The hermit family of Karp and Akulina Lykova of Russia fled from their home to the wilderness of Khakassia republic in southern Siberia because of Joseph Stalin’s religious persecution in 1936
Their daughter, Agafia, still lives deep in the forest by herself at the age of seventy five. Even the threat of fallout from a rocket launch doesn’t bother her enough to leave her home.
The Lykova family were members of the Orthodox Old Believers, conservative dissidents who broke from the Russian Orthodox Church when liturgical reforms by Nikita Minin took place in the 1600s. In the 17th century, the group separated into different sects, some of which still survive.
Stalin wanted to herd all of the members of the Old Believers onto a collective farm or to prison, according to Russia Beyond, and those that resisted were shot, including Karp Lykova’s brother. Karp knew he had to flee and took his family into the forest.
Several times, the family moved further into the forest building new log cabins and always removing evidence of their presence.
The family lived in isolation eating vegetables and potatoes from their garden and trapping wild animals. After one particularly difficult winter and late frosts, the garden failed and the family had little to eat which weakened Akulina causing her death in the 1960s.
In 1978, geologists flying over the mountainside near the Erinat river in the Abakan Range spotted the Lykova family’s homestead and landed their helicopter to investigate. They were over 150 miles from the nearest town. For the first time in her thirty-five years, Agafia met someone outside her family.
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The family was wearing shoes made from bark and patched and torn hemp clothing. The snow was waist high in winter. They were truly in the wilderness, and when the geologists spoke to the family, they found that the household had, over time, developed their own dialect.
After being interviewed, the family was told about modern conveniences that had evolved since the 1930s. The Lykova family was even unaware of the Second World War. The family rejected offers to set them up in a modern village, wanting to keep their old ways. When offered canned food the family refused, calling it a sin.
According to The Siberian Times, in 1980, Agafia’s brother and sister, Savin and Natalia, died from kidney failure, and another brother, Dmitry, died from pneumonia. Karp died in the winter of 1988, but Agafia refused to leave her home and has remained there ever since.
The property is located in what is now the Khakassky Nature Reserve. When news of the discovery of the hermits came out, they became media sensations. Their 18th century ways of hunting, weaving cloth, and making their own clothes fascinated people, and in 1982, a correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vasily Peskov, began posting updates about the family.
Peskov visited the family every year for twelve years and attempted to protect them from visitors who just wanted to gawk at them. His collected updates were published as a book in 1983, Lost in the Taiga.
According to Russia Beyond, in 1990, Agafia decided to try living around others by joining an Old Believer convent, even becoming a nun. She soon found that the beliefs she was raised with did not coincide with those of the convent and returned home to the forest.
In 2011, she was visited by leaders in the official Russian Old Believer Church and was baptized.
Russian authorities including Kemerovo Region former governor, Aman Tuleyev, have supported Agafia by sending representatives to check on her and provide medical care as well as providing fresh seeds and seeing to any other needs she may have.
They also deliver various gifts sent to Agafia from around the world, things such as scarves, dried fruit, materials, and needles and thread. Fascination with Agafia’s story has remained and letters and gifts are constantly pouring in.
Nature reserve inspector, Sergey Khlebnikov, has become her favorite visitor; Afagia even made a woven belt for him. Agafia claims not to be lonely, but she loves having people to talk with. According to Khlebnikov, she will sit and talk for hours, not going away until she has said all she wants to say.
Agafia’s home is in the Sayan Mountains, and is on the flight path of Russian rocket launches. In fact, The Guardian reports that there is a Proton rocket part lodged in a tree trunk near the Lykova homestead.
The Siberian Times reported that officials from the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, visited Agafia to inform her of an imminent rocket launch from Kazakhstan. Concerned for her welfare from falling debris, they tried to evacuate her temporarily.
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True to her nature, she refused to go remarking, “The rockets fell down before. So what is different now?”