In the second half of the ’70s a strange rumor began to run among the inhabitants of the autonomous region of Čukotka, the north-eastern end of Russia that looks beyond the Bering Strait to the United States. Nikolai Machulyak (Николай Мачуляк) a man who worked in an Artel, a cooperative of the Soviet Union, had become friends with a huge polar bear and her puppies, and fed them with meat and condensed milk.
These photographs date back to 1976, and depict an adult bear weighing almost 300 kg, with two puppies. The story of this strange friendship began two years earlier, in December 1974, when a local hunter killed a white bear after he had ruined his “Yaranga”, a tent-like traditional mobile home of some nomadic northern indigenous people of Russia.
Nikolai Machulyak found a puppy, which he called Masha, and who at the time had not yet learned to hunt. So, Nikolai fed the puppy for a long time, until the spring of 1975, when he disappeared.
A year later their last meeting, in 1976, Nikolai found the puppy, which had grown up while becoming an adult of about 150 kilograms, which assaulted him, but in a friendly way. The man was naturally frightened, but decided to start again to help the white bear, the largest terrestrial carnivore. During the following period, the man began to bring food to Masha, mainly meat and condensed milk, which he was very fond of. The man went to visit her in a den away from the town.
One day, in place of Masha, Nikolai found a bear about twice the weight, 300 kilograms, waiting for him in the den of the puppy he had saved. Probably this bear, very aggressive and hungry, had driven Masha out of the den, which he now occupied with the puppies. Nikolai, again moved by a spirit of solidarity and curiosity towards animals, continued to bring food to bears, who became attached to the man.
During the following months lot of people visited the bear with her two puppies, with extreme fear of Nikolai who feared for their safety. The bear one day took confidence with men, and came very close to the country, running a huge risk. After some time, the man was forced, at the insistence of his wife, to stop feeding bears, which risked becoming a danger to the inhabitants.
In an interview with the journalist V. Filimonov, Nikolai declared:
“The beast is the beast, but every time I prepare for a meeting, I say mentally to Masha, and to all the bears: I beg you for your friendship. My hand does not have a weapon, but a can of condensed milk, which you love. You are a splendid beast, strong and lovable. In you I see a friend, and I will be a loyal friend“.
The story of Nikolai Machulyak, Masha and Marya Mikhailovna, the other bear, was also told by the magazine “Around the World” on August 1, 1977, in an article entitled “Request for Friendship”, Unfortunately the fate of this friendship and its splendid protagonists is not known, and the only reference is in this article of forty years ago.
Another curiosity? The same photos were published on different websites to tell the meeting between Soviet soldiers and polar bears, but they have no connection between them! In fact, the two photos below are about another story and not that of Nikolai!