MATTHIAS WILLIAMS –
Tamara and Yuri Baikov knew it was time to move away from their village when one of their ducks wandered into a neighbour’s plot of land, only to return with a wire deliberately threaded through its beak. Since then, the husband and wife have lived for more than a quarter of a century in a primitive hut in a forest in northeastern Belarus, close to the Russian border.
“There are no people – there is no conflict,” said Tamara Baikov, who says she loves weeding her vegetable patch and would rather plough a hectare of land than venture to a city.
Life is simple for the two 69-year-olds. There is no electricity, so they read by torchlight. They take the water they need from the river and cook with a wood-burning stove.
Their chickens and ducks provide them with meat and eggs. Their goats give them milk and cottage cheese. Manure is their only fertiliser for growing potatoes and vegetables.
Daughter Veronika is their main contact with the outside world. She brings any additional supplies they might need from a store, and also sells their produce to generate some income.
“Our Veronika sells all this in neighbouring Russia. Plus a pension, we have enough to live on,” Yuri said. “We cannot leave our animals and birds even for a day – and we don’t want to.”
They live on a small farm they built in 1992. The nearest Belarussian village, Yukhovichi, is 15 km (9 miles) away, while Russia is a few hundred metres across the river.
They used to live in Yukhovichi as farmers, keeping cows and poultry. But dwelling near other people did not suit them — the injured duck was one example.
In late 1991, the local authorities gave them a piece of land in the forest and one night in May 1992, they left together with Veronika, five cows, some groceries, tools and nails.
They spent the first few nights under a linden tree, covering themselves in plastic sheets for warmth.
Veronika grew up and eventually moved beyond the river to a village in Russia called Davostsy. She now has a 16-year-old daughter of her own called Angelina.
Tamara and Yuri stayed in the cramped hut that was initially intended as a temporary shelter. They had planned to build a proper house, but a lack of money and bureaucratic hassles prevented them from doing so. They like to listen to Russian radio stations to keep up with world news. But mostly they enjoy the solitude.
“Silence is very good – only grandma is not silent, she talks a lot,” Yuri joked, referring to his wife.