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The Babushka of Baikal, the granny in her 80th year who has popularised the world’s deepest lake

By Boris Slepnyov, Valeria Sukhova
25 March 2021

Lyubov Morekhodova glides over the pure ice on skates made by her father not long after World War Two.

Lyubov Morekhodova, 79. Picture: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times

In recent years Lyubov - her first name means Love, and her family make is akin to  ‘The One Who Walks on Sea’ - has become an icon of Lake Baikal, probably its best known resident, her exploits known both to Russians and people all round the world. 

She has lived on its shores all her life, where winter temperatures plummet to minus 50C. 

Had she - to imagine the unimaginable - started her personal blog, she would have become even more of a megastar long ago. But Babushka Lyuba says that she cannot understand just why the world is so interested in her. 

‘I’ve been skating since I was in Y2 (aged eight), and this May I’ll turn 80 years old’, she explains.

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
'I'm turning 80 this May, I’ve been skating since I was in Y2 (aged eight).' Pictures: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Lyubov is however well-used to media attention and takes it with grace and patience. 

She politely answers questions from journalists who often forget about the time difference (Baikal is five hours adrift from Moscow, and rather more from Europe and the US) and call in the middle of the night. 

She is shy explaining why can’t immediately send them a photo via her phone; her old cell phone is all buttons, not as smart as people expect.

The grandmother opens her house for reporters, feeling a bit sorry that they seem to be only interested in her skating explopits, as if skating is her whole life.

Lyubov Morekhodova

Lyubov Morekhodova by her house at Lake Baikal. Picture: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


The pastoral image of the babushka gliding carefree on the even and shiny ice of Lake Baikal in her old skates is broken to pieces as soon as we get closer to her little house. 

It’s hidden in the forest and can only be seen clearly from the waters of the world’s deepest - and oldest - lake here in central Siberia, a crescent-shape larger in surface area than Belgium, with more water than the Great Lakes combined; indeed containing 20 per cent of the globe’s unfrozen freshwater. 

Remnants of an old fence have a faded plate with ‘Caution! Angry dog!’ barely visible on it. 

Seconds later we hear loud bark and see several dogs running towards us, barking as furiously as if they are trying to be louder than the snow storm.

It takes us some minutes to reach Lyubov on the phone, as network coverage is very poor. Finally she responds: ‘Hello, is it you there? Coming!’

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
The pastoral image of the babushka gliding carefree on the even and shiny ice of Lake Baikal in her old skates is broken to pieces as soon as we get closer to her little house. Pictures: Boris Slepnyov


Lyubov was born in the village of Shara-Togot in the Olkhonsky district of Irkutsk region a few weeks before the start of the Second World War.

Her father Nikolay worked as a forester, her mother Fiona tended to the house and the couple’s seven children. 

Back then, there was plenty of Omul fish in the lake, and Lyubov remembers several teams earning their living by fishing it. 

Today this unique fish has to be protected. Yeas ago there were days, she says, when up to half a ton of Omul was caught. 

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova



Lyubov Morekhodova glides over the pure ice on skates made by her father not long after World War Two. Pictures, video: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


‘The sight of fishermen’s boats loaded up to their brim with Omul slowly moving towards the shore, one after the other, is still vividly in my memory. 

‘The boats were so full that gusts of Barguzin (strong wind) caused waves that washed the top layer of the fish back into the lake. 

‘Then came the time of construction of Irkutsk Dam, a commission came to our house and said that likely it’ll get flooded. 

‘We were given money, and moved to a place called Khaly next to another fishing spot.’

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
The grandmother opens her house for reporters, feeling a bit sorry that they seem to be only interested in her skating explopits, as if skating is her whole life. Pictures: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


In her primary school days along with other pupils little Lyuba hiked 4km to reach her classes; there were very few cars driving the road, and if occasionally kids were given a lift it felt like a proper adventure. This was the time when she first thought about cutting the distance to school by crossing the ice of the bay on skates.

‘But then where would we find skates?! Dad thought for some time and found a solution. 

‘He cut two strips out of a steel saw, inserted them into planks of wood, and attached the wood to valenki (felt boots).

‘He didn’t know how to skate, but he went a very long way to support me, and I started to skate.’

Lyubov Morekhodova
In recent years Lyubov - her first name means Love, and her family make is akin to  ‘The One Who Walks on Sea’ - has become an icon of Lake Baikal, probably its best known resident, her exploits known both to Russians and people all round the world. Picture: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Lyubov had to board starting from Year 5 as secondary school was some 25km from her house. 

On days when she returned home she preferred to cut the distance by taking a short cut over the ice.

This was the time, she believes, when she developed a special sense  for being on the frozen lake, a feeling that she would always be all right.

‘Not that I never fell through the cracks, quite the opposite.

‘Once when I plunged in through the broken ice, I only made it because two of my classmates pulled me out. 

‘I had to run all the way back home with my clothes feeling like a sheet of ice.’

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
Lyubov Morekhodova, 79. Pictures: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Lyubov's generation never had summer holiday the way some children know it now. 

Summer months were time for children of all ages to help their grown ups to catch and salt fish.

