Post-apocalyptic case study: Lykov family survive 40 years without human contact

Incredible story of survival and the tenacity of the human spirit to cope with extreme hardship.

The moment geologists realised they had discovered humans in this remote Siberian wilderness

Signs of human life in the midst of a desolate landscape

What would make you run from everything and burrow deep into isolation?  With the Ebola virus currently bubbling up out of Africa, and with Europe and the US on high-alert for a possible outbreak and India bracing itself for a potential epidemic, the pieces are in place for a “perfect storm” that could affect all of us.  The Lykov family harnessed the skills to find food and build basic tools and shelter, and survived for 40 years in the remote wilderness of Siberia without any external human contact. It’s an extreme example of how folks could get through the hardship of life following the event known as Yellow Dawn.

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In 1976, a helicopter pilot, scoping out potential landing sites to ferry Soviet geologists into the remote mineral and resource-rich landscape of Siberia, saw something that shouldn’t have been there.  In the extreme isolation of an unnamed tributary of the Abakan, 150 miles from the nearest human settlement, up on the slopes of a mountain, was a clearing gouged with what looked like long, dark furrows.

It was an incredible find.  Nobody was expected to be living out there, in such a remote, inhospitable location.

Returning to base, the pilot explained what he’d seen to the geologists and they decided to investigate.  Led by Galina Pismenskaya, they “chose a fine day and put gifts in our packs for our prospective friends”—though, just to be sure, she recalled, “I did check the pistol that hung at my side.”

Reaching the distant mountain and ascending towards to location identified by their pilot, the geologists started to discover clear signs of human activity.

beside a stream there was a dwelling. Blackened by time and rain, the hut was piled up on all sides with taiga rubbish—bark, poles, planks. If it hadn’t been for a window the size of my backpack pocket, it would have been hard to believe that people lived there. But they did, no doubt about it…. Our arrival had been noticed, as we could see.

    The low door creaked, and the figure of a very old man emerged into the light of day, straight out of a fairy tale. Barefoot. Wearing a patched and repatched shirt made of sacking. He wore trousers of the same material, also in patches, and had an uncombed beard. His hair was disheveled. He looked frightened and was very attentive…. We had to say something, so I began: ‘Greetings, grandfather! We’ve come to visit!’

    The old man did not reply immediately…. Finally, we heard a soft, uncertain voice: ‘Well, since you have traveled this far, you might as well come in.’
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What the geologists discovered when they entered inside could have been a scene from the middle ages, or just as much a vision of post-apocalyptic survival. Fabricated from whatever materials were to hand; it was less a cabin and more like a hole burrowed into the earth. A single room, as cold as a cellar, cramped, musty and filthy beyond description. Five human beings existed here.

    The silence was suddenly broken by sobs and lamentations. Only then did we see the silhouettes of two women. One was in hysterics, praying: ‘This is for our sins, our sins.’ The other, keeping behind a post… sank slowly to the floor. The light from the little window fell on her wide, terrified eyes, and we realized we had to get out of there as quickly as possible.

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The geologists backed away and moved outside.  Time passed.  Three of the survivors cautiously came out, the old man and his two daughters; frightened but no longer hysterical. The geologists offered some of their provisions but the survivors refused. Trust and rapport took several visits to build up.

The old man could speak easily enough and was intelligible, but the two daughters used a broken language distorted by a lifetime of separation from the rest of humanity. The geologist Pismenskaya described it: “When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”

The old man was Karp Lykov his story is one of persecution and fear. As Old Believers, a Russian Orthodox sect, Karp and his family were among many Christian communities forced to relocate to Siberia when the Bolsheviks came to power and began their purges against religion. In 1936 Karp’s brother was shot by a Communist patrol, right in front of him. His reaction was to grab his family and flee. And he didn’t stop running, abandoning a succession of basic dwelling places until finally coming to this remote spot.

Did they know they would spend the next 40 years out of human contact? That wasn’t a question on their minds. Survival became the dominant and defining aspect of their lives. It’s a remarkable story.  When they fled the Lykov family consisted of Karp, his wife Akulina, and two young children Savin (9) and Natalia (2).  What they took with them was pitiful; a few possessions and some seeds. Consider characters who may run from the horrors of a city or town as the Yellow Dawn infection sweeps through.  Scooping up what they could carry in their arms or on their backs.  Entirely dependent on their own resources and abilities, the Lykovs struggled to replace the few things they brought with them. They made crude shoes from birch-bark galoshes. Clothes were repaired with patches until they literally fell apart. After that they relied on hemp cloth grown from seed.  They had kettles, which lasted for years, but they had no way to fashion repairs.  After that, they had nothing to cook with, nothing they could use as a receptacle to place on a fire. Such a simple and basic thing that we take for granted.  When Lykovs were discovered in 1976, their diet consisted of potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds.

