The Lykov family, led by Karp Lykov, fled Soviet persecution in the 1930s for the Siberian wilderness - which is 150 miles from anyone - and stayed there for more than 40 years until he made contact with other human beings again. The Lykovs were members of a Russian Orthodox sect of Christianity called the Old Believers who became state targets after the rise of Stalin. When Karp witnessed a shooting that claimed his brother's life, he took his wife, Akulina, and two children, Savin and Natalia, into the Siberian wilderness. They moved increasingly farther from their previous home, carrying only a handful of supplies and a massive weaving loom. They settled on a mountain in the taiga - known for its intensely harsh winters - near the Mongolian border and later had two more children, Dmitry and Agafia.
Geologists prospecting for an oil dig came upon the family in 1978. As it had been for other people who lived in the wild, such as Chris McCandless or Dina Sanichar, existence was difficult and lonely for the Lykovs. But Agafia Lykova (Russian surnames change based on gender), the sole surviving member of the family, has discovered innovative ways to live alone - with help from the Russian government - in one of the most challenging places to survive on Earth. Despite her ailing health and age, she refuses to move away from the only place she's called home.
The one-room cabin where the Lykovs lived in the taiga was rudimentary - it was cold and dark, built from a hodgepodge of found wood. Bolstered by faltering lengths of timber, the structure was musty and dirty, with the floor covered in potato peels and pine-nut shells.
For a family of five, it was a cramped space.
Though the area in which the Lykovs settled was by a stream - where pine nuts and bark were plentiful - the family often found themselves near the point of famine. Particularly during harsh winters, the shortage of food sometimes left the children eating bark or their shoes.
Agafia described her diet as "roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops, and bark," noting that they "were hungry all the time."
The Lykovs brought only a few belongings with them into the Siberian wilderness. These items didn't hold up for long, and the family struggled to replace and repair them. Birch-bark galoshes replaced shoes, and the Lykovs patched and created clothing they grew from hemp seed. They wove the cloth with a spinning wheel and loom, which would have proved grueling to transport through the taiga.
They also used birch bark to create tea kettles after the metal ones they brought with them rusted.
When the Lykov family fled for the Siberia, there were only two siblings, 9-year-old Savin and 2-year-old Natalia. Dmitry and Agafia were born in the wilderness and learned to read from the only texts available to them: prayer books and the Bible. Akulina Lykov dipped pointed twigs in honeysuckle juice to serve as pen and ink for teaching her children to write.
Because Agafia had never seen the outside world, she recognized certain images only from Bible stories. For instance, though she had never seen a horse, she identified a picture of one as "a steed."