Leonid Shayinov’s house is located in the forest of the South Urals, seven kilometers from the village Sabik. Our guide, having stumbled upon the house of the hermit several years ago during a hunt, took us directly through the forest in knee-deep snow, to see him. When we arrived, we found that the house and the whole property had been destroyed, and that Leonid himself was nowhere to be found. There were holes in the walls and the roof, the floor and ceiling had been taken to pieces, the second house had been flattened down to its timbers, and the metal constructions had been knocked down. It would have taken at least three men, working for several days, to destroy everything so systematically.
After spending several hours at the destroyed house, surrounded by the majestic wintry forest, we happened to find the frame of an old bus nearby, which had a wooden roof built on top – clearly the work of the hermit himself. We then set out to understand what had happened to Leonid. In order to do this, we decided to talk to people from the neighboring villages, who might know something about his fate. Below is the story we collected from these pieces of information.
hunter and guide
What were they looking for – treasure? They raised the entire floor. It couldn’t have happened just like that. You see, guys, bad luck, tough break. So what happened here? Wasn’t there a note left behind? I spoke to him once. He used to work for a logging company. Then he retired, but was left in charge of guarding this big house. Later they came and told him that the business had closed down and that there was nothing for him to wait for: he wouldn’t be receiving his wages. But he stayed and lived here from 1992.
Something doesn’t add up. If he’d left the place, he wouldn’t have destroyed anything, of course. Someone moved him out of here – he was in someone’s way. Maybe he fell afoul of someone? There are some abandoned houses near the central station where lots of homeless people live. Maybe they came here, kicked him out, and destroyed everything. He was an easygoing man. After living in the forest for so long, with whom was he going to clash? Hunters were fine with him. The guys who would talk to him as they passed through told me that he was still here in September.
Here are his newspapers, “Zhizn” (Life), do you see? There’s medical literature lying around. And here are some seeds – he had a vegetable patch. And generally his house was in good, manly working order. Here’s his axe, his saw – everything’s still here. He would move wood and collect water with this sled. I was also surprised that we passed the place where he usually collected water and there were no traces left. He had a store there and kept food in this container so that mice wouldn’t get into it. But now it’s a complete ruin.
Here’s proof that he was living here recently. There’s some packaged meat, do you see? Alright, let’s leave it for the animals. But I still don’t understand the logic behind destroying everything. Okay, I could understand if the house was destroyed and someone took the windows and doors for their dacha. But why demolish the bathhouse? You can’t do that by hand; you need to have some kind of heavy equipment. He also had a generator attached to a bicycle – he would turn the pedals and charge batteries for reading. Someone has taken it apart and removed all the brass wiring to sell. Only homeless people or escaped convicts do that, and there are enough labor camps around. And here are some chopped up logs – he was planning to spend the winter here. So what happened? It’s beyond me.
TATYANA TEBENKOVA & NADEZHDA MANUYLOVA
We haven’t seen him for a long time – several months. He was a cheerful old man. He’d come to us to stock up on groceries: tomato paste, bacon, condensed milk. He didn’t drink, you see. He only bought things that would keep for a long time – he would stock up.
Maybe he just moved away somewhere and someone got into his house and destroyed it. We thought that his relatives had taken him to the town. He has a daughter… I think. He didn’t really say much about it, but he let slip that some relatives or friends were coming to visit him. He said that they wanted him to come with them to the town. He was generally an easygoing person and everyone thought well of him. Although he didn’t really talk to anyone – he’d just come and go.
He died. We were told by the police department that his body was found somewhere in Primorsky Krai. It’s unclear what he was doing there, but that’s what we were told. He was registered here – that’s why we were told by the area office. People from the investigative committee went to his house but everything was already destroyed and only the walls were left. He lived here for a long time but we never heard about him being burgled or anything. Everyone knew him – he went to the library and the shop. He was a nice old man: calm, quiet, likeable, well-read. He took out a lot of books from the library.
