How a 70-year-old Russian woman survives all alone in a village (PHOTOS)

Lyuska holds a portrait of her mother in youth

Olga Kouznetsova
Photographer Olga Kuznetsova captured the everyday life of a pensioner in the Russian backwoods

Once a week a train runs from Moscow to a remote station in the Pskov Region (650 km to the northwest). From there it is another 25 km to the village of Tolokovnikovo*, where 70-year-old Lyudmila Vyacheslavovna, or Lyuska for short, lives alone.

Lyuska and her 'summer' neighbour Rita

Every day she rises at 4 am, fetches water and firewood, lights the stove, and cooks breakfast there and then—there is no gas in the village, and electricity is intermittent. Her daughter and grandson live in the city and take turns to visit her about twice a month. Lyuska helps them with fresh fruit and veg in summer, and potatoes and pickles in winter. Any attempts to persuade her to leave her native village and more than century-old home are flatly rejected.

Making new pillowcases on sewing machine

She does have some neighbors for part of the year: seasonal dacha-goers Yulia with husband and Rita with son arrive in spring and stay till the fall. One summer an old classmate of Rita’s, photographer Olga Kuznetsova, came to visit. Every day they went to see their unusual neighbor and helped rake the hay and gather firewood for the winter. In between jobs, Olga photographed the life of this one-of-a-kind recluse.

Portraits of Lyuska's mother and her husband killed in WWII

On returning to Moscow, Olga realized that she just had to visit Lyuska again, only this time in winter. So she went for four days and saw the New Year in with Lyuska, despite having to suffer an outside toilet and no shower or running water.

Choping wood

“She possesses incredible strength of character and energy, she copes with everything herself,” says the photographer.

Reading ancient religious books

Lyuska always has lots to do. In summer, she mows the grass, chops wood, tends to the stove and bathhouse, pulls up weeds, and does repairs. In the kitchen garden, she grows almost everything she needs foodwise. In summer, a mobile shop arrives in the village, and in the neighboring village she swaps hay for goat's milk.

Cooking on the stove

If Lyuska needs anything in winter, she calls the village shop, and everything is brought to her front door. Delivery costs 300 rubles. In her spare time, Lyuska makes clothes on a sewing machine—she is a real master hand and takes it very seriously, doesn't wear anything random.

There is no water well in the village, so Lyuska takes water from a stream

“This is not the story of an abandoned lonely pensioner. It’s Lyuska’s choice to live in the village,” says Olga.

Christmas tree

When Lyudmila Vyacheslavovna feels unwell, she knows what to do, including administering her own injections, for instance. For 20 years, Lyuska lived in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where she worked as a nurse. When her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she abandoned everything and returned to her native village to take care of her.

Watching Vladimir Putin's public speech on New Year's eve

Her mother died long ago, but Lyuska still feels a very strong connection to her. Lyuska's mother was extremely devout and wanted to enter a nunnery, but her parents forced her to marry a widower with a small child, whom she brought up. Later, she gave birth to a son. In 1941, her husband went off to war and was killed.

Lyuska shows drapes that her mother weaved from flax

After the war, a new veterinarian came to the village for a short period. Lyuska’s mother found out that she was pregnant with her only when the young specialist had departed.

Preparing to visit the church

Lyuska inherited her strong character from her mother. She raised three kids by herself, ran the household, and once a week walked 13 km to church, even during the terrible years of religious persecution. Lyuska prays and does everything around the house just as her mother taught her. She takes great care to look after her mother’s loom and needlework, and on major church holidays she opens a special chest and takes out drapes that her mother weaved from flax.

Posing for a photo

When her visitor from Moscow was leaving, Lyuska recited a prayer for the road and taught Olga how to pray. The pensioner’s faith helps her get by. God for her is more like a good neighbor, someone who gives advice and is always there for a chat whenever loneliness kicks in.

* The name of the village has been changed concerning security

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