Russian family isolated for 40 years had no idea World War II happened

Yesterday, Smithsonian Magazine published a shocking article about a Russian family who had retreated into the wilds of Siberia to escape persecution in the 1930s, and had no idea World War II had even happened.

Not only that, but they were oblivious to new technology like fighter jets and atomic bombs, and would have had no capacity to even understand the concept of that kind of war.

The family was discovered in 1978 by a team of Russian geologists flying over Siberia while prospecting for iron ore. From the plane, they noticed a 6,000 square foot clearing that looked like evidence of human habitation. This part of Siberia was thought to be totally uninhabited, so they set the plane down and went in search of whoever might be there.

They discovered Karp Lykov and his family. His children were born in the Siberian wild, had never seen humans other than the family which shared their one-room hut, and had never eaten bread or jam. Initially the family refused everything the geologists tried to give them, except for salt. Karp accepted the salt, saying living without it for so many years had been “true torture”

Karp was a member of Christian sect called “Old Believers” who had been persecuted since the Czars. He fled to Siberia with his family when the Bolsheviks took over and one of the communist party shot his brother. When the geologists found them, the Lykovs had been in the forest at least 40 years. Smithsonian reports:

Old Karp was usually delighted by the latest innovations that the scientists brought up from their camp, and though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when “the stars began to go quickly across the sky,” and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: “People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars.

Karp’s oldest son Dmitry “built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders.”

However they were usually without meat and halfway starving. Eventually in the 1980s the family grew sick and began dying off rapidly—two of them from kidney failure which could have stemmed from their sub-par diet, and Dmitry of pneumonia, which he could have contracted from the geologists due to a weakened immune system resulting from isolation. As he was dying he refused outside medical treatment, whispering “We are not allowed that. A man lives for howsoever God grants.” Read the whole story at Smithsonian Magazine.

Believe it or not, this type of incident occurs more frequently than you’d think: in 2006 the BBC ran a shocking documentary about discovering a family in Turkey so isolated that they had developed an odd way of walking on all fours as they did their daily chores.