In the Desert of Snow

Sister Laurel draws attention to Agafia Lykov, a Hermit in the Desert of Snow in Siberia:
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“Agafia Lykov (born 1943) is a Russian Old Believer who has survived alone in the Taiga for most of her life. Lykov became a national phenomenon in the early 1980s when Vasily Peskov published articles about her family and their extreme isolation from the rest of society. Lykov is the sole surviving member of the clan and has been mostly self-sufficient since 1988, when her father died.

Agafia Lykov was born in a pine trough in 1943 to Karp Osipovich Lykov and Akulina Lykov. She was their fourth child, and the second to be born in the Taiga.
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Lykov lives 500 feet up a remote mountainside in the Abakan Range, 150 miles away from the nearest town. For the first 35 years of her life, Lykov did not have contact with anyone outside of her immediate family. Information about the outside world came from her father’s stories and the family’s Russian Orthodox bible.
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In the summer of 1978, a group of four geologists discovered the family by chance, while circling the area in a helicopter. The scientists reported that Lykov spoke a language “distorted by a lifetime of isolation” that sounded akin to a “slow, blurred cooing.” This unusual speech led to the misconception that Lykov possessed little intelligence. Later, after observing her skill in hunting, cooking, sewing, reading and construction, this original misconception was revised.

In 70 years, Lykov has ventured out of the family settlement six times. The first time was in the 1980s, shortly after Vasily Peskov’s articles about the family’s isolation turned them into a national phenomenon. The Russian Government paid for her to tour Russia for a month, during which time she saw planes, horses, cars and money for the first time. Since then, she has only left to seek medical treatment, visit distant relatives and to meet other Old Believers.

By and large, Lykov prefers her life in the Taiga to life in the larger towns or cities. She claims that the air and water outside of the Taiga makes her sick. She also said that she finds the busy roads frightening.”
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A detailed account of Agafia’s life is found at with additional material at , and

One person who interviewed Agafia was later asked:

“What were some things you learned from Agafia?

I learned, or perhaps it was reinforced in my mind, that people can live off-grid and mostly alone with minimal intrusion and help from the ‘outside.’ It’s not an impossible lifestyle, and, especially in the case of the former, it’s how all our ancestors lived. It blew my mind that there was a 70-year-old woman doing it in the middle of the mountains of Siberia, of all places. She projects this grandmotherly warmth, and almost frailty, but then will just march up a steep-ass snow-covered hill and start sawing logs while the young crew of soft New Yorkers are all winded from just walking there. It also made me sure that all hermits are running from something — in the case of Agafia, well, her father’s case, it was Communists. I just like the idea that most of the world is so in touch with modern amenities, and then there’s this isolated old lady in Siberia who has almost none of them, and she’s seemingly happier than anyone else I’ve met.

Is there anything you wish you’d asked her but didn’t?

I’m really interested in the survival aspect of it, because she’s so anathema to the stereotype of a mountain man hermit, I wanted her to teach me her secrets. I wanted to know more about her day to day and the skills she learned growing up. We tried asking her, but she has this circular way of answering questions that made interviewing her rather challenging. If we would ask her if her way of life is difficult, for instance, she’d answer with a “difficult? this is just how I live.” Also the fact that I don’t speak Russian wasn’t helping, and everyone on the crew was a Godless heathen, so Agafia’s Biblical allusions were lost on us for the most part. The one thing that we didn’t get to explore, which we would have liked to, was the living situation when her family was still alive. Due to inclement weather, our time with her was cut short by a day, which was when we were supposed to put on skin skis and go six miles or so to a cabin that her brothers lived in, away from the father and daughters. While there’s no explanation for why they lived there, there is some speculation that it was the father wanting to keep the genders separate.”
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A beautiful and inspiring documentary on her life,” Surviving in the Siberian Wilderness for 70 Years” is at : “In 1936, a family of Russian Old Believers journeyed deep into Siberia’s vast taiga to escape persecution and protect their way of life. The Lykovs eventually settled in the Sayan Mountains, 160 miles from any other sign of civilization. In 1944, Agafia Lykov was born into this wilderness. Today, she is the last surviving Lykov, remaining steadfast in her seclusion. In this episode of Far Out, the VICE crew travels to Agafia to learn about her taiga lifestyle and the encroaching influence of the outside world.”

A Russian documentary, “Lost in the Taiga”, on the Lykovs is found at
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“Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-Year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness” by Vasily Peskov is a Russian journalists account of the Lykovs.


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