Boris Milenko was born in central Russia during the Russian Revolution - the civil war which followed resulted in the Milenko family, along with many other White Russians who opposed the Red Russian communists, relocating to Harbin, Manchuria in 1920. Boris' father (Yuri Lukich Milenko) was a lawyer in St Petersburg prior to the Revolution, and continued to practice as a solicitor in Harbin from 1920 until the late 1940s.
Boris Milenko moved to Hong Kong in 1935, and completed his bachelor degree at Hong Kong University in 1936-39 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B Sc Eng).
After graduating he remained based in Hong Kong/Kowloon. In 1940 he joined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Force, and worked as an electrician/electrical engineer with the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company, Kowloon. Then in January 1941, joined the China Navigation Company (CNCo) where he worked as Third Engineer on a number of steamships.
On 7 December 1941, Boris Milenko was on board the SS Soochow as it approached Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, after having departed from Calcutta, India,where the steamer was on Charter – unexpectedly, this was the final voyage of Boris Milenko on the steamships of CNCo. The Soochow, was fully laden with cargo and very low on bunkers (i.e. coal), which left essentially no other option than they enter the harbour with some knowledge of the impending Japanese hostilities. On 27 March 1940, in Hong Kong, he became a British Citizen.
On 15 December 1941, Boris’ last official day with CNCo and at a time of escalation of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong island, he rejoined the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps.
On 22 December, three days before the official surrender, in his own words years later, Boris was one of a flying squad of engineers helping “organise the hospital and other activities”. Boris and three other engineers were captured by a band of Japanese soldiers and ordered to line up against a wall will their hands above their heads. Many years later, when asked about his capture during the invasion of Hong Kong in an interview with the Manly Daily (Sydney, Australia, published on 7 March, 1970) Boris commented: “We thought we were going to be shot but after some discussion among themselves the Japs let us go back to the hospital (probably Queen Mary Hospital) where we were all virtually prisoners”.
The Japanese eventually realised he could work at one of the hospitals on the hill where he maintained the electricity generators.
Boris Milenko and one other engineer escaped from Hong Kong in March 1942, some three months after the Japanese occupation began. They were assisted in their escape by Chinese partisans. In late May 1942, after a very difficult time, he arrived at Chunking in Free China, and after a few months was with the British forces working at Basrah, Iraq. Then in February 1944, he arrived in Australia.