Holodomor Digital Collections
Nikolai Bokan Collection
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  • Vladimir Bokan leaves his family home for a separate residence.
        На 25 году жизни при родителях Владимир уходит на отдельную квартиру. 13/VI 1932 г. At the age of 25, Vladimir leaves for a separate apartment, as his parents see him off. June 13, 1932.
      На 25 году жизни при родителях Владимир уходит на отдельную квартиру. 13/VI ...
  • Nikolai Bokan and his son prepare buckets of water outside of their family home in anticipation of an arson attack.
        «Враги человека домашние его.» Меры защиты на случай исполнения угроз сына Владимира поджечь жилище. 16/VI 32 г. “The enemies of man are those in his own household.” Taking precautionary measures in case our son Vladimir fulfills his threat to set our house on fire. June 16, 1932.
      «Враги человека домашние его.» Меры защиты на случай исполнения угроз сына Владимира ...
  • The Bokan family marks one year of Boris Bokan’s imprisonment for opposing conscription into the Soviet army.
        21 Сентября 1932 г. Первый год заключения Бориса в тюрьме за отказ от военной службы. September 21, 1932. The first year of Boris' imprisonment for refusing to serve in the army.
      21 Сентября 1932 г. Первый год заключения Бориса в тюрьме за отказ ...
  • Boris Bokan is visited by his father and brother in prison, where he had spent over a year as punishment for opposing conscription into the Soviet army.
        4/X – 1932 г. Посещение отцом и братом заключенного сопротивляющегося войне October 4, 1932 Father and brother visiting the imprisoned [brother] who refused to serve in the army.
      4/X – 1932 г. Посещение отцом и братом заключенного сопротивляющегося войне October ...
  • A window in the Bokan family house, broken by Vladimir Bokan out of anger for being forced to leave for a separate residence.
        Злобный Владимир Б. 24х лет. Вечером 12. XI. 32 разбил окно в жилище родных. Malicious Vladimir B., 24 years old. In the evening of November 12, 1932 he broke a window in the house of his family.
      Злобный Владимир Б. 24х лет. Вечером 12. XI. 32 разбил окно в ...
  • Nikolai Bokan stands beside the broken gate to his property, vandalized by debtors who would not pay him for his photography services.
        Случай какие нe редки 20/II – 33 г., днем два колхозника Дробязка Павел и Жук Феодосий явились к фотографу силой захватили снимки подлежащие оплате, уходя сорвали с петель дверь которую ударило в висок защищающегося фотографа и угрожая скрылись. A frequent occurrence. On the afternoon of January 20, 1933, two collective ...
      Случай какие нe редки 20/II – 33 г., днем два колхозника Дробязка ...
  • Boris Bokan returns home after his seventeen-month imprisonment for opposing conscription into the Soviet Army.
        Отбывший тюремное заключение за сопротивление войне. После 17ти месячного заключения –возвращение домой. 14. III. 1933 г. The one who served a prison sentence for resisting the war. After 17 months of imprisonment, he returns home. March 14, 1933.
      Отбывший тюремное заключение за сопротивление войне. После 17ти месячного заключения –возвращение домой. ...
  • The Bokan family shares a meager meal to mark the departure of Konstantin Bokan, who was leaving the family home to work on a collective farm.
        Прощальный обед Косте по случаю ухода на отдельное жительство. Kostia's farewell lunch on the occasion of his departure for a separate residence.
      Прощальный обед Косте по случаю ухода на отдельное жительство. Kostia's farewell lunch ...
  • Boris and Nikolai Bokan, seated.
        Boris and Nikolai Bokan pose on two chairs in front of a backdrop that features a lighthouse. Nikolai holds Leo Tolstoy’s "A Cycle of Readings." He claimed this book had served as a foundation for his religious and philosophical beliefs. Nikolai Bokan was an adherent of the Tolstoyan movement that ...
      Boris and Nikolai Bokan pose on two chairs in front of a ...
  • Nikolai Bokan and two of his sons prepare a memorandum.
        Заключение «Памятной записки» 27/VI – 1933 г. Completing the "Memorandum" June 27, 1933
      Заключение «Памятной записки» 27/VI – 1933 г. Completing the "Memorandum" June 27, ...
  • A son of Nikolai Bokan is pictured sitting in a field, in the spot where his brother Konstantin had died only a few hours earlier.
        Место Кончины Кости Слева сидит брат его, за два часа до смерти беседовавший тут с ним. The location of Kostia's death. To the left sits his brother, who was speaking with him two hours before he died.
      Место Кончины Кости Слева сидит брат его, за два часа до смерти ...
  • The corpse of Kostantine Bokan lies in a coffin.
        В гробу. In the coffin.
      В гробу. In the coffin.
  • The funeral of Konstantin Bokan, who died of starvation.
        Похороны Кости 11/VII 1933 г. Kostia’s funeral 11 / VII 1933.
      Похороны Кости 11/VII 1933 г. Kostia’s funeral 11 / VII 1933.
  • Nikolai Bokan and three of his sons commemorate the death of Konstantin Bokan, who died of starvation.
        Воспоминание о Косте умершем от голода. 10/ VII – 1933 г. Remembering Kostia who starved to death. July 10, 1933.
      Воспоминание о Косте умершем от голода. 10/ VII – 1933 г. Remembering ...
  • Nikolai Bokan stands beside the grave of his son Konstantin, who died of starvation.
        [Faded handwritten inscription] INCLUDE ORIGINAL RUSSIAN TEXT Kostia's grave. [Inscription on the grave marker]: Константин Николаевич Бокань Скончался 30го Июня 1933 года на поле от непосильного труда в колхозе и недоедания Konstantin Nikolaevich Bokan Died on June 30, 1933, in a field from overwork on the collective farm and malnutrition.
      [Faded handwritten inscription] INCLUDE ORIGINAL RUSSIAN TEXT Kostia's grave. [Inscription on the ...
  • The grave of Konstantin Bokan, who died of starvation.
        [Inscription on the grave marker]: Константин Николаевич Бокань Скончался 30го Июня 1933 года на поле от непосильного труда в колхозе и недоедания Konstantin Nikolaevich Bokan Died on June 30, 1933, in a field from overwork on the collective farm and malnutrition.
      [Inscription on the grave marker]: Константин Николаевич Бокань Скончался 30го Июня 1933 ...
  • Seated in the front row are peasants sentenced to death for seeking vengeance against authorities for the seizure of their property.
        The individuals seated on the front bench were sentenced to death for seeking vengeance against the authorities for the seizure of their property. They are surrounded by Soviet authorities in uniform. A group of people in civilian clothing are seen in the back rows. The photo appears to have been ...
      The individuals seated on the front bench were sentenced to death for ...
  • Death Certificate of Konstantin Bokan
        The death certificate indicates that Konstantin Bokan died on July 1, 1933 at the age of twenty-one. He is said to have died from exhaustion due to malnutrition (istoshchenie). The doctor's office is listed as the place of death. The certificate was prepared by Dr. Klym Teslia, a local doctor, ...
      The death certificate indicates that Konstantin Bokan died on July 1, 1933 ...
  • Photo Display Board: “Those who rejected a Christian upbringing and fell under the influence of a mindless crowd”
        A transcription of the Russian text and English translation are available in the "Inscription Details" document on the right-hand side of the screen.
      A transcription of the Russian text and English translation are available in ...
  • Photo Display Board: “The Family of an Idealist”
        A transcription of the Russian text and English translation are available in the "Inscription Details" document on the right-hand side of the screen.
      A transcription of the Russian text and English translation are available in ...
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Nikolai Bokan Collection



