Isaak Poltinnikov was born in 1920. His father Chanan left his native town of Gorki in eastern Belorussia for a Jewish agricultural colony in the Stalindorf Jewish Autonomous District (southern Ukraine, 100-120 kilometers southwest of Dnepropetrovsk, now Dnipro). In this colony the father served as an agronomist and, later, as the head of a chicken farm. In 1938, Chanan was arrested on the charge of participating in an allegedly anti-Soviet Zionist espionage organization and, a month later, he was executed by shooting. The shock of his father's arrest remained with Isaak for the rest of his life (in general, the Soviet authotities did not inform relatives about death sentences and until the post-stalinist rehabilitation relatives believed that the arrestees were still alive).
When Operation Barbarossa began in June 1941, Poltinnikov was studying at a medical institute and later evacuated into the Soviet interior. Despite the fact that he did not finish the course, in August 1942 he was drafted into the Red Army as an assistant physician and assigned to the "sanitary" (medical) company of the 9th Guards (Poltava) Airborne Division; his rank was military doctor 3rd class (equivalent to captain). With his regiment he fought on the Northwestern Front (in the Staraia Russa operation), took part in the Kursk Salient operation in the summer of 1943, then served on the 2nd and 1st Ukrainian Fronts. After the Staraia Russa operation, in April 1943, Poltinnikov was awarded the medal For Courage "for continuing to work under mortar fire," as the citation stated. In the winter of 1943-1944 he was wounded. In September 1944, after the fighting around Kraków, he was awarded the Order of the Red Star.
After the war Isaak Poltinnikov graduated from the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Military Medical Academy as an eye surgeon. From the mid-1950s to 1971, he lived in Novosibirsk, where he was the leading ophthalmologist of the Siberian Military District. His military rank was colonel of the medical service. In 1971, knowing that the authorities were beginning to grant Jews, especially of the Baltic republics and of Czernowitz (Chernivtsy), permission to leave for Israel, and having retired from military service, Poltinnikov took the risk of submitting his request to emigrate. However, Novosibirsk was different from the Baltics: not only was he not permitted to emigrate, but he was subjected to harassment and persecution. Poltinnikov was dismissed from his work at the Novosibirsk Medical Institute (University) and deprived of his military pension, his telephone line was cut off, his mail was not delivered, etc. When Poltinnikov and his family began their fight to emigrate, he was one of the pioneers in Novosibirsk for the struggle for aliya (immigration to Israel).
In 1979, after the deaths of his wife and daughter, Poltinnikov was finally permitted to emigrate. In Israel, he changed his last name to Ben Chanan to commemorate his father, who had been executed by the Soviets. Isaak Ben Chanan died in 1986. In 1989 a street in the city of Netanya, Israel was named after him.