1944-1946: WAR AND RECOVERY / by Tori Boggs

  Chetkov in 1946. Image probably taken just after Chetkov got out of the army

Chetkov in 1946. Image probably taken just after Chetkov got out of the army

The moment Boris came of age he was conscripted into a tank regiment, trained up and sent to the front during the dying gasps of the World War II. Even here, during training, he distinguished himself – albeit in his trademark constancy of effort and experimentation regardless of circumstance.

“At the exam, I had to drive the tank between the obstacles [like] ditches, timber, wood, with all the crew on board. At one such, I didn’t manage the tank and it turned over and fell into a pit. The crew got injured; I kept pulling various levers, and the members of the crew all were swearing: ‘What the hell do we need this mechanic for, we won’t get into a tank with him ever again!’ A tractor pulled us out, and a captain said to me: ‘Everything can happen at the war, well done for attempting to fix the situation’. So I became a first sergeant’s mechanic.” Boris Chetkov

Boris survived the war, fighting in Latvia where he was part of the Soviet forces that eventually broke the infamous German ‘Courland Pocket’ in Latvia between October 1944 and April 1945. Incredibly, despite having been injured more than 20 times, Aleksander also survived the war, and father and son reunited in Novaya Lyalya.

Aged 18, Boris had already seen more than most. But he had the resilience of youth and the passion of a true artist, and little by little, he started drawing again. His father did not support him, seeing art as a waste of money, but after the war, what was there to lose? Older members of the community told him, “You boy, go ahead. It is interesting to be an artist. Go ahead and keep drawing.” They were not the only ones. His uncle came to visit, saw his work and took him back to his home in Irbit to study with the local art association, an experience which did little for the young painter’s education as they churned out endless Stalinist propaganda. However Boris discovered the power of oil-paint, vividly recalling: “In close proximity I could see all the brush strokes, but move away a little – and all the images appeared in clarity”. Every Sunday he would visit the local art gallery and take in their collection of Russian and Western art.

When Boris was about 21 or 22, his family moved to Karaganda in Kazakstan and Boris decided to leave Irbit and go with them. This would prove to be an extraordinarily wise decision.

Courtesy Kenneth Pushkin: Boris Chetkov in his own Words.
Additional research: Hermione Crawford

Courtesy Kenneth Pushkin: 'Boris Chetkov in his own Words'.
Additional research: Hermione Crawford