Astonishing story of outsiders cut off from civilisation for 40 years

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Lykov family
 The family that time forgot: Astonishing story of outsiders cut off from civilisation for 40 years 
 6 Feb 2013 00:00 

Cut off from all human contact, they were completely unaware of the Second World War, the moon landings, TV and modern medicine

Hardypair: Karp and daughter Agafia

THE scientists gazed in disbelief at the ramshackle pile of bark and branches that passed for a tiny cabin.

A low door creaked open and an old man, well into his 80s, emerged slowly into the daylight like a character from a fairy tale.

Barefoot, filthy and with matted hair and beard he was wearing trousers and a shirt made from patches of sacking. 

Behind him in the dark hovel huddled Russian Karp Lykov's four grown-up children. They were the family that time forgot.

It was 1978 and a team of geologists had made their way deep into the pine forest of the Siberian taiga.

They were 155 miles from any human settlement and 6,000ft up a mountain in last great wilderness on Earth, where only bears, wolves and the hardiest beasts could survive the bitter climate – or so they thought. 

The wilderness: Remote forests of Siberia 

In fact, the Lykov family – except for Karp's wife Akulina, who sadly died in 1961 – had survived freezing temperatures and near starvation for more than 40 years, even eating their shoe leather in the harshest winter. 

Cut off from all human contact they were completely unaware of Second World War, the moon landings, TV and modern medicine.

Geologist Galina Pismenskaya, who had been prospecting for iron ore, recalled the moment she found the family. 

She said: "He looked frightened and was very attentive. 

"We had to say something, so I began: `Greetings, grandfather! We've come to visit!'

" The old man did not reply immediately but finally we heard a soft, uncertain voice: `Well, since you have travelled this far, you might as well come in.'"

The family's discovery fascinated the Russian public in the early 1980s after journalist Vasily Peskov befriended them and told their story.

Their shack: They lived in a home made from branches 

But after avoiding human contact for four decades, the Lykovs fell victim to the intrusion by the modern world and, tragically, within three years three of them had died. 

Now their story has been revealed anew by the magazine published by America's Smithsonian Museum.

The Lykovs were members of a Russian orthodox religious sect called the Old Believers, who had fled to Siberia following the Russian revolution.

Under Stalin things got worse and in 1936, after Communists shot his younger brother, Karp Lykov took flight to the forest with his wife Akulina, their son Savin, nine, and daughter Natalia, two.

Bringing few possessions, they retreated ever deeper into the taiga, building themselves a series of crude dwellings.

Two more children were born in the wild — Dmitry in 1940 and Agafia in 1943. 

Sisters: Natalia and Agafia, who still lives in the wild 

Akulina had an ancient family bible to teach them to read and write, using sharpened birch sticks dipped in honeysuckle juice as pen and ink. 

The children knew there were places called cities and countries other than Russia but couldn't really comprehend the outside world.

The harshness of their own lives was incredible. 

It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry turned 18, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. 

Lacking guns or bows, they chased prey until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. 

Dmitry became so tough he could hunt barefoot in winter. But meat was rare and they relied on their meagre crops.

In 1961 it snowed in June, killing everything in their garden. 

The sons: Hunter Dmitry (left) and Savin 

Akulina stopped eating so her children could feed and eventually starved to death.

The scientists slowly befriended the Lykovs and soon coaxed them into visiting their camp, where they discovered the "miracles" of modern life. 

Reporter Vasily Peskov said: "What amazed Karp most of all was a transparent cellophane package. 

"He said, `Lord, what have they thought up – it is glass but it crumples!'"

But as the Lykovs re-established contact with the outside world they also sealed their own fates.

In the autumn of 1981, Savin and Natalia died of kidney failure but that may have been due to their harsh diet. 

Graves:. Today only Agafia survives of the family of six 

However Dmitry succumbed to pneumonia, developed from an infection he acquired from his new friends. 

When the three Lykovs had been buried, the geologists tried to talk Karp and Agafia into leaving the forest but neither would hear of it. 

Karp Lykov died in his sleep on February 16, 1988, 27 years to the day after his wife.

Agafia buried him on the mountain slopes with the help of the geologists, then headed back to her home, telling them God would provide.

Twenty-five years on, Agafia still lives alone in the Siberian taiga. 

It is the only life she knows – and wants.

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