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English-speaking 'forest boy' nicknamed 'Siberian Mowgli' born and raised in the Altai wilderness

By Anna Liesowska
11 September 2013

He is believed to be 20, born in the wild, never went to school, received no vaccinations, and was cut off from civilisation.

'It will be my son's choice what he will be doing next', Odzhan's father Alexander said. Picture: youtube 

The young man, named Odzhan or 'great soul', was born after his painter father Alexander and musician mother Elena opted out of society to live in mud huts and primitive timber houses in the wild. Until this week, he has met hardly any other humans, missing kindergarten, school and university.

But his parents educated him in all they know, and he learned English from a dictionary they took with them when they cut themselves off from society at the end of the Soviet era. Now he craves one thing only. Not to move to a town or city or know more people. But to speak to a native English speaker to finesse his use of the language.

The handsome young hermit came to the notice of the authorities when villagers found him and brought him to the local prosecutor. 

'I'm living well thank you,' he said. 'We are living well. This is the reality we have that we live here, and its quite a good reality. 

'To move closer towards the city? For that we need to have a more cultural society, and of course to change how the cities smell and the pollution. 

'I am happy here.'

forest boy SIberia

Odzhan, whose name translates as 'a great soul' is 20 years old.  Picture: youtube

His bearded father had some contact with people, selling mushrooms they gathered, as well as his paintings. But Odzhan and his mother only met the occasional hunter in the forest near Belokurikha, a famous spa and mineral spring resort in Altai region, 250km south of the city of Barnaul.  

'To survive, we are selling mushrooms and my father's paintings,' Odzhan said. 

'Who am I talking to? Well, life puts us in touch with people when we need to do something, we don't just come together for a sake of chatting. So for now it has been mostly adults who I've seen and communicated with. 

'I study English, I've got a dictionary with words in English with spelling and pronunciation rules for every word. Of course, I need to have practice - if only I could have a chance to communicate with somebody who speaks no words on Russia - at least for a month! 

'But there is a psychological difficulty with my sub-consciousness not understanding why it needs to learn English. I can easily say 'do you speak English?' (he says with a good English accent), but for proper fluent speech of course I need the practice. 

'My books? I've got a dictionary, and there every word is given with a spelling and the pronunciation. Do I read other books? Yes I always try to read as soon as I have spare time. Perhaps some time later I will get to read, but right now there is no spare time whatsoever. 

'If suddenly I get some spare time I will get into painting. '

Forest boy found in Siberia

Forest boy found in Siberia

Forest boy found in Siberia

Odzhan, 20 with parents Elena and Alexander. Pictures: youtube

His father Alexander said that the family have lived in their current since 1997 'in the last century' but had earlier lived in another location.

'Our son was not attending a school or a kindergarten. But we are educated people and we were giving him everything we knew ourselves,' he said.

His family name and age were not given.

'I don't think that the fact that he skipped the school was a disadvantage for him. Our school programmes were far better than modern ones. They were broader, deeper, better. He even studied English all by himself. 

'We don't want to get back to the city - and smell petrol or at best various cleaning and washing powders.'

He said the family have a small radio to keep in touch with the world they rejected. 

Elena insisted: 'Its more comfortable here and happier than in civilisation. I am a musician by education, and I get upset and insulted by the quality of what's going on in the music industry these days. This is what stops me from coming back to society. 

'Our son knows what labour is, and what creative work is. He could read and write aged five, and it all came naturally. 

Q: 'What kind of destiny do we want for our son? '

Alexander: 'We want him to have the best destiny. We want him to become a big artist, perhaps a poet. '

Elena: 'A writer... 

Alexander: 'But above all we want him to be a clever man.'

Elena: 'And a kind man. A true man.' 

Forest boy found in Siberia

Forest boy found in Siberia

'Sometimes we have hunters coming to visit, but it happens incredibly rarely'. Pictures: youtube

'As for our life conditions perhaps we won't mind having a bit more space, like two rooms - or even three.' Currently, they have a one room home.

'Sometimes we have hunters coming to visit, but it happens incredibly rarely.'

