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Ian Frazier

The woman who time forgot... Remarkable new pictures of hermit Agafya Lykova

By Anna Liesowska
21 August 2013

Driven into the Siberian taiga by Stalin, she 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

Agafya, 69, still makes fire using flint, refusing an offer of matches from famous Russian photographer and naturalist Igor Shpilenok, who visited her recently. 

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.

As Igor's pictures show, she looks immensely content with her life. 

Today Agafya - who lives according to her Old Believer religious principles - receives visitors several times a year, helping her with such tasks as providing firewood for the long winter. In the past, her family was lost to the world for four decades before their remote self-made hamlet was spotted by Soviet geologists flying over the area in 1978. 

When Igor, 53, 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,' he said. '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 them. 'She found the barcode on the 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 Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok

To reach Agafya, they faced a tortuous two day trip, firstly by hovercraft along rivers, then a small boat and finally a long trek on foot.  Pictures: Igor Shpilenok

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, Agafya 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'.

Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok


Agafya Lykova, pictures by Igor Shpilenok

To reach Agafya, they faced a tortuous two day trip, firstly by hovercraft along rivers, then a small boat and finally a long trek on foot.  Pictures: Igor Shpilenok

Agafya's patronymic refers to her father Karp Lykov, a devout Old Believer who took his family into the wilderness to escape the persecution they felt under Stalin. She was born in this remote wilderness in 1944 but 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.

When they were discovered, the family comprised Karp Iosifovich (the head of the family), his sons Savin, 45, and Dmitry, 36, and his daughters Natalya, 42, and Agafya, then 34. The children's mother Akulina had died in 1961.

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; as a husband and wife photographer-writer team, they work to promote Russia's protected areas.

They live in a remote village in the buffer zone of the Bryansky Les Zapovednik nature reserve in Western Russia. Igor was formerly director of this reserve while Laura is Senior Advisor for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Russia and a freelance nature writer. 

photographer Igor Shpilenok


on way to Agafya Lykova

Igor Sphilenok and, below, a former geologist Yerofei Sedov (right). Pictures: Igor Shpilenok

In 2006, Igor won first prize in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. 'I wish to convey the beauty of wild nature in Russia's protected areas to people around the world and evoke in them the desire to conserve those areas,' he says.

On the way to see Agafya on the Abakan River, they met Yerofei Sedov, a former geologist, drilling foreman, who once took an active part in the life of the  Lykov family. 'Having lost his leg 16 years ago, he settled near the Lykovs,' said Igor. 

The Siberian Times thanks Igor Shpilenok for the images of Agafya Lykova. Please see Igor's report about his trip to Agafya in Russian - http://shpilenok.livejournal.com/193005.html 

Comments (12)

Truly amazing! I cannot imagine living a life like this. I have so much respect for this family and especially Agafya, since she has chosen to stay true to her roots even though she’s alone. Incredible! I wish her only the best and many blessings!
A Witkowski, Lecanto, USA
20/09/2018 09:14
1
0
I respect the lady AGAFYA she must be honoured along with her family for the courage and determination with which she along with her family survived for so long in isolation.
fayaz dahlani, sringar j & k , india
06/01/2018 23:10
3
0
Agafya you are indeed a true inspiration.
Robin Nthato , Johannesburg
04/10/2017 14:33
3
0
I am from outback Australia; also a very deserted, remote and harsh place to survive. Although we are a modern town with modern luxuries. Lol. And this woman is just a hero. So true to her culture and beliefs. She is similar to many Aboriginal elders that kept their culture, beliefs and way of life alive out here in the remote regions of the desert, despite being persecuted in very similar ways. Bravo and respect.
Rich Burton, Mildura, Victoria, Australia
22/03/2017 07:08
6
0
I first read about Agafya and her family from the Smithsonian article. I cried, not from sadness, but from honoring the great enduring family she comes from! To truly live, to have lives of value, virtue, freedom from persecution and to rely on God and nature for your very survival takes the most inner core strength of our very souls as human beings. She and her family are living proof it can be done! We take so much for granted in our modern urban environments. She is an example of how precious a grain of wheat can be to our very lives. Thank you for sharing your life with us Agafya!
Desdra, San Francisco, California, United States
21/07/2016 14:20
14
1
Wow and we think we have it hard...imagine if you Will everything we take for granted!!!!!
In SHORT BUCK UP AND STOP YOUR WHINNING YOU BUNCH OF MARY'S.....
Joe summers , ft.myers beach.Florida
28/01/2016 06:46
3
2
There are 2 even 3 of us willing to go stay with Agafya for a time However the travel by helicopter is quite expensive! We are seeking to raise funds for this. We hope to help her with firewood, planting and chanting prayers the Old Style. We have been welcomed by the Reserve as well as her spiritual fathers.We too are Old Believers! Please won't you "Help us Help Agafya! http://igg.me/at/Agafya-Lykov/x
Emilia, Tennessee/ U.S
23/03/2015 08:50
8
3
Feeling ashamed of my urban lifestyle after reading this. Agafya is truly a remarkable woman.
Simin, Singapore
14/02/2015 19:01
9
1
Agafya, is a lady to be respected in the highest regards. I wish her well and i'am happy people are helping her. I do hope there will be more documentaries about Agafya
.
Joam Ballaris, Cashmere, USA
04/11/2014 00:48
9
3
Agafya, is a lady to be respected in the highest regards. I wish her well and i'am happy people are helping her. I do hope there will be more documentaries about Agafya

.
Joam Ballaris, Cashmere, USA
03/11/2014 02:43
7
0
Salam from Pakistan to Agafia!
Saad, Peshawar
16/11/2013 18:14
7
0
From America, greetings and profound respect to Agafya Lykova.
Bennett Blumenberg, Maryland, United States
09/11/2013 11:17
12
0
1

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