In the summer of 1978 a group of Soviet geologists were flying over the Siberian taiga when they noticed what looked like an old farmland in the middle of the forest. Though it seemed obvious to imagine that this implied a human settlement, the unlivable conditions of the area’s climate seemed to make it impossible for anyone to be living there.
Led by Galina Pismenskaya, a small group decided to go into the forest to discover what was happening. They did end up finding traces of human life in the region: paths along the trees, a trunk carefully placed as a bridge over the river, and finally a shack made out of silver birch.
When they finally reached the shack, an old beaded man with patched clothing appeared. The explorers did not know whether to begin the conversation, but instead they decided to open with “Greetings, grandpa! We’ve come to visit!” The old man looked scared and panicked. He took some time to come back with the answer, “Well, you’ve traveled all this way, come inside.”
If it hadn’t been for the sobs that broke the silence of the home, the crew would’ve thought the old man lived alone. The cries belonged to two women who believed the visitor’s meant a sign of the end of days or, at least, death.
Their fear was not unfounded. The man who answered to the name of Karp Lykov belonged to a group of ancient believers, a fundamentalist branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The members of its sect had been persecuted from the time of Peter the First. In 1936 this man had taken his family to live far from the city and the constant threat of persecution and extermination. They found themselves settling down a few miles from the border with Mongolia.
Of all the gifts the crew had brought with them that first time they saw them, the family only kept the salt, since the old man said it had been torture living without it for four decades. They slowly began taking more things from the newcomers until they agreed to visit the camp ground of the Soviets further down the river.
They were marveled at the technological innovations they witnessed at the camp, such carpentry tools and televisions. Karp saw the latter objects as sinful; he began praying frantically after seeing them.
During their forty years in exile, the family lost all contact with the outside world. Karp claimed to have never have heard of the Second World War, since he never heard gunshots, bombs, or airplanes in the sky that would’ve indicated the presence of armed conflict.
Ironically the family members began to die after their contact with the outside world. This was due to the constant exposure to illnesses to which they had not developed any immunity. When the youngest of the Lykovs got sick of pneumonia, the scientists offered to take him to a hospital via helicopter. But he refused, saying that “a man endures everything God allows.”
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Translated by María Suárez