Remote wilderness survivors the Lykov family existed for 40 years without human contact in depths of Siberia

Lykov family

Two more children were born – Dmitry and Agafia in 1940 and 1943. Everyone lived permanently on the edge of starvation. But things changed slightly for the better during the late 1950s when Dmitry reached early manhood and began trapping animals for their meat and skins. They had no weapons so they had to hunt by building traps, or, in the case of Dmitry, chasing the animals across the mountains until his prey collapsed from exhaustion. The young Dmitry developed an almost meta-human constitution, hunting barefoot in winter, returning after several days with a young elk across his shoulders – and this, after sleeping out in the open in sub-zero temperatures. But meat was not a common luxury and often the animals would just as much destroy their scarce crops of root vegetables.

Lykov family Agfia Dmitry - survivors in remote wilderness

Agafia and Dmitry

In scenes reminiscent of the second Mad Max movie, the geologists explored the (now grown up) children’s knowledge of the world beyond the confines of their wilderness existence. None of them had ever encountered another human being. What they knew of the world came from the stories their parents told, prayer books and an old family bible.  A knowledge decades out of date.

The arrival of the geologists changed all of this. With the inevitable story arc of discovery, temptation and tragedy, the Lykov family went into rapid decline after they re-established contact with the outside world. In the autumn of 1981, four years after the geologists found them, Savin, Natalia and Dmitry followed their mother, Akulina to the grave.
The geologists tried to persuade old Karp and his last remaining daughter to leave the mountain and rejoin relatives from the days before Communist persecutions, but both survivors wishes to remain where they were.

Karp Lykov died peacefully in 1988. His final daughter, Agafia, still lives today, at the remote mountain where the geologists first found her.

Lykovs_settlement_01

Image source: Wikipedia

Can you grow food? Can you repair clothing or construct a basic shelter?  What happens when the lights go out and never come back on?  When you can’t download the instructions to do something because your comms-device has drained of power. The satellites are still beaming the data around the world but how many of you will have the ability to listen?  But here, with the Lykovs, is an extraordinary example of survival and a basic, fundamental level.

So thirty years after Yellow Dawn first wrecks the world, when the Mythos wars of pre-history resume and alien atrocities rain down on the planet tearing up the surface with tentacles, claws, mouths, maws and jaws, and weapons of cosmic destruction, some humans will survive. Eking out a crude existence like the Lykovs or living in luxury within a nuclear-powered lab deep beneath the surface, AI-emulation software and nanomech fabricators providing for every need… apart from the satisfaction of the desire to see blue sky with the sun on face, or freedom from the memories of the world as it once was…

Skip 10,000 years and these early humans will have crawled out of their caves and hiding places, and a new thread of humankind will start weaving across a planet burned, scrubbed and washed clean by geological epochs. And humanity will have evolved. A mutated form of science and the dark energies of old religions will bring new breeds and races to walk. And the Mythos lingers, waiting…

Welcome your mind to Dragomir.

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Several of my novels are Post-Apocalyptic: you might like them – click

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2 thoughts on “Post-apocalyptic case study: Lykov family survive 40 years without human contact

  1. I’d seen the article about the Lykov family but I hadn’t heard about the aftermath of them being rediscovered. Puts kind of a sad twist on a post-apocalyptic story, if it’s incorporated that way. Also strikes me about just how dependent we humans are on interactions and community. Even with a father who was fully fluent, the daughters just couldn’t be understood… says a lot about how languages drift in isolation, too.

    Thanks for the article, definitely gives food for thought.

    • Hi Ben, very pleased you got something from it. Languages… like the children found raised by wolves. The negative impact… like the tribes (so many of them) that have been wiped out by illness or “seduced” by the sugary foods and glossy technology… from conquistadors to loggers to scientists. But I guess that is just an inevitable consequence when a group or individual sets out to investigate deep what they have found. I supposed Star Trek and Iain Banks Culture were all about that kind of “invisible” observation … and manipulation? of less advanced people. As for post-apocalyptic, and Yellow Dawn… it gives some flavour of what state survivors (and young children) would be found in after the 10 year gap from Yellow Dawn happening and the fictional setting kicking in.

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