In Memoriam - Sergiy Kurbatov 1971-2023



In Memoriam 

In April 2023, just over a month ago, Sergiy Kurbatov was able to visit IRES and Uppsala University for the first time in four years. He was first hindered by the long pandemic and then by the horrific war. Sergiy's usually more frequent visits to our Institute, where he presented new work and initiatives, discussed Ukrainian higher education and met with colleagues and friends, were greatly missed. But now, he finally managed to get out of Kyiv and leave the war behind for a week. Uppsala greeted him with sunshine and blue skies, and many attended his touching and inspiring talk on how Ukraine resisted Russian aggression by holding on to university teaching and education at every level. Sergiy felt the support, warmth, and solidarity surrounding him. However, life suddenly took another turn. Having known Sergiy for almost twenty years, I did not remotely sense that it would be the last time when we said goodbye. On June 1st, 2023, Sergiy suddenly passed away in his home in Kyiv.

For all of us, his many friends and colleagues all over the world, this is a time to grieve him but also to remember him. Sergiy Kurbatov was born and raised in Sumy, on the northeastern border of Russia, in 1971. He graduated from Sumy State University and, while only in his mid-thirties, decided to move to Kyiv to broaden his horizons, both professionally and personally. However, his heart was always in Sumy, where he returned at least once a month to visit his parents and, in recent times, their beloved cat. When I got to know Sergiy, he taught at the National Aviation University in Kyiv, but he soon moved to a more administrative position at the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, working closely with Vasyl Kremen. It was there that he started to develop a profound interest in the internationalization of Ukrainian universities, where he and I also worked together for many years. True to his personality, he also continued teaching, most recently at the National Economic University of Ukraine in Kyiv. He was a beloved teacher, concerned and engaged, teaching with empathy and wisdom. Sergiy radiated a calm and quiet human wisdom as a philosopher and keen observer of human conduct. He always talked about human behaviour with a tender touch, never missing its complexities.

Sergiy was a true global citizen. He loved to travel, visit new places, and experience different cultures. Sergiy spent a year at Brown University in the USA on a Fulbright scholarship. That year meant a lot to him, as did the Fulbright "family" of scholars who had also received scholarships in Ukraine. Whenever we travelled to different universities, Sergiy, who was also my teacher when it came to Ukraine, would arrange for someone from that "family" to host us. He and I visited Toronto together in 2010 to give a talk at the Munk Center at the University of Toronto, and we also travelled to India, specifically Delhi, for a conference. Sergiy was entirely absorbed by Old Delhi with its myriad of people, bicycles, small and big cars, cows, food stalls, and people in the streets begging. He had never seen anything like it before, and we talked about his impression of the city many times afterwards. He was fascinated by the world and its differences, and he was fascinated by people.

Sergiy Kurbatov, a global citizen with a big heart rooted in Sumy, had a deep respect and love for his closest family. Yet, he also had a large family of friends and colleagues that he created on his own. He possessed a warmth and tenderness that always made others feel their best and at ease, yet he was not blind to the darker aspects of the human soul. A teacher and a thinker, he was connected to the spiritual world without turning his back on the mundane. Sergiy had a presence that will never leave those of us who have met him, even though his body is no longer here.

In his short life, Sergiy experienced more than most. Thank you from all of us, your friends and colleagues, for being here. We miss you. Sleep well.

- Li Bennich-Björkman, Skytteansk Professor of eloquence and Political Science

A memorial event for Sergiy Kurbatov will be held at IRES on 21 June at 13:15. The memorial will be acessible here via Zoom. To receive the passcode, please contact:

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Last modified: 2023-06-08