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The Story of Karina Chikitova, the Real-Life Mowgli

This fascinating survival story mirrors the Disney film “The Jungle Book.” Instead of an orphan being abandoned in the jungle, the real-life version sees a young girl lost in the remote Russian wilderness.

In place of the wise panther, Bagheera, guiding her to safety, is a loyal Alsatian dog named Naida.

Karina Chikitova was just four years old when she ventured away from her village in the Sakha Republic.

Karina with her pet dog Nadia. Image via CEN.

Finding herself in unknown territory, and with her parents none the wiser that she’d wandered off from the security of the village, the little girl found herself in grave danger.

The only thing that could protect her from the predatory Siberian wildlife and harsh climate was a faithful four-legged companion.

Wandering Toward Danger

In August 2014, little Karina Chikitova was spending the day like she did any other.

She had enjoyed a hearty breakfast of oladyi – traditional Russian pancakes – and had spent the morning playing with one of the many puppies that lived outdoors in the tiny village of Olom. The village is home to only a handful of families.

The cold, subarctic region is surrounded by forests and swamps, and the nearest city is over 40 miles away. Generations of families have grown up here, and many of the residents are elderly.

It’s a rural area that doesn’t have many of the modern luxuries we take for granted, such as cell phone signals or even roads.

Karina’s mother was busy doing chores in the hayloft, leaving her in the care of her grandmother. Karina never strayed too far from home, so her caregivers were comfortable allowing her to play outside with the village puppies without much supervision.

As the little girl played, she spotted her father heading out of the village. Karina decided to follow him.

She tried her best to keep up with her dad, but the tiny steps of a four-year-old were no match for the big strides of a grown man. Eventually, she lost sight of her father and found herself in the remote wilderness.

Meanwhile, Karina’s mother and grandmother would convene that afternoon, and they discovered the child was with neither of them. After some initial panic, they agreed that Karina must be with her father.

Neither of them could know that the little girl was lost in the Siberian wilderness. Despite it being summer in Siberia, the nighttime temperatures would drop below zero.

The Sakha Republic region of Russia during the summer months. Photo by A. L.

Fortunately for Karina, one of the family’s dogs, Naida, had followed her as she wandered into the darkness of the dense wooded area.

With no one looking for her, no food, shelter, or warmth, the chances of the little girl enduring the night were slim.

Nightfall In The Siberian Wilderness

Karina and Naida stuck together as dusk engulfed them. Neither child nor dog knew which way to go, but miraculously, they stuck together.

Despite Naida’s puppy-like run outpacing her four-year-old companions’ much slower steps, the dog always made sure to stay by Karina’s side.

Back at Olom, as nighttime crept in, both mother and grandmother began to get antsy about Karina’s whereabouts. Her father hadn’t told them he was taking her, but they still expected him to come home with her by his side.

When the little girl’s father returned to the village without his young daughter, panic set in for the family. They were quick to realize what had happened: Karina had wandered off into the woods and had been unable to find her way home.

By this point, Karina hadn’t had access to water or food for hours. Worse still, the Chikitova family knew all too well the dangers that lurked in the woodland: bears and wolves, unsafe terrain, and zero respite from the freezing temperatures.

Things weren’t looking good for Karina. However, the family didn’t know that the girl wasn’t all alone: she had Naida by her side.

Naida Returns Alone

As Karina and her faithful companion made their way deep into the Siberian wilderness, the dog made sure to keep the little girl warm.

When Karina became tired and needed to sleep, Naida lay down with her and let her cuddle into her for warmth. In the subzero temperatures, the dog’s fur – of which there was plenty – was the only thing keeping Karina from freezing to death.

Naturally, the little girl became hungry. She was experienced enough in the outdoors to forage for berries, and she used the fruit to sustain herself. When the pair got thirsty, they made use of rivers they passed on their travels.

As they made their way through the wilds, they encountered any number of threats; the predatory wildlife, extreme temperatures, and swampy terrain all meant the odds were stacked against Karina making it home.

By this point, the Chikitova family had alerted authorities about Karina’s disappearance, and a search team had been assembled of 100 individuals desperate to find the girl.

Rescuers searching for the missing child. Image via Sakha Republic Rescue Service.

All of them were well aware of the Siberian weather and the boggy terrain of the wilderness. It was difficult for them to traverse, let alone a young child. The idea of finding Karina alive felt incredibly unlikely.

The vastness of the wilderness meant that, even with 100 people looking for her, finding Karina was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Helicopters scouring the area from above were unable to get a sighting of Karina. The search parties’ unsuccessful day turned into two, then three, then four. Eventually, nine days passed, and Karina was nowhere to be found.

While most people in the village believed it was improbable the girl would be found alive, Karina’s mother felt differently.

Perhaps it was the inability to face the idea her baby was gone, or maybe it was gut instinct, but she knew her daughter was still alive. “As a mother, I felt that she would be found,” she said.

Hope finally reared its head when, after nine days of looking for Karina, Naida returned to Olom. However, the dog didn’t stick around long; she soon turned around and headed back to where she came from.

The return of Naida gave the search party a renewed sense of hope, and they followed the young dog back into the wild.

They were optimistic Naida would lead them to Karina, although when they trailed the dog, it seemed she couldn’t get her bearings either. She brought them to a swampy area with no sign of the lost girl.

The search team, once full of hope, was almost certain that the girl wouldn’t be found alive by this point. Day ten came and went without a sighting, as did day 11. Then, on day 12, something miraculous happened.

In a field not too far from where Naida had led the search team was a large patch filled with tall grass. Amidst the grasslands, a young girl was bundled up, keeping warm. It was Karina Chikitova.

The Rescue

Artyom Borisov, one of the rescue team, happened upon the young girl. At first, he could just see tufts of hair, but when Artyom hacked away at the long blades of grass surrounding the hair, he saw a – surprisingly healthy-looking – young girl.

The very moment that Karina was first spotted. Image via Sakha Republic Rescue Service.

The team scooped the girl up and took her to a nearby car to get her to the hospital. They gave Karina some hot tea and wrapped her up to provide her with some much-needed warmth.

The little girl had been barefoot this whole time and, once in the safety of the car, asked her rescuers for water and food. It was only then that the weight of her ordeal hit her, and Karina suddenly burst into tears.

She’d lost a lot of weight and was covered in mosquito bites, but aside from that, it looked like she would make a full recovery.

Karina spent a few days in hospital and was assessed to see if her 12 days in the Siberian wilderness had affected her adversely mentally.

Surprisingly, the little girl proved she was as resilient mentally as she was physically. She was able to tell her family exactly how she survived, and it was in no small part down to Naida.

Karina after being rescued by the Sakha Republic Rescue Service.

The faithful dog had remained by her side for nine days, kept her warm, and ensured the hungry wildlife never got close to Karina.

Karina was reunited with her companion when she was released from the hospital. Instead of warmly greeting Naida, Karina scolded the dog for leaving her alone, demanding to know why her companion would leave her in the wilderness all by herself.

However, as time went by, Karina was able to understand that the dog essentially saved her life, not only by keeping her warm and safe but also by returning to Olom and alerting the search party to her location.

A statue of Karina and Naida was placed in the city of Yakutsk to commemorate their story of survival and companionship.

Since her terrifying ordeal in 2014, Karina has since left Olom to attend Yakut Ballet School. She hopes to one day perform in Swan Lake.


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