Category Archives: Yore Eh? Sure

The shizzle between east and west

Wikipediaphile: Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic

Crest of the Volga German ASSRA bit of a call-back to an earlier Wikipediaphile entry, this – ten years ago my interest was piqued by mention of the ‘Jewish Autonomous Oblast’; this time round it’s the ‘Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic’.

The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (RussianАвтономная Советская Социалистическая Республика Немцев ПоволжьяGermanAutonome Sozialistische Sowjetrepublik der Wolgadeutschen), abbreviated as Volga German ASSR (RussianАССР Немцев ПоволжьяGermanASSR der Wolgadeutschen) or VGASSR (RussianАССРНПGermanASSRWD), was an autonomous republic established in Soviet Russia. Its capital was the Volga River port of Engels (known as “Pokrovsk” or “Kosakenstadt” before 1931).

Apparently it all harks bark to Catherine the Great and an eighteenth century Windrush-style plea for immigrants: she “published manifestos in 1762 and 1763 inviting Europeans (except Jews)[3] [plus ça change] to immigrate and become Russian citizens and farm Russian lands while maintaining their language and culture…The settlers came mainly from BavariaBadenHesse, the Palatinate, and the Rhineland, over the years 1763 to 1767. They indeed helped modernize the backward agricultural sector by introducing numerous innovations regarding wheat production and flour milling, tobacco culture, sheep raising, and small-scale manufacturing [and] helped to populate Russia’s South adding a buffer against possible incursions by the Ottoman Empire.”

By the time of the Russian Revolution the Volga German minority was substantial and concentrated around the Volga river; and so it was that they secured in October 1918 first a ‘Volga German Workers’ Commune’, which subsequently earned an upgrade to an ASSR. Fast forward a couple of decades and yer man Jughashvili is in the saddle, Europe is once more ablaze, and before you know it the Schicklgruber fella is giving it large with the Napoleon complex, haring across the steppe Barborossa-style.

Not good news for the Volga Germans, whom His Steelness considered definitely suspect; and so orders were given, the ASSR was dissolved in September 1941 and practically the entire population of more than half a million was sent into ‘internal exile’, with 438,000 sent to Siberia and Kazakhstan.

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Taiga, taiga, burning bright: the Lykovs of Siberia

After reading about the Know Nothings on the Smithsonian Magazine website (note: it seems that the bare existence of history offends some Trump supporters), I then saw one about the Lykov family.

The Lykovs were a family of Old Believers – proper old skool Orthodox types – who in the late 1930s fled east into the Siberian wilderness or ‘taiga’ in fear of Soviet purges and suppression of their religion. They forged a life for themselves, just about, living off the bounty of the land (which sometimes isn’t that bountiful, especially when it’s minus forty degrees; the mother, Akulina, died of starvation in 1961).

They completely avoided contact with the outside world, with any strangers from outside their small family group, for forty years, until 1978 when a party of passing geologists spotted them and dropped by to totally freak them out with tales of men on the moon and television and flared trousers. It was enough to kill off the three oldest offspring in 1981, leaving just the ageing patriarch Karp and his youngest daughter Agafia (born 1944). Then old Karp popped his clogs in 1988, on the anniversary of Akulina’s own passing.

Since then Agafia’s been the last Lykov remaining. In 1997 a retired geologist (what is it with these rock-botherers?!) decided to come and live nearby to help her out, but seeing as he was older than her, hadn’t lived his entire life in the taiga, and was, uh, a one-legged amputee, it seems she was doing most of the helping. He died in 2015. In early 2016 Agafia herself was airlifted out for medical treatment. Not sure if she’s returned.

Anyway, there’s some great documentaries about Agafia and her family out there; even the Russian language ones are worth catching for the footage.

(It reminds me a little of the story of Lieutenant Hiroo Shinoda, the ‘last of the holdouts’ (though he wasn’t), who hid out in the countryside of the Philippines for nearly twenty years after the close of the Second World War until rooted out by young hippie explorer Norio Suzuki.)