Boris Yeltsin was born on 1 February 1931 in the village of Butka, Talitsky District, Sverdlovsk, then in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union. His family, who were ethnic Russians, had lived in this area of the Urals since at least the eighteenth century. His father, Nikolai Yeltsin, had married his mother, Klavdiya Vasil'evna Starygina, in 1928. Yeltsin always remained closer to his mother than his father; the latter beat both his wife and children on various occasions.
Yeltsin (second from left)
with childhood friends
The Soviet Union was then under the rule of Joseph Stalin, who led the one-party state governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Seeking to convert the country into a socialist society according to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, in the late 1920s Stalin's government had initiated a project of mass rural collectivisation coupled with dekulakization. As a prosperous farmer, Yeltsin's paternal grandfather, Ignatii, was accused of being a "kulak" in 1930. His farm, which was in
Basmanovo, was confiscated and he and his family were forced to reside in a cottage in nearby Butka. There, Nikolai and Ignatii's other children were allowed to join the local kolkhoz (collective farm), but Ignatii himself was not; he and his wife Anna were exiled to Nadezhdinsk in 1934, where he died two years later.
As an infant, Yeltsin was christened into the Russian Orthodox Church; his mother was devout but his father unobservant. In the years following his birth, the area was hit by the famine of 1932–33; throughout his childhood, Yeltsin was often hungry. In 1932, Yeltsin's parents moved to Kazan, where Yeltsin went to kindergarten. There, in 1934, the OGPU arrested Nikolai and sentenced him to three years in the Dmitrov labour camp, accused of anti-Soviet agitation. Yeltsin and his mother were then ejected from their residence but taken in by friends; Klavdiya worked at a garment factory in her husband's absence. In October 1936, Nikolai returned and in July 1937, the couple's second child, Mikhail, was born. That month, they moved to Berezniki in Perm Krai, where Nikolai got work on a potash combine project. There, in July 1944, they had a third child, the daughter Valentina.
Between 1939 and 1945, Yeltsin received a primary education at Berezniki's Railway School Number 95. Academically, he did well at primary school and was repeatedly elected
class monitor by fellow pupils. There, he also took part in activities organised by the Komsomol and Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization. From 1945 to 1949, Yeltsin studied at the municipal secondary school number 1, also known as Pushkin High School. This overlapped with Soviet involvement in the Second World War, during which Yeltsin's paternal uncle, Andrian, served in the Red Army and was killed. Yeltsin again did well at secondary school, and there took an increasing interest in sport, becoming captain of the school's volleyball squad. He enjoyed playing pranks and in one instance played with a grenade, resulting in the thumb and index finger on his left hand being blown off. With friends, he would go on summer walking expeditions in the adjacent taiga, sometimes for many weeks.
University and career in construction: 1949–1955
In September 1949, Yeltsin was admitted to the Ural Polytechnic Institute in Sverdlovsk. He took the stream in industrial and civil engineering, which included courses in maths, physics, materials and soil science, and draftsmanship. He was also required to study Marxist-Leninist doctrine and choose a language course, for which he selected German, although never became adept at it. Tuition was free and he was provided a small stipend to live on, which he supplemented by unloading railway trucks for a small wage. Academically, he achieved high grades, although temporarily dropped out in 1952 when afflicted with tonsillitis and rheumatic fever. He devoted much time to athletics, and joined the UPI volleyball team. He avoided any involvement in political organisations while there. During the summer 1953 break, he travelled across the Soviet Union, touring the Volga, central Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and Georgia; much of the travel was achieved by hitchhiking on freight trains. It was at UPI that he began a relationship with Naina Iosifovna Girina, a fellow student who would later become his wife. Yeltsin completed his studies in June 1955.
In 1955 he was assigned to work with the Lower Iset Construction Directorate in Sverdlovsk, initially as a trainee in various building trades. He quickly rose through the organisation's ranks. In June 1956 he was promoted foreman (master), and in June 1957 to work superintendent (prorab). In June 1958 he became a senior work superintendent (starshii prorab) and in January 1960 was made head engineer (glavni inzhener) of Construction Directorate Number 13. In February 1962 he was promoted chief (nachal'nik) of the directorate. During this period he was largely involved in building residential housing, the expansion of which was a major priority for the government.
In June 1963, Yeltsin was reassigned to the Sverdlovsk House-Building Combine as its head engineer. In December 1965, he became the combine's director.
He joined the ranks of the CPSU nomenklatura in 1968 when he was appointed head of construction with the Sverdlovsk Regional Party Committee. In 1975, he became secretary of the regional committee in charge of the region's industrial development. In 1976, the Politburo of the CPSU promoted him to the post of the First Secretary of the CPSU Committee of Sverdlovsk Oblast (effectively he became the head of one of the most important industrial regions in the USSR); he remained in this position until 1985.