Just why are the villagers of Kalachi falling asleep for days on end?
It was May last year. In the small town of Kalachi, Kazakhstan, Marina Felk, 50, headed out in the early hours of the morning to go to work on her farm. It was just like any other day for the experienced milkmaid.
But as she milked the cows, all of a sudden she felt her eyelids become heavy…and as she collapsed to the ground, everything went black.
Two days on, she came round and was shocked to discover she was on a hospital ward.
‘Welcome back, sleeping princess,’ her doctor said. ‘You’ve finally woken up.’
Marina had been in a deep slumber for two days and two nights, and nobody knew why. But Marina wasn’t the only one experiencing the strange sleepiness.
Since March 2013, one in 10 of the 600 townsfolk have fallen asleep randomly and remained so for days on end. There’s something very weird going on. And it’s led to the town being dubbed ‘Sleepy Valley’ or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ by residents.
The deep slumbers usually last from 2 to 6 days, and are accompanied by other scary symptoms. These include dizziness, weakness on standing up, headaches and memory loss.
While adults appear to just black out, children affected by the mystery condition in Kalachi have experienced vivid and frightening hallucinations alongside their sleepiness.
Young Misha Plyukhin told a local paper he’d seen snakes eating his arms as he lay in bed, and that his mother’s face became grotesque, with eight eyes and a trunk appearing on it.
Rudolf Boyarinos, Misha’s classmate, also saw something, though he can’t remember what. Four of his relatives reported having to hold him down as he repeatedly screamed the word ‘monsters’.
The sleep attacks appear to come in waves, with people experiencing symptoms in spring 2013, over New Year 2014, May 2014 and most recently October 2014.
Last October, a village schoolgirl told of how eight of her classmates fell asleep within one hour of each other, following a morning assembly.
Residents live in fear of being struck down by the condition. Many of them have packed bags on standby, in case they’re rushed to hospital. It’s even feared some ‘dead’ people may have been accidentally buried alive.
Fluid in their brains
The illness has doctors and scientists in the country stumped.
At first, it was thought to be a sleeping sickness, or a meningitis-like illness, however a report in the Siberian Times says over 7,000 experiments have been conducted on the patients’ blood, hair and nails, and no known viral or bacterial infections showed up.
The symptoms also differ from other sleep or fatigue conditions, such as narcolepsy and myalgic encephalitis.
At the moment, doctors have diagnosed sufferers as having encephalopathy, a disorder of the brain of unknown origin. Scans have shown some sufferers have accumulated fluid in their brains. But if this is the case, what is the cause? And how has it struck down so many?
Perhaps it could be a type of mass hysteria, known as mass psychogenic illness, where an illness spreads among a population but there’s nothing to indicate the sufferers are actually unwell.
The townspeople of Kalachi are not so sure…
A documentary, aired last year on Russia Today placed the blame on a uranium mine, which is located in close proximity to the town and closed in the 1980s. Some argue uranium has seeped into the water supply or into the air, contaminating it and causing people to have the strange symptoms. But tests on water and air show no evidence of this.
Radiation levels in Kalachi have been found to be within normal limits.
So, for now, it remains a mystery, despite ongoing investigations into the phenomenon.
And it shows no sign of abating.
As recently as last month, a visitor from Siberia, Aliya Kurukhtina – who came to Kalachi to celebrate New Year – fell victim to the condition. The week before, four other people were admitted to hospital with the illness.
It’s believed the authorities are looking into the possibility of moving people out of Kalachi, to homes elsewhere in Kazakhstan, with families who have young children being the priority. Some have even started fleeing the village already.
And, still, many residents of Kalachi are left living in fear they’ll fall ill, or even that they may pass out and never wake up again.
Until the mystery of Sleepy Valley is solved, who could blame them..?