The extraordinary story emerged earlier when Odzhan was found by locals from remote Ulyanovka in woodland 3 kilometres from the village. He told how his parents had opted out of their lives to become hermits in the forest. 

His parents  apparently left their hut earlier this year, leaving him alone. This led him to emerge briefly from his solitary life, though after meeting officials, stunned to discover his existence, he went back into the wild to await his parents' return. 

He was dubbed real-life Mowgli, after the main character in Rudyard Kipling's 'The Jungle Book', but he must be the most educated Mowgli ever to emerge.

Belokurikha town prosecutor Roman Fomin is acting via the court in order to establish a date and place of birth of the young man 'who was brought up by a family of hermits'.

'I spoke to the young man, he said that parents told him that he was born in 1993,' Fomin told The Siberian Times.

'However, he looks younger. The way he walks is different from a 'normal' man's way of walking. You can see straight away that he spends hours walking  long distances. He told me that he has never been to hospital and has no idea what the word 'vaccination' means. 

'I took it that he never had any vaccinations in his life. He looks as though he is only 15 or 16 years old. 

'We don't aim to bring him back to civilisation. I think the way he lives in the woods can perhaps be even better than the lives some of us lead. I also think that none of us would be able to sustain their life conditions even for two weeks. 

'But we want to verify his date of birth and issue a birth certificate'. 

Forest boy found in Siberia

The man explained to the prosecutor that he was born in 1993  in the woods around Kaitanak village in Ust'-Koksinsky district of Altai Republic.

A local woman had brought the young man to the prosecutors out of fear that he may need help through the cold winter, but the man then had gone back to his home in the forest.

'I am not sure if he needs all this attention,' he said. 'He looked normal and healthy, he only spoke slowly, since he doesn't communicate as often as most people.'

Others who opted out of life in Siberia did so for religious reasons but Fomin says this is not the case with the 'forest boy'.

The man's family went to live in the wild as a conscious decision, but apparently not out of religious reasons. 'They are not religious people,' he said.

His existence poses a bureaucratic conundrum for the authorities since they can only account for him if he has documents, starting with a birth certificate and internal Russian passport. For this, they need to establish his date and place of birth. 

If the authorities know or suspect his name, they have not released it. 

'We have informed the social care body about the situation. I keep the situation under my personal control,' said Fomin. 

Contact with people could pose a health risk since he lacks immunisation against common diseases. The Lykov family lived as hermits in the Siberian taiga from Stalin times, but several family members perished soon after they came into contact with people again after being spotted by geologists flying over the remote region by helicopter.

Today only one family member Agafya, 69, survives, living on her own - please read our story on The Woman Who Times Forgot 

Comments (25)

