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Agafya Lykova: an old believer, a hermit from the Siberian wilderness
Agafya Lykova: an old believer, a hermit from the Siberian wilderness

How to survive in the taiga? The family of Old Believers who fled from Soviet power learned this science the hard way. After half a century of hardship, they became famous throughout the world.

In the summer of 1978, the search for iron ore began in the upper reaches of the Siberian Abakan River. The places here were remote, and, before sending the geological party, they decided to survey the area from a helicopter. On the slope of one of the mountains, the attention of the pilots was attracted by something that resembled a large knitted stocking from a height.

Looking more closely, they saw the potato furrows and were very surprised: where is the vegetable garden in the taiga, because the nearest housing is 250 kilometers away. The helicopter descended, and the pilots were able to see a small hut and five people nearby. One of the inhabitants of the taiga fell to his knees at the sight of the rotorcraft and began to pray.

The pilots found a place for the base nearby, and asked the geologists to take a walk to visit the incomprehensible taiga aborigines.

Karp Lykov with his daughters

Geologists, having settled in a new place, went in the indicated direction. They found a trail that they had obviously been using for a long time. Soon storage sheds appeared - sheds with birch bark boxes stuffed with slices of dried potatoes. Then geologists saw a hut blackened from time to time. The door opened, and an ancient old man, barefoot, in a patched sackcloth shirt came out to meet the guests: "Come in, since you have come."

In the room, five by seven steps, two women sat tensely. At the sight of the strangers, one of them fainted, and the other began to beat her forehead against the earthen floor: "This is for our sins, for our sins." The old man introduced himself as Karp Osipovich Lykov and introduced his daughters to Natalia and Agafya. The hermits explained that they are Orthodox Christians, and they live in the wilderness so that no one interferes with prayer. Only on the fifth visit did the geologists see the carp sons - Savin and Dmitry.

Taiga dead end: life far from people

The history of the Lykov family stretches back to the 17th century, at the time of the schism. Not recognizing the innovations of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and Patriarch Nikon, the ancestors of Karp Osipovich left their homes and moved east. Several times civilization caught up with them, threatening them with three fingers, tobacco, shaving beards and other devilish intrigues. Each time the Lykovs left for more and more remote places, but the authorities invariably got there …

In the late 1920s, representatives of the Soviet government appeared in the taiga Old Believer tract on Abakan. Young Karp Lykov did not like them, and he with his wife Akulina and little son Savin moved up the Abakan. For eight weeks the couple dragged the boat up the river on a string. They settled in a suitable clearing. They cut down a hut, cleared a place for a vegetable garden, began to live. We caught fish, set snares for small game.

The Lykovs did not have a rifle, so they could not hunt. The vegetable garden helped out, especially the potatoes. In fact, the Old Believers did not like this foreign vegetable, but it was he who saved the Lykovs: they would not have survived on turnips and peas. In addition, they planted onions, a little rye and hemp, the stems of which were used for household needs. Birch bark actively helped out. Dishes and many other things were made from it. A torch was burned for illumination.

The family grew slowly. Natalia was born in 1936, Dmitry in 1942, Agafya in 1944. Akulina taught children to read and write and raised them in Christian piety and severity. However, the surrounding nature was much more strict with the Lykovs. Other Old Believers knew about the abode of hermits. Geologists visited them several times and stayed overnight. The expression "Lykovskaya Zaimka" even got into the dictionary of Khakass geographical terms. The Old Believers learned from rare guests that a war was going on in the country. But this event seemed infinitely far from the Abakan taiga.

In 1945, a detachment of soldiers reached the hunt, looking for deserters in the forests.The hermits, who seemed almost wild to the Red Army, were clearly not of interest to the military registration and enlistment office, but the owners considered the number of guests excessive. As soon as the soldiers left, the Lykovs started moving into the already complete wilderness. They dug up all the potatoes, and in several steps carried the crop and all their simple belongings far into the mountains. After that, for more than thirty years, they did not see a single stranger …

The Lykovs' hut

Children grew up … Life did not spoil the hermits with bright events. Collecting berries, mushrooms and pine nuts, they rarely moved more than a few kilometers from their hut. Once Savin managed to wound a deer with a spear, and chased him for two days. The hunter returned home, and the whole family set out for the prey.

This trip became the longest journey for the Old Believers. Eating meat was an infrequent pleasure for them. The Lykovs dug holes with stakes on the animal paths, but the animals came across very rarely, only a couple of times a year. There were not enough elk and maral skins even for shoes. Therefore, hermits went barefoot in summer and in bast shoes in winter. Akulin's and her daughters' clothes were spun, woven and sewn by themselves.

1961 was a terrible year. The June cold with snow destroyed all crops. There were no berries in the taiga that year. The Lykovs had almost no reserves. They set aside a cup of seeds and ate the rest. They boiled skins, ate bark and birch buds. Mother died of hunger. Another bad year, and the hut in the taiga would be completely empty. But 1962 turned out to be warm. The vegetable garden turned green again. Among the seeds of peas, a grain of rye accidentally came across. For a single spikelet, a fence was made from chipmunks and mice. The harvest was 18 grains. Only three years later there was enough rye for several pots of porridge.

