Agafia was born in a trough in the Siberian wilderness in 1943, the fourth child of the Lykova family. Her family fled into the wilderness in 1936 when communists were killing, incarcerating and “re-educating” Christians. The Lykova family are Old Believers, a break-away sect of Russian Orthodoxy. “That’s when we removed ourselves from materialist society and had no further contact with it,” she says.
Her mother died of hunger in 1936, starving herself in the belief that this was the only way to assure the survival of her family. Three of the children died in 1981 after exposure to people from the outside world. Her father died in 1988. She has survived alone since then, living off the land in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth.
She has cats, a dog, chickens and goats; all the animals look healthy. Bears are a danger and she has driven them off by such tactics as banging on a fallen Russian rocket or standing her ground and praying.
How can one aging woman survive off the land in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth? A local state nature reserve official says, “The secret of survival is simple: every day, routine hard work. The Taiga (the mountainous region) cleanses you. It makes you reflect on your actions. There are no bad people here.”
At first, perhaps reflecting our modern bias, officials thought Agafia was mentally slow, due to her soft, almost sing-song speech. Then, perhaps thinking she would be thrilled by civilization, they sent her to visit a city. She was not impressed and thought it absurd that cars run around all the time, even at night. She says the city is unhealthy.
Agafia has not become unsociable from her long years alone. She says, “When you meet a person here, you’re happy because you can help them.” When asked if she listened to the radio, she said, “It’s always about someone murdering someone else. Or people with explosives, killing other people and themselves. Should I listen to that?”
On the subject of money, she says, “You can’t live out there without money anymore. If a person has a lot of money and does not share it with the poor-it’s forbidden by the religious writings. I would give it all away.”
Having grown up somewhat wild myself, I can identify with Agafia. I would also like to point out that she is 70 years old now and though she looks extremely healthy, I think it would be perfectly all right if someone brought her food and left a big stack of firewood by her cabin.
The Magic Barn: Growing up wild on a New England farm
Several comments Russians made to me during my trip made me think that the views on gender in the country aren t quite the same as in the US or at least in liberal New York City, where I live.
Agafia s mother, Akulina, died of starvation in the 19 — she reportedly chose to feed her children over herself.