Здравствуй, Оджан! Очень рада, что ты прочитал статью и написал нам! Здорово получить весточку от тебя! Как ты живешь сейчас, какие у тебя ближайшие планы? Можешь написать на этот адрес ?
Anna Liesowska, Novosibirsk
28/06/2014 00:54
Hallo! I is Odzhan Naumkin. Do I difficult speac English, yet all you comments is veri naty! Thank you! Good luck! :)
Hallo! :), Russian
28/06/2014 00:20
Ps to my earlier comment. I meant to mention that this actually reminds me of Anastasia who lives in the Siberiaian Wilderness about whom Megre wrote those series of facinating books quoting her insights on our distant past, attitude to other life forms and much much more. Michael.
Michael Brine, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.
22/09/2013 06:00
I found this very heartening. I lived in the bush and built a home when I first came north to the Yukon in northern Canada in 1970. Had a wife and two children. Grew most of our own food. Had a greenhouse and lived beside a lake 7 miles in from any main road. The closest person was 7 miles away out at the main road. It was one of the happiest times in my life. To truly understand and feel the Silence and the natural world was a wonderful experience which lives with me to this day. We stuff our children with so much stuff in to-day's world it greatly saddens me. Truly living life from day-to-day and embracing it is the secret - at least for me. Thank you Anna Liesowska. Michael
Michael Brine, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
22/09/2013 00:13
Henriette - I never claimed to be sure he wants a female partner. I made a reasonable assumption. But regardless of what gender partner he would prefer, my point was that he has little chance of finding one since he was raised without any real social skills. Just because he could answer questions during an interview doesnt mean he has social skills. Its impossible for him to have been properly socialized when in his entire life, he's only seen 1 other human besides his parents. Impossible. And its too late now to turn back the clock and acquire the social development he needed as a child. Even if he wants to now, he could be risking his life by entering society because he has no natural immunities. His parents have taken away all of his choices, leaving him to stay in the woods. That's the same as no choice, because that choice is the only one available. At least when his parents decided to go live in the woods it was their choice. He never got to choose. It was decided for him.
Shelly , Pasadena, California
18/09/2013 09:49
I’m not a Siberian Times reader. I heard about this «Siberian Mowgli» through a Dutch association for language research and promotion (Genootschap Onze Taal). As a linguist, I read the article and the comments attentively and would echo F.Koulakis’ opinion: « What oddly incomplete reporting.» It is not clear to me whether the young man really wants to meet up with society. Nothing is said about his parents’ duty to declare his birth at the civil registry office. Obviously, the prosecutor is concerned primarily with Odzhan’s identity. But what about his health? The paper rightly said that contact with people could pose a health risk since he lacks immunization to common diseases.
Philippe-Henri Delanne , France
17/09/2013 12:17
What makes you so sure he wants a female partner?
Henriette Mesman, Hoorn/The Netherlands
17/09/2013 04:40
Crystal Groves, His mother did not find romance in the natural world, she was already married when they went into the forest. And if he's 20 years old and has only ever seen one other human being besides his parents in his entire life, where is this woman he could marry supposed to come from? I wish nothing but happiness. But I fear for him. Hopefully that fear is unfounded.
Shelly, Pasadena, California
15/09/2013 06:09
F Koutlakis. Taking their son into the wilderness to hide is hardly something I would call brave. Don't get me wrong, I understand completely the need to get away from chemicals and other poisonous things etc. Our environment is completely toxic. However, isolating a child to the point that he's 20 years old and has only spoken to maybe one human being besides his parents is nothing short of abusive. Not that they intended to be abusive to their child, but the result is he same. Theres not a psychologist on earth that would tell you this is ok. I hope you naysayers out there are right and Im wrong. But what would make you think that all the women trying to get to him would even find a young man who knows how to speak to them? HE doesn't even have any way of knowing how he would react to the regular daily presence of other human beings. Thats why I say they've condemned him to a life of loneliness. I do genuinely hope I'm wrong though. He's a beautiful boy.
Shelly, Pasadena, California
15/09/2013 06:03
This is an excellent story and I hope you continue to follow up on this young man and his family. But the photos seemed to come from YouTube, and no link was given. Does anyone know of the YouTube link?
Francis A. Eller, U.S.A.
15/09/2013 04:55
They think he looks younger than 19/20 and I agree but I am sure that is his correct age. He looks so healthy and young because he has lived off the grid without all the pollution, chemicals, and junk foods to erode his body at a faster rate. I so wish there was a wilderness near my family that we could escape to. And for those saying he will be lonely forever, I am sure he will not. As others said, there are many others that would love to join them and he will definitely find a wife if he wants to!
Cassandra, Decatur IL USA
14/09/2013 10:42
Not really a big deal... American people do it to their kids all the time -- homeschool them and keep them in the houses in the woods. I do not see a big difference in what these Russian parents did.
Valeriya Voronina, Kalispell, Montana, USA
13/09/2013 23:36
Not really a big deal... American people do it to their kids all the time -- homeschool them and keep them in the houses in the woods. I do not see a big difference in what these Russian parents did.
Valeriya Voronina, Kalispell, Montana, USA
13/09/2013 22:14
Noah—his parents were away looking for another place to live in in Russia's Far East, they've got back after a few months. That's when the interview was done, I guess.
Aleksey, Russia
13/09/2013 20:26
Marie, I do not see him condemned to a life of loneliness. There are many women who do find romance in a life of hard work in the natural world. Clearly his mother did, many others do as well.
Crystal Groves, Gettysburg, PA
13/09/2013 20:25

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