Agafya and Dmitry Lykov

Even in the middle of the taiga, hermits noticed human activity. In the late 1950s, the Lykovs saw moving stars in the sky. They did not know anything about artificial satellites, but Karp assumed that they were observing something man-made. True, his sons did not believe him.

Ten years later, Proton rockets were launched from Baikonur to put satellites into orbit. The missiles flew over the Lykovs' shelter 8 minutes after the launch, and the spent second stages fell into the deep taiga. Once the Lykovs saw three fireballs, followed by a tail of flame. Pieces of red-hot metal began to fall somewhere in the taiga, making loud slaps. The frightened Old Believers prayed for a long time.

Sibiriada: life next to people

The hermits at first took the appearance of people as a punishment, but a little later - they declared it a gift from God. The change in mood was largely due to the salt that geologists presented to the taiga robinsons during one of their first visits to the hunt. It was very difficult for parents who remembered the taste of salt to get used to unleavened food, so Karp Osipovich considered the cheap gift to be a jewel. Children, too, quickly became addicted to adding salt to their food.

At the base of the geologists, the sons eagerly examined the scrap iron dumped in the far corner: there were few items of metal at the lock. Two axes, made back in the 1920s, grinded down almost to the butts. The hermits were amazed by the light bulb. They poked their fingers at her glass and oozed, burning themselves.

Meeting people cost Lykov dearly. Having no immunity, Savin and Dmitry contracted pneumonia and died at the end of 1981. Natalya, exhausted from illness and grief, died soon after. Karp Osipovich and Agafya were left alone.

Karp and Agafya Lykovs with Vasily Peskov

The following summer, Vasily Peskov, a journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda, visited the taiga village. He wrote a series of essays on hermits that aroused great interest. The Lykovs became famous all over the world, and guests at the hut began to appear much more often. They brought things, helped in the garden … Among the gifts were chickens, goats, cats and a dog.

Hermits looked with interest at magazines with photographs of modern cities, not understanding how it is possible to live in such anthills. The TV set at the geologists' base made less impression on the Lykovs.Agafya on the screen was amazed only by horses and cows - she had never seen such outlandish animals. At first, the Old Believers declared television sinful, but very quickly they became addicted to it.

Agafya Lykova

Relatives appeared at the Lykovs, and in 1986 Agafya decided to visit them. She endured the helicopter flight surprisingly easily, but the "house moving on wheels", that is, the train, scared her. In the village of Old Believers, Agafya was received as a dear guest, but she did not want to stay there - "only in the wilderness is salvation for true Christians."

Returning home, she nevertheless started a move closer to the base of geologists, approximately to the place where the Lykovs lived until 1945. First, the 40-year-old hermit moved tools and supplies to a new location. She cut down a small storage shed on stilts so that the animals would not get it. I dug a cellar, cut down a plot. During the winter, Agafya made 33 shuttle trips between the old and new housing. Moved almost all of her simple property. In the spring I took my father through the taiga.

Karp Osipovich has already turned 80, his legs were weak, so they walked for four days. In the summer, firefighters helped the Lykovs build a new hut, but Karp did not have time to move into it - he died on February 16, 1988. The daughter locked the door and went skiing to the geologists. It walked for eight hours, and, having reached the base, fell down with a temperature. She was barely rescued. Many people came to the funeral of Karp Lykov - friends and relatives. Agafya was again called into the world, but she refused.

Life alone began for the hermit with the invasion of bears. She scared off a couple of predators with shots from a donated gun. To divert others, she hung colorful rags around the house, on which she tore her most elegant dress. The animals retreated, but one woman in the taiga was scared. In 1990, Agafya moved to an Old Believer nunnery, but she stayed there for only a few months. She parted company with the nuns on theological issues and returned to her settlement.

For the past thirty years, the famous hermit has been living in the taiga almost without a hitch. She now does not suffer from loneliness - entire delegations and individual guests often visit her, some of whom stay for several months. The novices from the monastery, where Agafya did not take root, spend even more time at the hunt. Volunteer helpers help with the housework. Agafya is in active correspondence and enjoys the patronage of the authorities.

She was looked after by the governor of the neighboring Kemerovo region, Aman Tuleyev. Agafya complained to him personally on any everyday issue, and the owner of Kuzbass sent a helicopter with everything necessary. Such flights to neighboring Khakassia cost the budget of the Kemerovo region millions of rubles. The expenses for helping a lonely old woman were more than for the livelihoods of entire settlements. Tuleyev called Agafya his friend and often visited her himself, willingly posing with a world celebrity in front of the journalists accompanying the governor …

Agafya Lykova and Aman Tuleyev

Regular examinations in hospitals show that Agafya Karpovna Lykova is in good Siberian health. Over the past few decades, the image of an Old Believer living in conditions of pre-Petrine time has somewhat faded. Nevertheless, the inhabitant of the taiga deadlock is still one of the main Siberian attractions.

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