Tag Archives: Russia

Russian Family Isolated in Wilderness for 40 Years


Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating story about a Russian family who were isolated in the taiga for 40 years before being discovered by a surveying crew in the summer of 1978.

The sight that greeted the geologists as they entered the cabin was like something from the middle ages. Jerry-built from whatever materials came to hand, the dwelling was not much more than a burrow—”a low, soot-blackened log kennel that was as cold as a cellar,” with a floor consisting of potato peel and pine-nut shells. Looking around in the dim light, the visitors saw that it consisted of a single room. It was cramped, musty and indescribably filthy, propped up by sagging joists—and, astonishingly, home to a family of five:

“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.”

Led by Pismenskaya, the scientists backed hurriedly out of the hut and retreated to a spot a few yards away, where they took out some provisions and began to eat. After about half an hour, the door of the cabin creaked open, and the old man and his two daughters emerged—no longer hysterical and, though still obviously frightened, “frankly curious.” Warily, the three strange figures approached and sat down with their visitors, rejecting everything that they were offered—jam, tea, bread—with a muttered, “We are not allowed that!” When Pismenskaya asked, “Have you ever eaten bread?” the old man answered: “I have. But they have not. They have never seen it.” At least he was intelligible. The daughters spoke a language distorted by a lifetime of isolation. “When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”

Slowly, over several visits, the full story of the family emerged. The old man’s name was Karp Lykov, and he was an Old Believer—a member of a fundamentalist Russian Orthodox sect, worshiping in a style unchanged since the 17th century. Old Believers had been persecuted since the days of Peter the Great, and Lykov talked about it as though it had happened only yesterday; for him, Peter was a personal enemy and “the anti-Christ in human form”—a point he insisted had been amply proved by Tsar’s campaign to modernize Russia by forcibly “chopping off the beards of Christians.” But these centuries-old hatreds were conflated with more recent grievances; Karp was prone to complain in the same breath about a merchant who had refused to make a gift of 26 poods [940 pounds] of potatoes to the Old Believers sometime around 1900.


Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night…

In 2006, a student in Russia sent an e-mail to a friend in France, asking for a Harry Potter book to be sent to her. Unbeknownst to the French student, her computer was not set up to display the Cyrillic characters in the mailing address correctly, so she simply copied down the Latin characters with diacritics which the computer erroneously displayed. Luckily for her friend in Russia, some very clever postal employees realized what the error was, figured out how the address should read, and made sure the package got where it was supposed to be.


Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island in Russia was the site of a failed attempt to colonize more of the Arctic and use it for industrial purposes. The absence of a human population on the island is the only thing protecting it from further damage, although the pollution and refuse that has already been dumped there remains to this day.

Photographer Gorshkov Sergey recently travelled to the island to document its condition.

A lot more photographs and a longer explanation of the history and current challenges can be found here.

A Man Like Putin

Russian propaganda has come a long way from the chanted anthems of the Soviet Union. ‘A Man Like Putin’, by techno-pop duo Singing Together topped the charts in 2002 and went on to become the theme song for pro-Putin rallies all over Russia. And just how pro-Putin is it? Well…

I want a man like Putin, who’s full of strength;

I want a man like Putin, who doesn’t drink;

I want a man like Putin, who won’t make me sad.

The song was written by a songwriter and music producer named Alexander Yelin, who wrote the song on a $300 bet that he could produce a hit. If you’re interested in the history of the song and the popularity it’s enjoyed, PBS’ program Sound Tracks has a fascinating documentary on it. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve watched in a long, long, long time.

A Man Like Putin [Sound Tracks]

Burnt Telephone Pole

This isn’t a photoshop trick. It’s a picture of a telephone pole near Linevo in Russia’s Volvograd region, which was hard-hit by wildfires.

This Image is Not a Photoshop Trick [Gizmodo]

The Glory of Poland

Writing for the New York Times, Roger Cohen speculates on what the death of President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage could – or should – mean for Polish-Russian relations.

Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.

For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicenter of their program to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, killing field for millions of Christian Poles and millions of Polish Jews, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe’s fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, “History counts its skeletons in round numbers” — 20,000 of them at Katyn.

The Glory of Poland [NYTimes]

Old Russian Board Games

A really cool gallery of old Russian board games from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

[via BoingBoing]