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The moon over Baikal glittered in different way, like you are looking at sable fur

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Ian Frazier, 2013

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

By Anna Liesowska
15 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 (13)

Amazing.
Justin, O
02/08/2017 20:46
0
0
Já visitei a Rússia e pude ver locais muito antigos, no entanto a história de vida desta mulher e de sua família
deveria dar um filme, para que ficasse gravado para o futuro, a maneira como ainda hoje se encontram
pessoas que conseguiram sobreviver com tão pouco e tão longe da civilização.
Maria José, Sintra - Portugal
29/02/2016 07:53
0
0
Agafia is a national treasure, as such it is our hope and prayers that she will be given every consideration, and help
so as to improve her quality of life. What an incredible woman, she takes our breath away. Truly a great story, out of Russia. Thank you to all who produced it an left us all in a state of wonderment, how wonderful.
Glenn Jarrett, Cohoes, N-Y, U.S. of A.
18/01/2016 05:04
2
0
Ja tam proste chcu jet, ta babca je neuveritelna. Drzim ji palce, takovej hardcore a zaroven krasnej zivot....nic jinyho nez zavist...
Smi Drc do Piva, Czech Republic
23/11/2015 04:57
0
1
Agafia has a beautiful soul. Although she is a hermit, she has affected many lives for the better. Thank you to those who bring us her story and thank you, Agafia, for who you are.
Cathy, San Bernardino, California, USA
06/04/2015 08:31
6
0
Tank you for the inspiring story. I would love to visit Agafia . RA Sherman Bsher68@aol.com
Roby Angelina Sherman, Wildwood. Georgia USA
08/03/2015 02:44
1
1
Amazing and inspiring. I appreciate the value of a simple living
olga , colombia
12/01/2014 07:26
4
2
I'm so glad she's finally rid of that Yerofei Sedov. Verbally abusive user, that one. He was terrible to her.
Elizabeth, Bon Secour, Alabama, USA
11/01/2014 21:45
7
2
This is such an inspiring story! These people were not happy with their current situation, but they did not resort to violence and killing those they disagreed with. Instead they went to where they could live a healthy life in peace. Being people of faith I'm sure the beautiful county reminded them each day of God's goodness. I hope that the story and these pictures do not attract problems for this gentle woman. I'm glad the Russian authorities are taking care of her.
Colleen, Lassen County, California, USA
07/10/2013 09:33
9
2
This is such an inspiring story! These people were not happy with their current situation, but they did not resort to violence and killing those they disagreed with. Instead they went to where they could live a healthy life in peace. Being people of faith I'm sure the beautiful county reminded them each day of God's goodness. I hope that the story and these pictures do not attract problems for this gentle woman. I'm glad the Russian authorities are taking care of her.
Colleen, Lassen County, California, USA
29/09/2013 11:09
1
2
Thank you very much
Henri BARTHAS, France
18/09/2013 02:31
2
2
I have read about this family sometimes ago.Always had interest in there story.Its nice to see Lady Agafia well poised and healthy MaSha'Allah.This is her belief in God that keeps her resilient and strong.no doubt ,people under estimate the strength and value of true faith.
saad, Peshawar / Pakistan
18/09/2013 00:54
5
3
Thank you so, so much Mr Shpilenok for sharing the pictures!!
Mariusz, Warsaw Poland
17/08/2013 01:34
9
3
1

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