Born in the Siberian taiga, recluse Agafya Lykova is the sole survivor of the Lykov family who cut themselves off from civilisation in 1936.
Elsewhere in Russia, she might be sitting back and taking it easy as a pensioner but in her remote home, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, she works daily, pitting her wits against the extreme of cold and hot that mark the Siberian climate. Picture: Igor Shpilenok
All alone, she makes fire from flint but in a heartfelt letter to a Siberian newspaper, she begs for a fellow Christian to join her and care for her in her hermit home, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest towns and villages.
'I don't know how God will help me survive the winter,' wrote Agafya, who has repeatedly refused offers from officials to move to a house in a village, at least for winters. There aren't any logs. I need to get them into the house, and I need to keep reading my prayers. I'm suffocating, and I am getting too cold while doing it when the weather is freezing.
'Here is my battle for survival, alone and with the house to look after and things to do, all round the clock, until I suffer exhaustion'.
Her parents - deeply religious Old Believers - set out in 1936 into Siberia's vastness to live apart and escape the persecution they faced under Stalin.
She was born in this remote wilderness in 1944 or 1945. It was not until 1978, some 42 years after they disappeared, that their primitive huts were spotted from the air in the Sayan Mountains by a party of Soviet geologists who then came to make contact with them.
Anyone joining her would take a trip back several centuries to share her devout and lonely existence, praying and living off the land.
In the letter to Vladimir Pavlovsky, chief editor of 'Krasnoyarsky Rabochiy' newspaper, Agafya pleads for help with logs to burn on her stove in the cold Siberian winter and with making hay, and planting in spring the next crop of vegetables on which she survives in her lonely abode.
Agafya's letter in Russian, page one. Picture: Krasnoyarskiy Rabochiy
Agafya also expresses fears for her health. 'I am all alone, my years are big, my health is bad, I keep getting ill. There is a lump on my right breast, and my strength is going. There is a need for a person, a helper, assuming there are kind people in the world, as the world has always had kind people.
'With tears and cry we beg you, in the name of Christ, not to leave me alone and pay mercy to an orphan in need. There must be Christians around.'
Agafya - who never attended school - states in her sometimes rambling letter: 'My big stove stays cold, there is no time and no logs to heat it up. I only manage the small iron one. In the summer I lived outside. When the family was alive, there was enough to do for all of us.
'The stove was always hot. We cooked. We prayed together, and only went out to do outside works after prayers. And whatever else others were doing, one of us was forever inside, to keep reading our prayers. We prayed together during holidays. And now everything is on me, both the prayers and the household. I can't do the full prayer, nor even the basic one.'
She claimed a previous plea for help in 2005 had not brought anyone to assist her. 'I didn't get any help. I've been asking for it for more than 30 years, I've been sending letters and been asking everyone verbally in person, and those ones who came to me last winter.'
'Somewhere they say millions of Christians live, millions of people live in the world, but there is no help to an orphan.'
She told how last summer her potato crop was at risk from flooding of the nearby river. 'The water came in and I only just managed to dig the potatoes.'
'I am asking you in the name of Christ to lot leave me alone for the spring, and to bring an aid if there are kind people around,' she begged.
'All my thoughts are about surviving the winter,' Agafya said. Pictures: Igor Shpilenok
Though writing to the newspaper, Agafya's demand seems to be aimed at the governors of Kemerovo and Khakassia regions. 'All my thoughts are about surviving the winter,' she said. A helper 'does not need to bring the bedding, the pillow and the quilt, everything is arranged and waiting here,' she explained. 'I only need the person to come'.
'Perhaps bring some seed too, like carrot and cucumber, and maybe turnip and onion. Number ten thread, too, for sewing'.
Editor Mr Pavolvsky told The Siberian Times that he does not believe the situation with Agafya is as desperate as she claims.
'She is being a little cunning,' he said. 'She has no hunger. She wants to attract more attention. She has enough cereals, bags of them lie on her porch, and everywhere. And she has enough potatoes'.
He had passed her letter to the governor of Khakassia Viktor Zimin and also the head of Kemerovo, Aman Tuleyev.
'Today the head of Tashtogol district Alexey Putintsev called me and we agreed that the situation is very complicated. Agafya does receive help and she is repeatedly offered to move from her winter hut, but she is stubborn. And there are no words in this letter about her desire to leave'.
Each year checks are made on her amid concerns about her ability to cope as she nears the age of 70. One visitor was Russian photographer and naturalist Igor Shpilyonok, who arrived on a regular visit by nature reserve inspectors - Sergei Khlebnikov and Alexander Oskin. They found Agafya at prayer, and fasting. It was 2 August, the day the church honours the prophet Elijah.
'She forbade us to work on that day,' said Igor. 'She did not eat anything of the food we brought with, but sat with us and we had a good talk. She took the gifts - rubber boots, socks, dried and fresh fruits. She inspected everything meticulously, to make sure there was no barcode.'
She sees the barcode as the work of the devil, and has nothing to do with it. 'She found a barcode on matches we gave her and returned them. It anyway turns out that until now she makes fire using the ancient method of tinder and flint'.
Agafya's letter in Russian, page two. Picture: Krasnoyarskiy Rabochiy
The visitors also found that Agafya was living in her summer quarters, not her sturdy wooden house she occupies in winter, built by her late father. Instead, she occupies a hut made of sticks and a token of modernity - a plastic sheet - to keep out the rain.
'In summer, the recluse does not live in her house, but in this hut among her vegetable beds, sleeping on matting laid on the ground, covered with a blanket,' said Igor. 'Almost all the next day, we were engaged in logging and weeding her vegetable gardens'.
To reach her, they faced a tortuous two day trip, firstly by hovercraft along rivers, then a small boat and finally a long trek on foot. When they left, Agafya gave the men a sack of potatoes as a gift. Feeling her need was greater than theirs, they declined, but she was insistent.
'We had to take a few potatoes,' he said.
She also gave Sergei a hand-made belt. They had spent just 20 hours with this remarkable Siberian woman, before leaving her once again to the solitude into which she was born.
'This short time provided fodder for many reflections on the distant and recent past, the meaning of life, the power of the human spirit, faith,' Igor wrote in his blog. No, I do not feel that Agafia Karpovna's life is a dead end in the taiga'.
Her patronymic refers to her father Karp Lykov, who led the family into the wilderness. When they were discovered, the family comprised Karp Iosifovich, his sons Savvin, 45, and Dmitry, 36, and daughters Natalya, 42, and Agafya, then 34. The children's mother Akulina had died in 1961.
Agafya Lykova, pictured in the middle of eighties with father Karl, left, and Krasnoyarsk professor Nazarov. Picture: The Siberian Times
Accounts vary on Agafya's exact age and whether she was born in 1944 or 1945. The three other children died in 1981 and Karp in 1988 since when Agafya has lived alone at the family's smallholding in what is now Khakassky nature reserve.
Her only companions are two nanny goats, a male goat, eight cats, a rooster, hens, and a dog called Taiga.
Igor visited Agafya with his American wife Laura Williams, a husband and wife photographer-writer team, who work to promote Russia's protected areas.
The Siberian Times thanks Krasnoyarskiy Rabochiy newspaper and Igor Shpilenok for the images of Agafya Lykova and her letter. Please see Igor's report about his trip to Agafya in Russian - http://shpilenok.livejournal.com/193005.html
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