We didn’t really know him as such. He came to the post office, ordered lots of books, subscribed to newspapers and magazines and always collected them himself. He clearly loved to read. The last time he came here was in May and we asked him whether he was going to renew his subscription for the next six months. He said that, for the time being, he wouldn’t. We said “you’re probably thinking of moving away?” He didn’t say anything, but he generally wasn’t very talkative. He told me recently that some local guys went to his place and stole something. But apart from that he never said anything. He didn’t tell me about any relatives. He once received a letter from somewhere near Samara, and that’s it. I myself never went to his place. People from the regional newspaper went to his house and wrote an article about him. We saw the photo in it of him pedaling his bike so that he’d have light.
His newspapers have stayed here since June because he didn’t come to collect them. We lost him and we even wanted to tell our boss that he’d disappeared. Maybe he was eaten by bears, who knows? He himself told us that wolves walk around and howl at night. How he ended up in the Far East is a mystery to everyone. Where was he going? People say that he might have gone there for herbs. He worked with herbs and there are some in the Far East that we don’t have here. They told us that they found him murdered there. You couldn’t say that he was ill – he was a very hardy guy. I don’t know why it happened. They say that money was found on him. If he’d been killed, the money would have been taken. How it happened is a mystery.
head of the village
We visited him once and talked about life for 10 or 15 minutes. But he was generally a withdrawn person – I don’t know why he didn’t talk to us. He told us that he arrived in Sabik in the early 1990s. There they got dry lumber and made planks at the sawmill. At first he worked on a tractor, then he worked as a driver. He stayed behind when the group of workers left and lived in this house, not disturbing anyone.
In the summer they said that they’d found him murdered in Primorsky Krai. We were shocked: he wasn’t planning on going anywhere and he received his pension in Shalyu. He himself said that he had enough money. He didn’t plant anything and didn’t say what he did with his time. He went for water, heated the bathhouse, and had his own radio set on which he used to listen to the news. The last time we spoke he didn’t even let us into the house. We stood and talked, and then we left and he stayed. After 20 years, he was used to being alone. I asked him why he didn’t have any animals and he said that he used to have a dog but it died and he didn’t need anything else.
editor-in-chief of the local newspaper
I saw him several times on the train – he had a kind of profound appearance and his eyes were clear and blue. In general, all our village dwellers are open, but even compared to them his unusual look stood out. I saw him a couple of times, and when I came across him in the forest, I immediately remembered this character. I don’t know what his past was like, but, all the same, he drew attention to himself.
We followed some kind of markers to get there: they told us where to turn, where to walk, but we still wandered around for a long time. That was in the autumn and I could only imagine what winter there would be like. You have to prepare wood, and move it by hand. Such a lifestyle takes a lot of strength – not just physical but emotional. It’s madness! I immediately thought of Robinson Crusoe. I could feel a great strength in him, but I could also sense that he was living on the edge of his physical capabilities. To be honest, I was scared for him. There was a sense that he had slightly overestimated himself and that he was aiming for something but didn’t have enough strength for it.
He had this crazy idea about his house. He planted pine trees very close to each other like a wall. He had made a plan for the space: here was the living room, here was the guest room, here was the kitchen. He was constantly waiting for the pines to grow, interlock, and then he’d have a house. Even a layman knows that pines can’t grow like that, but in his fantasy they had already grown into a two-story house.
It was like he was fueled by these wild and beautiful ideas, but you couldn’t say that he had lost his mind. He didn’t just have his head in the clouds – his feet were also firmly on the ground and he was able to run his house. The saying “he’s not of this world” refers to people like him. He clearly lived a spiritual life, but he also, it seemed to me, entertained himself with this new-age stuff. He wasn’t a Christian hermit, though he did have a cross hanging in his house. But without your own special philosophy it’s impossible to withstand that kind of lifestyle.