Hermits escape from society, find freedom in nature

Story highlights

  • Photographer Danila Tkachenko tracked men living off the grid in Russia and Ukraine
  • Tkachenko spent a few days with each man before taking photos

(CNN)Deep in the untouched areas of Ukraine and Russia live men who have decided to leave human establishments and live isolated in nature.

Photographer Danila Tkachenko tracked some of them down by calling local authorities, park rangers, newspapers and nature reserves, though it's difficult to track down a man who has chosen to be lost.
"Often the information is not accurate, so many trips went in vain," Tkachenko said.
The hermits live in homes made of local resources -- lumber, burrows in the ground or caves -- and eat what they hunt or gather. If they fall ill, Tkachenko said, they live with the condition or treat themselves with folk methods. He said one man lost his vision completely but continues to live by himself in the woods.
Danila Tkachenko
Occasionally the men see tourists, hunters or guests like Tkachenko, though typically they are alone.
"Communication with people has been broken off and left in the past," he said.
The names of the hermits have no relevance because they are extricated socially, Tkachenko said, and he chose to not include them in his photo captions. Many of them don't even have documents, he said.
He spent a few days with each man before taking photos. He chose to shoot on film because it draws less attention and because some of the religious hermits do not like digital technology, he said.
Despite, or maybe because of their isolation, Tkachenko found that the men were open and talkative.
"They are close to nature and live in harmony with it," he said. "For them, it is freedom."
Tkachenko grew up in a city but has always been drawn to nature.

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"For me it's a place where I can hide and feel the real me, my true self, out of social context," he wrote in his project description.
He wrote that he is concerned with internal freedom and whether it is possible when constrained by social obligations and schedules.
"School, work, family -- once in this cycle, you are a prisoner of your own position and have to do what you're supposed to," he said. "You should be pragmatic and strong, or become an outcast or a lunatic. How (do you) remain yourself in the midst of this?"
Danila Tkachenko is a Russian photographer. He is represented by Salt Images.