I remember as a child hearing a story about a family that escaped to the remote wilderness for generations without anyone ever knowing they were there.
And as a boy obsessed with the outdoors and anything wilderness I watched the T.V. documentary in awe. Part of me picturing myself out in the wilderness wearing furs, looking like Grizzly Adams, and living off the land. In case you’re wondering I still have that fantasy!
This family’s struggle wasn’t really what interested me at the time. But I was impressed with their ability to survive in such an unforgiving environment. To me it was the beauty of where they lived – and the natural way of living – that fascinated me most.
The most important details probably went in one ear and out the other until a couple decades later I read a post about bugging out to the wilderness. As I was reading that post and the subsequent comments it started coming back to me …
But the details were really hazy, I couldn’t remember where it went down – or what they were escaping … maybe the Nazis or all the other crazies.
So I commented on that post and someone helped me out by reminding me that it was a Russian family in the 1930s that bugged out to the Siberian Taiga wilderness… and never came back.
Fearing oppression and death at the hands of Stalin the family fled into the Sayan Mountains of siberia in 1936…
There they lived undisturbed for 40 years more than 160 miles from any form of civilization, building a life in an environment where the winter temperatures commonly dip to -30, the summer growing season is short, and bears and wolves roam in abundance.
They never even knew that World War II took place…
The story of the Lykov family is one of true survival and one of real off grid living:
Who Were They?
This family that performed the ultimate bug out are the Lykovs.
The family of six consisted of Karp (the father), Akulina (the mother), Dmitrey and Savin (sons), and Agafia and Natalia (the daughters). The two youngest were born in the wild! Never knowing civilization until they were discovered.
They belonged to a strong Christian religious sect known as Old Believers , worshipping in a style unchanged since the 1600s.
And to understand why they went to such extreme measures to escape society we need to understand what they were running from.
The Old Believers were commonly persecuted in Russia since the days of Peter the Great 1682-1725 for their strict religious beliefs. During those days Russia was “modernizing” and those who didn’t follow often became outcasts and “enemies of progress”. Any of that sound familiar?
Things only got worse after the atheist Bolsheviks took power.
Under the soviets isolated Old Believer communities were once again targets for persecution essentially being “purged” from soviet society.
Then in 1936 a soviet patrol came to their small village and shot Karp Lykov’s brother while they were working. Karp responded by gathering up his family – of four at that time – and their meager belongings and disappeared into the forest.
Where did they go?
The forest that the Lykovs disappeared into was a vast uncharted wilderness in the Russian taiga . This remote Siberian land is harsh, unforgiving, and beautiful with winters that can last through a majority of the year.
As their isolation became the norm they pushed farther and farther into the wilderness until they wound up at their final homestead in the Abakan mountain ranges near the Yerinat River. The location where they finally settled was 160 miles from any type of settlement. Talk about some peace and quiet!
But they couldn’t stay off the radar forever.
There used to be a time when man could exist solely at his own whim. Go wherever and do whatever he wanted to. But with the advent of technology and the ever-expanding population sucking up resources it’s virtually impossible to disappear forever.
And in 1978 a helicopter – looking for a site to land geologist – sighted what looked like man-made furrows on a hillside. It was a total surprise to them since this entire area was considered uninhabited.
After the Russian scientists had reached the region and set up camp they took off on a trek to locate the possible human habitation. Maybe they thought they’d discover a long-lost tribe … But regardless in a region that remote they wanted to know who they’re neighbors were. At the time it could be more dangerous to come across a stranger in the wilderness than a bear!
One of the Russian scientists – Galina Pismenskaya – recounted the first encounter with the Lykovs:
“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.’
Over time the scientists got to know and care for the family that had fled society to live in the wilderness.
Their stories of near starvation, survival, and preservation of their faith are quite enthralling.
For instance in 1961 there was a late snow and they lost their entire crop. That year the mother died of starvation so her children could live. The rest of the family was possibly only saved by a single grain of rye that sprouted and that the family guarded night and day. This solitary grain yielded 18 more grains and eventually they were able to rebuild their rye crop.
What happened to them?
Shortly after regaining contact with mankind the family went into decline and 3 of the 4 children died within a few days of each other in 1981. According to the scientists the deaths weren’t likely from what would be expected – exposure to disease. Two had kidney failure and the other died of pneumonia, which possibly could have been caused by contact.
The father and last remaining daughter, Agafia chose to stay in their wilderness home. The father passed in his sleep in 1988 and the remaining daughter chose to continue living the only life she’d ever known. She did visit civilization a handful of times after their discovery become a national story. The Russian government even sent her on a month long trip across Russia.
Wikipedia states that she returned to her home in the Taiga and remains there and now has a neighbor who moved out there according to Vice journalists to help Lykova. It appears she is still living in the Siberian wilderness to this day. (There is no listed date of death on her Wikipedia page.)
What can we learn from their story of survival?
Bugging out to the remote wilderness could be a viable option for survival. However I’d consider this to be a temporary solution because surviving in those conditions is very difficult.
I also believe this type of isolationist survival is best for extreme circumstances. Since the Lykovs were facing potential genocide then I think they made the right call. However, I believe they might have been better off returning to civilization at the end of WWII (a war they were unaware of even occurring!)››
I know if I need to bug out in that extreme of a manner I’d like to be well prepared. However I also believe that there is strength in numbers. There is a reason that ancient man first banded together in small tribes.
What do you think about their amazing story of bugging out and disappearing from any contact with mankind for 40 years? Would you bug out to the remote wilderness like they did?
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