Agafia Lykova has grown up completely isolated from modern civilization. Her parents were very religious and feared persecution when Josef Stalin came into power. So, they fled into the uninhabited wilderness of Siberia and never interacted with modern civilization again. They were so isolated that they had no idea World War II happened. Lykova was suffering from severe leg pain and called for help via an emergency satellite telephone; authorities airlifted her to a nearby hospital. She is finally interacting with the outside world for the first time in her life – at 71 years old.
Born in isolation
Agafia’s father, Karp, was a devoutly religious man. He was an Old Believer, which is a sect of Russian Orthodoxy that broke off in the 1600s to protest reforms. There was already prejudice against this religion, but it got even worse once the Bolsheviks seized power. When his brother was killed by a Communist patrol, Karp decided it was time to leave. In 1936, he took his wife Akulina, his nine-year-old son Savin, and his two-year-old daughter Natalia deep into the wilderness and never looked back. They gathered everything they could carry plus some seeds so they could plant a garden and settled in the Sayan mountains, near the Mongolian border. The youngest children, Dmitry and Agafia, were born isolated from society. They had never interacted with anyone else besides their family and had never seen the outside world; their only knowledge of it came from stories.
A tough life
The Siberian climate is brutal. Temperatures can reach all the way down to -40C°. The family had no outside resources like guns to use – the closest human settlement was a two week walk away. They had no guns nor salt. They were not able to eat meat until Dmitry became old enough to hunt, and even then it was scarce.
“We ate the rowanberry leaf, roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops, and bark,” Afafia remembered. “We were hungry all the time. Every year we held a council to decide whether to eat everything up or leave some for seed.”
In 1961, a June frost killed their garden. It got so bad that they even ate their own shoes. Akulina starved to death while making sure her children were fed.