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The Tunguska Event: Eyewitness Account

Akulina Lyuchetkana, Dilyushmo River

The widow of Ivan Potapovich Lyuchetkan, interviewed by I. M. Suslov, March 1926.

There were three of us in the choum[1] — my husband Ivan, me, and old man Vasilii, the son of Okhchen. Suddenly someone gave our choum a powerful shove. I got frightened, cried out, woke up Ivan, we started to crawl out of the sleeping bag. We saw that Vasilii was crawling out too. Ivan and I hadn’t even managed to crawl out all the way and stand on our feet, when once again someone gave our choum a powerful shove, and we fell on the ground. Old man Vasilii fell on top of us, as if someone had thrown him. All around a noise was heard, someone was making a noise and banging on the ellyun[2]. Suddenly it got very bright, a bright sun shone on us, a strong wind blew. Then someone fired a powerful shot, as if the ice were cracking on the Katanga [river] in winter, and right away a dancing whirlwind swooped down, grabbed hold of the ellyun, whirled it around, twirled it, and dragged it off somewhere. Only the dyukcha[3] was left. I got completely terrified and lost consciousness, I saw a whirlwind dancing. I cried out and immediately came to life again.

The whirlwind knocked the dyukcha down on me and a pole injured my leg. I crawled out from under the poles and wept: the trunk with the dishes had been thrown out of the choum, and it was dragged far and opened, and many cups were broken. I look upon our forest and don’t see it. Many of the trees are standing there without branches, without leaves. Many, many trees are lying on the ground. On the ground the dry tree-trunks, the twigs, the reindeer moss are all burning. I see some sort of clothes burning, I come closer and see our rabbit-fur blanket and our fur bag, in which Ivan and I were sleeping.

I went to look for Ivan and the old man. I see something hanging on the naked branch of a larch. I came closer, reached out with a stick and took it down. It was our fur, which used to hang tied to the poles of the choum. The fox skin was scorched, the ermine had become yellowish and dirty in the ashes. Many rolls of skins had wrinkled up and dried out.

I took the fur, wept and went to look for my men. And on the ground the dried pine needles are burning and burning, the reindeer moss is burning, smoke is all around.

Suddenly, I hear someone quietly moaning. I ran toward the voice and caught sight of Ivan. He was lying on the ground between the branches of a big tree. He had broken his arm on a log, the bone had torn his shirt and was sticking out, blood had dried on it. Here I fell down and again lost consciousness. But I soon came to life again. Ivan had “slept it off, ” began to moan louder and weep.

The whirlwind threw Ivan nearby. If you stood ten choums in a row, then where he fell would have been beyond to last choum, very near the place where I took down the furs from the branch.[4]

Ivan clasped me around the neck with his good arm, I lifted him, and we went toward the Dilyushmo [river] toward our choum, where in the storehouse there were two skins, a sack of flour and some nets. The choum had stood on the shore of the Dilyushmo, the storehouse was close to the choum to the west [literally, “toward the sunset ”]. All of a sudden it sounded as if someone were yelling. And there we saw our Vasilii. He lay beneath the root of an old fallen larch and had hidden himself there. Vasilii crawled out of his “den ” and went with us toward our choum. I got tired, gave Ivan to the old man, and myself carried only the scorched skins.

It got harder to walk, there were very many fallen trees. Suddenly we saw logs on the ground, and skins lying under them. The hair on the skins was scorched, the hide was wrinkled and singed. Instead of the nets we saw a pile of pebbles — the plummets. The horsehair nets had burned up. The logs had burned up, become embers. Instead of the flour sack, a black stone. I jabbed it with a finger and the coal-stone broke into pieces. In the middle of it I found a little flour and wrapped it up in Vasilii’s shirt. So perished our storehouse. We rested a bit and went to look for our choum.

Here’s the place where our choum had been. The poles lie on the ground, a big tree fell on them, it was intensely scorched. I chopped it to pieces with an axe and dragged it to one side. Underneath it we found our copper pot, in which there was a lot of meat from the day before.

A bright summer night fell, the fire began to diminish. In place of the heat, it grew cold. We decided to move toward the Katanga [river]. By the time we got to the Chambe river, we were already totally weak, all around we saw marvels, terrible marvels. It wasn’t our forest [any more]. I never saw a forest like that. It was strange somehow. Where we lived there had been dense forest, an old forest. But now in many places there was no forest at all. On the mountains all the trees lay flat, and it was bright, and everything was visible for a far distance. And below the mountains in the swamps it was impossible to go at all: some trees were standing, some were lying, some were leaning, some had fallen on one another. Many trees were scorched, the needles and moss were still burning and smoking. Reaching the Katanga, we met [Ivan’s brother, Ilya] Lyuchetkan.

— translated by Bill DeSmedt

copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.


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[1] A “ choum” is an Evenki dwelling, not unlike a tepee.[Return to text.]

[2] An “ellyun ” is the leather roof of a choum.[Return to text.]

[3] A “dyukcha ” is the framework of a choum, consisting of some thirty poles.[Return to text.]

[4] I. M. Suslov notes: “The diameter of a choum is around 4 meters, consequently Ivan was thrown some 40 meters. ”[Return to text.]

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copyright (c) 2004 by amber productions, inc.