Novaya Lyalya, in Sverdlosk Oblast, is an unassuming town surrounded by forest and lying in the shadow of the Urals, the vast mountain range stretching north-south across central Russia. In 1926, the year Chetkov was born, Novaya was barely a town, just a snaggle of houses along the River Lyalya reliant on farming, mining and water traffic. Though sleepy and rural, this part of the world was (and is) an area with a proud history: the locals are steeped in tradition and folklore, proud of their abilities and fond of standing on their own two feet. Servility does not come naturally to those born near the Urals. It is perhaps no surprise that the area was a hotbed of Bolshevik activity at the turn of the 19th century and that the Romanovs were sent to the administrative capital, Sverdlosk (now Yekaterinberg) during the revolution of 1917. And, of course, it was in these ancient forest-bound mines that received the sad corpses of Tsar Nicolas and his family in July 1918, the brutal end to the old order that ushered in the new. Being born in the same district, a mere eight years after the birth of Soviet Russia, Chetkov’s life experiences would mirror the worst the new world order could offer: its failures, its rare joys and its dark truths. Yet he moved through it untouched by it all, his irrepressible spirit staying the course.
Born on 26 October 1926, Boris Aleksandrovich Chetkov was one of five children of Aleksander Chetkov, himself born into a prosperous peasant family. Boris’s mother came from the great Ural city of Perm, but she lost virtually her whole family (icon painters and miniaturists) during the revolution. She eventually washed up in the village of Soltanovo aged 18 and there married Aleksander. Boris’s grandfather, Andrei had a hint of mystery and romance in his background: he was left at the door of a well-off childless couple in Soltanovo, “wrapped in a very nice silk blanket with lace trim. There was a birth certificate saying the baby’s name: Andrei Chetkov. Nothing else was known about his origins. So the people adopted the baby and started raising him. He turned out to be a very smart and hardworking boy.”
Perhaps because of his mysterious origins, Chetkov’s grandfather Andrei had an intense drive. Aleksander and his siblings were expected to get up at cockcrow and work til dusk. Andrei amassed a large house, meadows, croplands and more. Until one dreadful Sunday the Chetkov house caught fire, and no one lifted a finger to help. They cut their losses, took what they had and moved to Novaya Lyalya. Chetkov, his father and his grandfather were all marked by an incredible facility to pick themselves up and start again. By the time Boris was born, Andrei was living in a fine new house – a remarkable turnaround borne out of a prodigious work ethic.
Courtesy Kenneth Pushkin: 'Boris Chetkov in his own Words'.
Additional research: Hermione Crawford