Volunteers organize an expedition to the taiga hermit several times a year. They not only help her run the household, but also record stories from her life.

Taiga hermit Agafya Karpovna — not just the most famous representative of the Old Believers in the world. In the age of information technology, it has become a real cultural phenomenon. The last of the Lykov family — bearer of a unique history and traditions that many would like to touch. 

MIREA volunteers — Russian Technological University — have been helping her for the past eight years. During this time, students have become real chroniclers of the life story of Agafya Lykova from the moment when her name was already undeservedly forgotten, to one of the most dramatic pages of her life, where there was a fire at home, and even flew to the taiga coronavirus pandemic.

Volunteer student help

For almost thirty-five years, Agafya Karpovna has been living alone in the impenetrable forests near the Erinat River, which is on the territory of the Khakassky nature reserve. Here, after long wanderings, the Lykov family of Old Believers fled from persecution and dispossession. A father with four children was discovered in the summer of 1978 by geologists, when they were conducting aerial surveys in the very upper reaches of Abakan.

Today, the small farm of Agafya Lykova has become a real, albeit hard-to-reach, landmark of Khakassia. Goats, dogs, cats, chickens and a vegetable garden where she grows beets, peas, potatoes and cabbage. He sows rye and wheat, which he reaps with a sickle in autumn. Everything is like in the old days.

But the years take their toll, it becomes more and more difficult to manage at the zaimka at the age of 78, so the students of the Moscow RTU MIREA, known for its volunteer center with a developed wide network of volunteer expeditions, took under their guardianship throughout the country.

As the vice-rector of the university Igor Tarasov recalls, his personal story of acquaintance with Agafya began back in 2011, when one of the groups of volunteers went to Baikal to organize hiking trails. It was there that one of the employees of the Pribaikalsky National Park said that in the Khakass taiga, the lost hermit Agafya Lykova needed help: to prepare provisions for animals for the winter, and just chop firewood so that she could warm herself. Since then, every year he sends expeditions to the upper reaches of Abakan.

For the first two years, volunteers traveled by river, the 300-kilometer upstream journey took several days. We also had to drag the boats through creases and shallow rifts. The route is not for everyone: either you fall into a crevice in the forest, or the cable of the outboard motor breaks on snags sticking out of the crevice. The group came to Agafya drenched to the skin. Considering how much work there was to get Grandma ready for winter, an alternative way to get to her destination had to be found. So, a year later, they found sponsors who help the — delivered by helicopter.

Vice-Rector Igor Aleksandrovich Tarasov with Agafya Lykova. Photo: Press service of RTU MIREA

Expeditions to the hermit have become a good tradition

As you know, the character of the hermit is firm, as it should be for people living in harsh conditions. But if you make friends with someone, then forever. This is what happened to the students of RTU MIREA. During the first visit, the volunteers spent only two or three days at Agafya's estate: they worked, talked, and made friends. And in the end, she went to accompany them to the boat for a kilometer and a half and gave them a pebble as a parting gift.

Now targeted expeditions to Lykova have become a good tradition of the university. It would seem how two diametrically different worlds could make friends: high technology, digital and hermitage? Students admit that they teach each other a lot. The guys are sawing firewood, making woodpile. And the girls even learned how to harvest grass with a sickle.

They showed Agafya how to use firecrackers to drive away bears from the house and livestock. Now every time she asks to bring pyrotechnics, such a non-trivial tool turned out to be indispensable in the household. As a sign of gratitude, he always treats the guys with products from his garden and bakes bread for them on yeast-free sourdough according to an old recipe.

But, as Vice-Rector Igor Tarasov, who oversees the university's volunteer center, admits, practical survival skills in harsh conditions — only a small fraction of what Agafya taught the young guys.

Somehow, the volunteers say, they went with her to the old house where Agafya and her family lived for 40 years. To visit the graves of relatives, they walked across the river and a steep mountain. A long hike with two overnight stays, but she conquered everyone with her stamina.

In such sorties, Agafya shares with the guys unique stories of her life, retells jokes and folk horror stories that she heard from her father. She told them the story of her birth and how Karp Lykovbegged for a daughter from the taiga. For eleven years of targeted expeditions, students have collected gems of information for a whole biographical book, where there is a chapter about a fire in the old hermit's house, and author's phrases: “Will you come again? Do you know? Was it there?».

Students adopt, talk — joking in the hallways of the university. They even made their own “slang dictionary” Agafya. For example, “Cavo-o-o” translated as surprised “What are you doing?”. With her melodious deliberate accent, each phrase is weighty and biting. And these are also important observations of students to the informational portrait of the hermit.

She, as the primary sources, knows all the news about them: for the first time she told about the mysterious illness — presumably coronavirus, which she got sick and recovered from last winter.

Photo: Press service of the RTU MIREA

Sketches from the life of Agafya formed the basis of the video in Rutube

I marked important milestones with the same students: they visit her in early August, capturing two church holidays, and when Circumstances permit, in the winter on New Year's Eve. They bring gifts: nuts, fruits and dried fruits to keep longer. A winter visit takes only three or four hours, but each time they manage to ask Agafya about her life.

New Year, like her birthday, she does not celebrate — these are not Christian holidays, but on the days of church events, the guys are not allowed to work. Not allowed. But she herself rejoices, dresses up, congratulates, endures the six-hour service.

About Christmas, the volunteers recall, she said this: when we lived in a family, we didn’t give gifts to each other. It was not accepted, what kind of gifts are there in the taiga? But Christmas services were always held. And they are very long.

Sketches from the life of Agafia have already formed the basis of the music video in Rutube. The video, like the song, turned out to be heartfelt: “Is it true? Or it seems to me, and the snow spreads like commas. The soul will go into hibernation, the bear will turn gray in the snow. The footage, where the grandmother, smiling like a child, tells the guests one of her stories or looks around her house — taiga, enough for a large series of documentaries. His students are also actively filming and posting on the Rutube channel. They brought new shots from a recent expedition, from where they returned just the other day.

As they say in the MIREA MOUTH, Agafya has become a creative muse for students, but not only. This is a living example of diligence, fortitude, unbroken faith and perseverance. In the age of information business and even information gypsy, imaginary idols, Agafya Lykova becomes the right guide and inspiring role model for the new generation. Being the bearer of unique original traditions and values, she literally passes on historical memory, and spiritual experience, and intangible cultural heritage to the next generation.

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