Thursday, 15 November 2012


Yakov Zusmanovich, who is originally from Moscow but now lives in California, has informed me that the first two volumes of a trilogy devoted to Fyodor Bohatirchuk are now at the printers in Moscow. At the moment only Russian language editions are available, although both Zusmanovich and his co-author Sergey Voronkov are considering the publication of English translations. Volume one is devoted to Bohatirchuk's chess career from 1911-35, volume two for the balance of his life. Much material has already been assembled by the two during their collaboration in anticipation of the third, and most difficult, book in the series. The final volume will examine his scientific career and his politics. Some of it has been made available in five Russian language articles that can be found on the chesspro website.

Both Zusmanovich and Voronkov are fiercely anti-Soviet in their outlook, in harmony with Bohatirchuk's own beliefs. They were granted the approval of Bohatirchuk's daughter, the late Dr. Tamara Fyodorovna Eletskaya, in the writing of these works. She sent Voronkov many papers from Bohatirchuk's own archive.

Fyodor Parfyonovich Bohatirchuk (1892, Kiev – 1984, Ottawa) won the fifth Soviet Chess Championship in 1927 jointly with Peter Romanovsky. As a radiologist who had served with anti-Bolshevik forces during the Russian Civil War, and as a member of the intelligentsia, he was automatically suspect in Stalin's Soviet Union. Numerous medical men did end up in the Gulag, thus he could be considered rather fortunate to survive the many purges more or less unscathed.

Bohatirchuk would have been well aware of the Great Famine of 1932-3 (known as the Holodomor in the Ukraine. I tend to avoid this term as the famine extended to well outside the Ukrainian SSR to, for instance, Kazakhstan and the Kuban). Food was requisitioned in the countryside for shipment to the cities; starvation in the countryside, rather than the cities, being the very antithesis of what happens in a normal famine. Thus, like many Ukrainians, he would, initially at least, have welcomed the seeming end of Soviet power. Note, however, that the Dnieper Ukrainians of the early 1940s were more anti-Soviet than anti-Russian. The term nashi (our people) described Russians and Dnieper Ukrainians, not Ukrainians from the west, such as from Galicia and Bukovina.

When the Nazis occupied Kiev on 19th September 1941 they were followed by the Melnykites, one of the two main factions of the OUN (the Organisation of Ukrainian nationalists), whose membership hailed overwhelmingly from the western Ukraine (using today's boundaries). In October 1941 the Melnykites established a semi-legal Red Cross in Kiev. Initially ten thousand roubles were made available. Bohatirchuk, a highly skilled doctor (he was awarded the Barclay medal in 1955), was persuaded to take charge. He was involved in achieving the freedom of some Ukrainians held at the Darnytsia prisoner of war camp, which was near Kiev. Note that, despite the abundant harvest, the Nazis intentionally starved the prisoners. Observe, too, that the Nazis wouldn't free most prisoners, owing to their racial theories. Eventually, even the freeing of Ukrainians was stopped.

Bohatirchuk did not only save Ukrainians from almost certain death, he saved others according to the testimony of Boris Ratner. Sergey Voronkov has written:

С этим, однако, резко не соглашался мастер Борис Ратнер (кстати, участник войны). Он подчеркивал:

– Богатырчук немцам не служил! Он во время оккупации руководил больницей Украинского Красного Креста, где, в частности, прятал мою родную сестру и спас ее, и не только ее, от Бабьего Яра! Она и я до нашей смерти будем благодарны Федору Парфеньевичу!


The master Boris Ratner (himself a war veteran) strongly challenged this opposition, he emphasised:

Bohatirchuk did not serve the Germans! During the occupation he was in charge of the Ukrainian Red Cross hospital in which he hid my sister. He saved her, and not only her, from Babi Yar. We shall be grateful to Fyodor Parfyonovich until our dying days.”

Babi Yar is the ravine on the outskirts of Kiev where the Nazis slaughtered tens of thousands. Anatoly Kuznetsov wrote a famous account of it which has gone through several editions and been translated more than once. The academic Karel Berkhof discusses this in a chapter of The Shoah in Ukraine devoted to the differences in the accounts of Dina Pronicheva, who managed to survive execution.

When the tide of war changed and the Soviets marched on Kiev, Bohatirchuk had a decision to make. He could either stay in defiance of Nazi wishes, a risky proposition, or flee west. Even if he had successfully hidden from the Nazis, he would have been greatly at risk of punishment from the advancing Soviets. Some doctors were spared from retribution, however, they had patients willing to testify on their behalf; furthermore, they had not been in charge of a Melnykite organisation.

At this stage in the war, late 1943, it was obvious to most that the Nazis were losing. There were many defections from the Vlasovites (conceived of by its founder Andrey Vlasov as an indigenous anti-Soviet movement) back to the Soviets. Nonetheless, Bohatirchuk chose to join this organisation rather than the Ukrainian nationalists. In a sense, this is an example to buttress the opinion of the late Professor John Erickson that many Vlasovites were desperate men out to save themselves. Note, however, that some, too, were out and out Nazis (the Kaminsky Brigade became notorious for its behaviour during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Earlier in the war, in Orel, Bryansk and Kursk oblasts inside the former Soviet Union, Kaminsky's men committed many further outrages). I haven't tracked it down yet, but according to Blowback (ISBN 0-297-79457-4), a book written by the journalist Christopher Simpson, there is a State Department document calling the prominent NTS (it provided much support to Vlasov) member Vladimir Porensky a two hundred percent Nazi. This can be found in a note on page 224.

As the reader can see, the subject of Bohatirchuk is a very difficult one. I can recall a conversation I once had with a Dutchman who was a teenager during the German occupation of the Netherlands. He stated that he did nothing heroic; his main aim was to avoid deportation to Germany as a slave labourer. In situations such as that encountered by Bohatirchuk, it isn't easy to recommend a course of action. Suffice it to say that he did save lives and that I know of no evidence that he committed any war crimes (had he done so, the Soviets would almost certainly have publicised them).

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