A Note on the Collection

Nikolai Fedorovich Bokan (1881–1942) was a photographer from Baturyn, Chernihiv oblast, in Soviet Ukraine. Among Nikolai’s surviving photos are those that document his family’s experience of the Holodomor, and notably the death of one of his sons from starvation. The photos included in this collection offer a uniquely personal perspective on the experience of famine and speak to the famine’s devastating impact on family dynamics amid broader social and political transformations. As Nikolai was a devoted member of the Tolstoyan movement, which was based on the religious and political writings of Leo Tolstoy, his writings and photos also provide insight into the fate of religious groups amid Soviet-era repressions.


Nikolai was arrested in 1937, charged with anti-Soviet agitation, and died in a labor camp in 1942. The materials in this collection were retrieved from Nikolai’s criminal case file, housed at the Archive of the Security Service of Ukraine. The case file is comprised of trial documents, including verdicts, appeals, and interrogation reports, as well as personal items of Nikolai’s confiscated by the authorities upon his arrest. These included correspondence, photographs, an unfinished memoir, and a notebook of reflections. The latter two items are presumed to have been written in the mid- to late 1930s.


Nikolai was a self-employed photographer, having begun his career in the early 1900s. He acquired photographic equipment from profits attained through the sale of inherited property. Although the source of all his equipment is unclear, an envelope in his criminal case file indicates that his photo printing paper was manufactured in a factory in Kyiv. Nikolai catered to local clients in Baturyn and developed his photos with equipment kept in his home. It is notable that in the year 1932, as famine conditions began to take hold, Nikolai acquired a number of debtors who were either unable or refused to pay him for his services.


The photos in this collection are understood to have been captured by Nikolai, and generally feature members of the Bokan family. Photos of individuals beyond the family are presumed to have been commissioned and feature inhabitants of the surrounding region. Nikolai's son Boris also engaged in photography, and he is similarly described in the trial documents as a self-employed photographer. Although Boris is known to have assisted his father in his work, it is unclear to what extent he was involved in capturing the photos in this collection. It is notable, however, that Nikolai is featured in many photos and may well have been assisted by Boris in staging them.


In addition to individual photos, the case file also contains photo display boards created by Nikolai between 1931-1936. The display boards are compilations of photos together with inscriptions that offer narratives about the life of the Bokan family and commentaries on broader societal developments. Nikolai is known to have prepared these boards for dissemination, sharing them with others in the surrounding region, and even dispatching his children as part of these efforts. The appearance of display boards as photos on others indicates that copies were produced, although the extent to which this was done is unknown. The boards’ reception among Nikolai’s acquaintances is unknown, although the boards and the photographs figured prominently in his trial as evidence of his engagement in anti-Soviet propaganda.


The display boards included in the collection were selected for their relevance to events surrounding the famine, and combined with other textual documents in the case file, further illuminate the complicated reality from which the photos emerged. The display boards feature photos of events ranging from 1865-1934. Certain photos featured on these boards therefore predate Nikolai’s birth and include photos of his parents and siblings. For the purposes of the directory, only those photos related to the famine were evaluated for their provenance.


In total, the Nikolai Bokan Collection presented here features 19 photos and 7 display boards, selected from more than 27 photos and 20 display boards included in the case file. This total contrasts with the inventory of confiscated items found among Nikolai’s trial documents, which states that 42 photos and 20 negatives were confiscated. Notably, the Chernihiv region NKVD representative ordered the destruction of 30 confiscated photos and negatives, along with 63 of Nikolai’s books. It is assumed that the negatives were destroyed accordingly, as none are included in the case file. The case file does not include the display board dedicated to the death of Nikolai’s son Konstantin by starvation. The only indication of the display board’s previous existence is in a photo included in the file. Given the sensitive nature of the photos that have survived, it is possible that those that are missing were destroyed for portraying events the Soviet authorities were determined to hide.