Borys Tkachenko, a Holodomor researcher from Sumy Oblast, passed away

11 June 2024

Sad news came from Sumy Oblast – in Lebedyn, a local historian, Holodomor researcher, and author of 11 books, Borys Tkachenko, at the age of 87, passed away. It is a huge loss in the circle of Holodomor researchers, in whose cohort Borys Ivanovych was an important, and special figure.

“Let this book be a drop of anger in the universal sea of ​​condemnation of the crime of Bolshevism. Let it be a modest wreath on the grave of the memory of the tortured,” – this is how he wrote about his thorough work “Under the Black Brand”. In this edition of almost 800 pages, Borys Tkachenko investigated the preconditions, course and consequences of the Holodomor in Sumy Oblast. Borys Tkachenko began to write down memories recorded by the Holodomor eyewitnesses, which were included in this collection, back in the 60s. I questioned people who, in adulthood, experienced that tragedy and remembered it very well. Hence, the testimonies are very detailed, even with the names of those who conducted dekulakization and took the last from their fellow villagers. Borys Ivanovych tried to publicise this bitter truth in the late 1980s when the wind of change blew—and had problems because of it.

“The party leadership was indignant, saying that, it was the slander on the Soviet reality. Even more outraged were the ideological underlings who were entrusted with vigilance on the word of newspapers and magazines. I was called to the white apartments, where I wrote an explanation that that was not slander but the absolute truth. And many of the creators of that bitter truth were simply blind perpetrators of genocide, – Borys Tkachenko recalled. – Messengers came with “friendly advice” – don’t get in touch, don’t you have enough trouble at your age? And in general, who needs it all?… Those who conducted dekulakization are decent people, they went through the fronts, their portraits are in local history museums. And why bring all this up? People should not be aimed at this, but at work achievements. There were also phone calls. In a hoarse voice, the intimidators shouted: we will hang, we will definitely hang.”

Intimidation failed, and in 1993 the book was published and nominated for the Shevchenko Prize. Subsequently, it was supplemented and reissued. At that time, it was one of the first publications on the Holodomor topic in Ukraine.

Borys Tkachenko’s family also suffered from collectivization and dekulakization. My grandfather joined the collective farm, having handed over a horse, livestock, a cow and a heifer. He worked, but didn’t earn anything! That’s why he left there, writing a statement. At that time, this was quite an audacity. My grandfather was taxed so much that there was no way to pay them. Then they came to dekulakize. Later, studying the archives of the Lebedyn district newspaper, Borys Tkachenko found an announcement about the sale of his grandfather’s house, a barn and a gate. However, the money collected from the sale of property was not enough to repay the debt to the criminal state. For that, the head of the family was sentenced to another six months in prison.

My grandfather went to search for the truth to the higher authorities and ended up in the Leningrad Region. There was no famine there, so he called his wife and daughters to him. So they survived. They returned to Lebedyn in 1934.
Heard in the family pushed the boy to study history. He was an agronomist by profession, so he had to communicate a lot with the farmers. In those conversations, although it was forbidden, mentions of famine did emerge. On the advice of the sculptor and ethnographer Ivan Honchar, he began to write down those testimonies. Due to his interest in a forbidden topic, he was caught by the KGB. And to save the records, he was forced to bury them in the garden.

This is how the archive began to form and with it a library and a collection of antiquities. Over time, it grew to the size of a real local history museum. To store the collection, Borys Tkachenko even built a separate house. Unfortunately, we never had time to visit him, although we planned to do so already this summer…

Thank you, Borys Ivanovych, for the saved memory and books, for tireless work to return from forgetting our past. Thank you for having the courage to speak and record the truth when it was dangerous…

Sincere condolences to family and friends. May his soul rest in peace. We will forever remember him!