‘I started working from Year 8 (aged 15) at fish processing shop: our job was to bring sacks with fish from a boat into the shop, and layer it inside wooden barrels with salt and ice.’ 

After finishing secondary school Lyubov with her elder sister went to live in Irkutsk, where she worked in the security team of the city’s machine building plant. 

A year later, she was transferred to the workshop as a stamping operator, and then as an apprentice of a welder. 

Lyubov Morekhodova
Lyubov Morekhodova, 79. Picture: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Lyuba graduated from the welding department of the Irkutsk Industrial College, and later, already by then a married mother of three, she graduated from the Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Machine Tools and Instruments. 

She worked for 42 years as a technologist at the Kuibyshev plant.

With her husband Mikhail she built a house not far from her father’s home by Maloe More, a strait separating the mainland from the lake’s largest island, Olkhon.

In 2008 the family was shattered by tragedy as two of their elder children died. In 2011 Mikhail died, and Lyuba was left alone. 

Her way of pulling herself back to life was to start a little farm which has kept her busy 24/7 ever since.

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
Lyubov'a life changed abruptly five years ago, when a friend filmed and shared a short video of her speeding on her skates. Pictures: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Today Lyubov has 11 cows, plus hens, and pets -  four dogs and three cats.

The most complicated thing in her day is feeding them all, and this  involves  delivering water, as Lyuba has to walk a steep hill down to the lake.

She wakes at 5am and starts the day lighting a fire, as the house cools down quickly, especially on windy days. 

In winter, her cattle walk long distances away from the house, looking for grass under the snow. 

To find them, babushka Lyuba puts on her trusty skates on, takes her binoculars, and rides along the shore, calling their names: ‘Anfisa! Rufina! Masha! Malvina! Margo! Belyanka! And Kleopatra!’ 

She always takes part in local skating races with the 5km run being her favourite distance.

Lyubov Morekhodova


Lyubov Morekhodova
The pastoral image of the babushka gliding carefree on the even and shiny ice of Lake Baikal in her old skates is broken to pieces as soon as we get closer to her little house. Pictures: Boris Slepnyov


Lyubov'a life changed abruptly five years ago, when a friend filmed and shared a short video of her speeding on her skates. 

‘It was my friend Volodya who shared the video online, and I even got angry with him,’ she said.

'I got a bit exhausted from endless calls. I was even invited to a talk show in Moscow’ - her first time in the capital city since the 1970s.’

She took her beloved valenki and of course the skates to Moscow,  skated on the rink in Red Square to the annoyance of the  security man), and went through her first talk show on federal TV.

‘Sabina the presenter was really keen to learn my recipe of youthful looks and beauty. 

‘I told her that it was due to me being given makeup and hair style in their studio, but in fact what I wanted to say was: ‘Why don’t you try clearing manure after 10 cows, every day!’, but was shy to say it.’

Lyubov Morekhodova
In winter, her cattle walk long distances away from the house, looking for grass under the snow. To find them, babushka Lyuba puts on her trusty skates on, takes her binoculars, and rides along the shore, calling their names. Picture: Boris Slepnyov/The Siberian Times


Her fame across Russian changed nothing of her routine; Lyubov still wakes up 5 am and tends the cattle. 

The most precious memories of the trip are several pictures with showbiz stars, and the gift from skater Yevgeny Plyushchenko, snow-white expensive skates which she keeps as a precious souvenir.

This winter was extremely snowy for everyone who lives on the shores of Baikal. Lyubov’s house was covered with metres high piles of snow. 

Her cows struggled to find grass, three of her calves went far searching for extra food and never came back. 

I helped her a bit by bringing hay and water for the cattle. 

When we got back into the house, I asked: ‘Do you ever rest?’

‘Of course’, she said. 'In the evenings when I watch TV or play sudoku, or check maps to find all those exciting places they mention in the news.’

Comments (7)

Wonderful Article. A story about what life is really all about. What a inspiration..
Tim Mahoney, Westbrook Maine USA
28/04/2021 05:55
1
0
Thank you, Miss Lyuba, and to the writers of the article. It was a nice piece to read to remind me of what is really important and lasting, no matter the country or culture.
Susan, North Carolina, USA
22/04/2021 10:06
2
0
Nice skating backwards!! Beautiful pictures, stay warm Lyubov, tell the chickens I said "Hi sweeties"
Margaret, New Bedford, MA, USA
29/03/2021 00:56
3
0
My mother is the same age as Lyuba and is also a strong, strong woman. This was a beautiful, magical article and the photos - as usual - are excellent. Thank you.
Rose Panieri, Chicago, Illinois
28/03/2021 08:55
5
0
Beautiful and touching story of Lyuba, Babushka of the Bakaïl. What an inspiring person she is.
Sylvie Binette, Canada
26/03/2021 10:40
9
0
Wonderful story, thanks for introducing us to Lyuba, Babushka of the Baikal, I would love to meet her in person.

I am an artist and I also have hens, and will make a picture of Lyuba with her hens.
Katah, Trois-Rivières, Québec
26/03/2021 03:22
6
0
What a wonderful article! Babushka Lyuba is an inspiration to us all. Greetings from England!
Deborah, Ludlow UK
25/03/2021 21:08
7
0
1

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