from the modern world, but has still never wanted to leave the place she calls home.
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In 1936, Karp Lykov, Agafia’s father, was working outside his village when a Communist patrol shot and killed his brother, who was working just beside him. Lykov, terrified, reacted by fleeing with his family. He and his wife Akulina had two children at the time; their son Savin was 9, and their daughter Natalia was only 2.
The Lykov family belonged to a Russian Orthodox sect known as the Old Believers. The sect had been persecuted since the 17th century, and the family had already fled into Siberia to escape the persecution that continued into the 20th century. Consequently, when his brother was shot, Lykov felt that the only option left to him to keep his family safe was to flee even further, into the uninhabited wilderness of the taiga.
Life was unimaginably harsh for the family, who had moved from dwelling to dwelling several times before finally settling on their permanent homestead. A son, Dmitry and a daughter, Agafia, were born, making them a family of six to feed. The Lykovs had only been able to take what they could carry into the wilderness with them, and when these items began to fail, they were difficult if not impossible to replace.
When the metal cookware rusted through, they fashioned replacements out of birch bark, but these could not be put into a fire, making it very difficult to cook. They had to make clothing out of hemp cloth that they had grown themselves and shoes out of birch bark.
In 1961, the winter and spring were particularly harsh, and everything they had been growing in the garden was killed by frost. Most of the Lykovs survived by eating bark and the leather from their old shoes, but Akulina, the mother, died of starvation that year.
However, the family endured, and in 1978 a helicopter looking for a spot for scientists to be able to study the unexplored taiga chanced upon the Lykov homestead. When four scientists were sent to the area to prospect for iron ore, they were told of the pilot’s discovery and decided to investigate.
The Lykovs, although frightened, accepted the visitors and over the course of many visits told them about their life. Agafia, at this time in her mid-30s, as well as her brother Dmitry, had never even seen someone who was not a member of their immediate family.
The only book the family had was a 400-year-old bible, and so the scientists reported that the family’s speech was quite odd.
They sometimes used archaic words and especially the sisters, Agafia and Natalia, spoke in a strange way that sounded like cooing to them. On the other hand, the family was aware of the idea of satellites, having noticed when stars starting moving at great speed across the sky and theorized what humans might have created that could do that.
The homestead also lies under the path of rockets fired from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, so they had seen several pieces of space debris that had fallen near their home.
Now that contact had been made with the outside world, the family’s existence became a little easier. The scientists helped replenish their stores, gave them clothing, and provided salt, a luxury to a family who’d done without it for four decades.
The Lykovs also now had company and a window into the modern world. They had been so isolated, they had not even known that World Word II had taken place. Smithsonian Magazine reports that their primary form of entertainment had been to tell each other their dreams.
As their acquaintance with the scientists continued, the family learned more and more about the modern world, even watching television occasionally. However, in the fall of 1981, all three of Agafia’s siblings died within a few days, a fact sometimes attributed to pneumonia that would have started as an infection caught from the scientists.
After this tragedy, the scientists tried to convince Agafia and her father to leave the forest, but they refused, instead choosing to return to the wilderness they considered their home.
In 1988, Agafia’s father Karp died in his sleep, and she became the last remaining member of the family. She lives mostly alone, but still receives visitors several times a year who help her with tasks such as weeding the garden or having enough firewood to last through the winter.
They also bring her gifts, but according to The Guardian, she refuses to take anything that has a barcode on it due to her religion and still starts fires using flint and tinder.
Despite her continued isolation, Agafia knows that she has help when she needs it now. In 2016, after suffering from intense pain in her legs, she called for help using a satellite phone and was able to be airlifted to a hospital and treated there for a week.
She remains living in her remote home, but it can only be hoped that when she can no longer survive alone due to her age, she will call for the help she needs then as well.