A stunned dogwalker discovered a “Mowgli family” living in an abandoned house in one of the world’s coldest regions.
Four children were living with their dad and a dog huddled around an open fire in the bleak city of Chita, Siberia, in a temperature of minus 30C.
The children aged three, six, ten and 11, were “half-naked” despite the freezing temperatures - having been cut off from a normal life since before last summer.
“There was a 'fireplace' in the middle of a big room covered with all sorts of rubbish,” said the man who found the family.
“Half-naked, dirty children - three boys and a little girl aged three - were around it.
“A shaggy man in dirty clothes was sitting next to the fire.
“Old clothes were piled on the floor in the corner of the room, this is where they slept.”
The Soviet-era ruin was near the edge of the city and open to the elements in a temperature of minus 30C, colder than Britain has ever endured.
The father named only as Alexander, 37, said the family had run way after social services had threatened to take the children away.
The mother called Elena Vasileya had vanished after finding the gruelling conditions too harsh, according to Russian media.
The children stayed with their father in the hell-hole on the edge of the city.
Last year they had lived in a tent but other homeless people had destroyed it, he said.
This is when they moved into a disused building with no water or electricity and broken windows.
After finding the “Mowgli children”, the dog-walker reported the family to an anti-homeless campaigner Evegeny Fyodorov and the authroties rapidly stepped in with the children taken into care.
“The father has a bunch of outstanding criminal charges and he has been forced to say goodbye to the kids,” said Ivan Katanayev, children’s ombudsman in TransBaikal region.
He was allowed to help them wash and clean up in a care centre before he was taken away by police.
They hugged him before he was separated from them and taken into detention, said reports.
He said: “The children are now neat and clean” - but they are undergoing medical and psychological checks.
The authorities are searching for the missing mother.
“If she's left children in such a dangerous situation, what sort of mother is she?” Demanded Ayagma Vanchikova, a top Transbaikal regional official.
“We will ensure safety of the kids, and will also establish whether damage to health has been inflicted.”
Law enforcement officials said the “Mowgli family” had hardly any winter clothes and minimal food.
The children did not attend school or kindergarten and had entirely slipped through the social services net.
A criminal investigation has been launched.
Officials could be punished for failing to search for the children when they went missing early last year.