UC Berkeley professor of Slavic studies Viktor Zhivov dies at 68

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Philologist, author and campus professor in the department of Slavic languages and literatures Viktor Zhivov died of lung cancer at the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley on April 17. He was 68.

Zhivov first arrived at UC Berkeley in 1995 as a guest lecturer for one semester. He was a professor at Moscow State University at the time, and after proving to be an integral part of the campus’s expanding Slavic department, he became a permanent faculty member, according to Eric Naiman, a fellow professor in the department.

Zhivov spent the next 18 years teaching in both Russia and California, studying Russian and East Slavic culture and typically holding his courses at UC Berkeley during the spring semester.

“He was very accessible, and he was a really good lecturer and conversationalist,” Naiman said. “He didn’t repeat himself, he was incredibly lively and incredibly vivacious, and he was loved by his friends and colleagues.”

According to Naiman, Zhivov was deeply religious, profoundly open-minded and interested in new ideas and discoveries, having contributed to dozens of articles and books throughout his career.

“It was really inspiring to see someone be so invested in his work,” said Luba Golburt, an assistant professor in the department.

One of Zhivov’s most notable characteristics was his ability to connect with his students. Born in Moscow, Zhivov quickly adapted to teaching courses in English despite never having done so before joining UC Berkeley.

According to Golburt, who was mentored by Zhivov as a graduate student, Zhivov was very patient, respectful and inspiring.

“He brought in a very different approach to graduate teaching,” Golburt said. “His seminars were basically very well-prepared lectures and were very colorful, very entertaining. He usually taught very obscure material, and … he really made the material come alive.”

Zhivov’s students appreciated his ability to make their three-hour classes entertaining, enjoyable and less stressful than other graduate seminars.

“He was very passionate and excited about his work,” said Peter Golub, one of Zhivov’s graduate students this semester. “I can’t imagine anyone not liking him.”

Zhivov was also known for being incredibly hospitable to both his colleagues and students, even inviting them to spend time at his homes — both in Berkeley and Moscow. Past students traveled from across the globe to attend his funeral in Berkeley on Friday, according to Olga Matich, a professor emeritus in the department.

“He was incredibly stoic and strong at the end and was devoted to his work and his students, even correcting midterm exams in the hospital,” Naiman said. “Viktor really was an invaluable part of our program.”

Zhivov is survived by his wife, Maria Zhivov-Polivanova; their three children, Margarita Zhivova, Stepan Zhivov and Lina Zhivova; and their grandchildren.

Contact Claire Chiara at [email protected].