Agafia Lykova | The Siberian Woman Lived In Isolation For 35 Years - The Comprehensive Minds

The Siberian Woman Lived In Isolation For 35 Years

Agafia Lykova

Siberian hermit Agafia Lykova had no interaction with the outside world until she was 35 years old. 

Her unique story began with her parents back in 1936, who were members of the splinter sect of the Russian Orthodox Church known as the Old Believers

Due to their hard-line beliefs, they broke off from the church when it was being revised in the 17th century. Because of this, the family was subjected to religious persecution from Stalin's Bolshevik regime. Karp Lykov, the patriarch of the clan, realized the situation was untenable when his brother was killed by a Soviet patrol. 

A strict proponent of pacifism, his faith would not allow for any kind of retaliation. Instead, he decided to move the family away. Karp, his wife, Akulina, and their two children traveled from their small hometown in Western Russia deep into the Siberian wilderness near the Mongolian border. That's about 160 miles away from the nearest settlement. 

It's estimated that the journey is a two-week walk, which with two children and the entire family carrying as much as they could, probably would have been even slower. All they had were the clothes on their back, a small loom, a spinning wheel, two iron pots, some tools, and seeds and sewing supplies. The terrain was rough as they ascended 6,000 feet into the Sayan Mountains, and the weather was unforgiving.

The Siberian Woman Lived In Isolation For 35 Years

The average temperature in Siberia is 25 degrees Fahrenheit. In 1933, one town was on record for getting as low as negative 89.9 degrees Fahrenheit. The worst the Lykov family had to endure was around negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but their one-room shack with no furniture and a makeshift fire pit did little to protect them from the bitter cold. 

The sun provided scant warmth throughout the one window that was only a few inches wide. The family survived on potatoes and wild mushrooms, but then there were more mouths to feed in 1940 when Dimitri is born. Three years later, Agafia joined the family. It was a hard existence. 

Agafia Lykova | The Siberian Woman Lived In Isolation For 35 Years

They eked out a self-sufficient life without running water or electricity. Dimitri would hunt, while their small garden yielded just enough during the three months a year the ground was viable for the family to get by on-- that was until 1961, when most of their crops died, which forced the family to supplement their few potatoes with roots, leaves, and tree bark. 

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At one point they had to resort to eating their own shoes. Rather than let their children go hungry, Akulina starved herself to death. Years passed, with daily activities revolving around prayer and other liturgical rites. The Bible was the only book in the house. It was how Dimitri and Agafia learned to read. 

The other part of their daily life was maintaining what little they had. If they wore out their clothes, they had to mend them. When their shoes wore out, they fashioned new shoes and skis out of birch bark. 

The innovation of necessity was the price they had to pay for their isolation, but they weren't completely alone. Aside from the bears and foxes that came looking for food, sometimes a lost hunter or prospector would cross their paths. 

When the Soviet space program was in full swing, the flight path of the rocket went straight over the Lykov property. Agafia was 17 when she saw rocket debris falling from the sky. Before long, the surrounding area was littered with incongruous bits of technology. 

In 1978, something very different came from the sky. A geological team and a helicopter who were searching for oil deposits spotted the isolated homestead. 

A geological team

This marked the first interaction that Agafia and Dimitri had with someone who wasn't a family member. The Lykovs were briefed on world events. 

All were surprised to learn that there was a Second World War and that man had landed on the moon, yet even hearing about the advancements in the world from the outsiders, the Lykov family had no intention of leaving their Siberian home. They were also reluctant to receive gifts from the geological team who had become their friends. 

Salt was the first thing the family accepted, and after that, the family slowly accepted other items. And it was at age 35 where Agafia, for the first time in her life, tried milk and bread. The Lykovs realized that the visitors likely saved their lives by providing useful items like clothes, grain, knives, and even a battery-operated flashlight. But if you ask her which of her gifts made her life the easiest, Agafia would say it was salt. 

Sadly, a mere three years later, all three of Agafia's siblings died. No one knows if it was an illness introduced by the geologists or simply a coincidence. The only remaining members of the family were tracked down by journalist Vasily Peskov, who wrote a book about them that turned them into modern-day Russian folk heroes

Russian folk heroes

Thanks to the popularity of the book, the government invited them to see the rest of the country. Against her father's wishes, Agafia left for a month-long tour. For the first time in her life, Agafia was exposed to so many things that others take for granted-- horses, cars, money. 

It was loud, and it was busy, and the air was hard for her to breathe. It's little surprise that when she was offered a chance to join the society, her answer was a simple "no, thank you." Agafia was happy to return to her simple life in the mountains. Shortly after her tour, sadly, her father passed away. It was the beginning of 1988, and Agafia Lykova was living alone in one of the harshest environments on Earth. 

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A former geologist built a cabin nearby, but by his own admission, Lykova ended up helping him more than he helped her. He passed away in 2015. For all the documentaries and articles about her, people still respected Lykova's privacy. Local government officials keep an eye on her well-being, making semi-regular deliveries of food and basic supplies. 

She has since left the wilderness a few times to visit previously unknown family members, and she also receives occasional visitors, who bring her Old Believer newspapers. But for the most part, people leave her alone. Currently, in her 70s, Agafia fills her day by cooking, foraging, fishing, and cutting firewood. 

Agafia Lykova | The Siberian Woman

With help from others, her one-bedroom hovel has been replaced with a series of buildings that provide ample room for her goats, chickens, and pet dog and cats. When Lykova gets lonely, which she says really doesn't happen, she reads her 400-year-old Bible. 

It's getting harder for the Siberian hermit woman to live like she once did, but a less humble person would take pride in how decades of hard work and faith have forged her into a formidable survivor, perhaps even someone deserving of her own legend. 

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