You’ve probably heard stories of Japanese soldiers who were stranded on some remote island in the Pacific and thought the war never ended. But the Lykovs’s story is even more outlandish than that. Karp Lykov and his family never even heard of World War II — its beginning or its end. Nothing at all. In fact, they lived in the Siberian taiga without any human contact for four decades.
During that time, the family never encountered a soldier or heard a single aeroplane, bullet or shell. Far away from any front, deep in the Siberian taiga, just a few kilometres from Mongolia’s northern border, this Russian family lived in a wooden hut by the Abakan River. Hidden 240km away from the nearest known settlement, these Russian hillbillies survived in their own microcosmos without any news from the world and no more technology than a few tools.
The Lykovs were Old Believers — a Russian Orthodox sect persecuted by the Tsars and the Soviets alike — who escaped their hometown in 1936, after a Red Army patrol shot Karp Lykov’s brother. Along with his wife Akulina and two children, nine-year-old Savin and two-year-old Natalia, Karp fled to the mountains with just a few tools and seeds. The couple had two more children a few years later in the 1940s: Dmitry and Agafia.
Imagine growing up in the wild with absolutely no human contact except your family. Those kids grew up knowing nothing of the outside world but what they heard in the stories told by their parents. And their parents lived in complete ignorance of what was happening in the world at the time — until a group of Soviet scientists led by Galina Pismenskaya discovered them in 1978. These are her first impressions:
beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish-bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it…. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.
The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. 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…. Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: ‘Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.
The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins.’ The other, keeping behind a post… sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realised we had to get out of there as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to imagine this happening now in a world where even tribes lost in the Amazon rainforest have had contact with the world, and satellite TV is available in the farthest and poorest corners of Africa.
The entire story is amazing, go read it all at Smithsonian Magazine.