meet our team

Slavonic and East European Studies is was a KU Leuven research group that, in three campuses and from a variety of research angles, focusesd on Russia and Poland. Here, we overcome the shyness that is natural to scholars, to introduce ourselves to you. We’ll talk about our research, publications and courses elsewhere.

Anna Kisiel

Anna is our professor of Polish linguistics (campus Leuven)

akcarreI was born in Poznań to an art historian and Polish literature teacher. Surrounded by books and art, I was, in a way, predestinated to get on a philological path from my early days, even though at the beginning my both parents were not particularly excited about this choice.

Most of my life I spent in Toruń, on a flatland, 170km from the sea and over double the distance from the mountains. I lived there, worked and studied. And missed the seaside and mountains.

For the past years my life has been a travel. Not only in a philosophical sense but also pretty literally. After my PhD in Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń, Poland, I moved for a year to Bulgaria to work at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University in Veliko Tarnovo. Afterwards I returned to Poland to complete postdoc research in Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Science. Even though it is located in Warsaw, I chose to live first in Kraków, then in Łódź. From there I came in mid-2015 to Leuven

When I’m not involved in science, I cook, eat and travel, enjoying the conversations life brings me.

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Antonina Volodina

Antonina is our teaching assistant of Russian (campus Antwerp)

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Bert Willems

Bert Willems is the chairman of our alumni organisation VOSTOK (campus Leuven)

bert2My choice for Slavonic and Eastern European Studies was a “calculated guess”. I knew what I didn’t want to study (engineering, medicine, law, economics…) and what I did like (history, languages, politics, culture…). Area Studies combined all my interests. Since everybody from my generation (early Nillies) only talked about Sinology, I went for something else: Slavistics. Luckily, my guess turned out to be a great choice. My passion for the area and all it entails arose quickly and hasn’t left me to this day.

During my studies I was actively involved in the organisation of student life in Leuven – as the president of EOOS, the student organization for Area Studies, but also as the International Coordinator of LOKO, the student body council of KU Leuven. After graduating, it felt only natural to continue my commitment to students by volunteering as an alumnus. I became the chairman of VOSTOK, the organization for the alumni of Slavonic Studies, which is all about getting alumni, students and staff members to interact, share experiences and impressions, and working towards an ever stronger community of KU Leuven Slavists.

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Choumicha Ridouani

Choumicha is our administrative coordinator (campus Leuven)

choumichacarreI was born in one of the most beautiful regions of Morocco (Beni Touzine) and grew up in one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium (Leuven), to end up in one of the most impressive research groups of the KU Leuven Faculty of Arts. My first encounter with this unit was as a student. Eager to know and to figure out more about my roots, mother tongue and culture from a scientific perspective, I enrolled in Arabic and Islamic Studies, which more than satisfied my curiosity. During these studies, I got in touch with different languages, cultures and traditions, including the history of the Slavs.

After my studies, I started working at the Faculty of Arts as an administrative coordinator of the research cluster Language and Area Studies. My job is to provide the necessary support to a wide variety of studies: Japanese Studies, Sinology, Middle East Studies, Arabic and Islamic Studies, Greek Studies, and, last but not least, Slavonic and East European Studies. This educational diversity provides me with the opportunity to come into contact with the way of thinking, the languages and the cultures of people from all over the world. This makes my work feel a bit like a second home for me.

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Emmanuel Waegemans

Emmanuel is our professor emeritus of Russian literature and culture (campus Leuven)

waegemans-carreWhen I was sixteen, I was confronted with books by Dostoevsky which I took from my parents’ library. I was fascinated by the bizarre, extravagant world of Russia discribed by Dostoevsky and populated by weird people. This fascination never again left me. During my study of Slavic Philology I got an insight in the completely different world of the communist country which was Russia at the time (seventies, Cold War). I got engaged in underground activities of dissidents and became persona non grata for the Soviet authorities between 1978 and 1989.

In the meantime I developed a deep love for the fascinating and never boring beauty and excentricity of Russian literature, history and people. Russia is a never ending story, which keeps you going for the rest of your life. Russland, Russland und kein Ende…

In the seventies I studied one year in Germany (Bonn) and got infected by the philological interests of German scholarship, but this never prevented me from elaborating my personal interest and approach in all things Russian.

Although I started my adult age as a germanophile and became a lusitanophile in the nineties, I never lost my interest and love for the beauty of the Russian language. My hope is that Russia will convert into a modern, civilized country during my lifetime.

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Eva Claessen

Eva is our assistant (campus Leuven)

evac2My love for the Russian language began when I was 16 years old. A new teacher introduced himself by reading a translation of a poem by the Russian poet Pushkin. The German translation was flanked by the original Russian text. I was hooked. The mysterious letters made it seem like some kind of secret language. From that moment on I was determined to learn how to decipher it. I took an evening course in Russian and immersed myself into Russian literature. During my studies at KU Leuven, this passion became more intense and another passion, for Polish literature and culture, was added to it, together with an interest in Russian politics.

I did not want to just study Slavonic languages and culture, I also wanted to experience them firsthand. That’s why I took a language course in the Russian city Petrozavodsk, spent a wonderful semester in Lublin as an Erasmus student, and did an internship at the Belgian Embassy in Ukraine. These experiences abroad provided me with the opportunity to improve the command of my languages, but also to meet many interesting people who have enriched my life.

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Ewa Schalley

Ewa is our teaching assistant of Russian (campus Leuven)

ewaschalleyI assume you know chess (Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer…), but have you heard of draughts (“dammen” in Dutch, “warcaby” in Polish and “шашки” in Russian)? And not the kind that`s played on a chessboard (with 64 fields and 12 pieces for each opponent), but the kind that`s played on a board with 100 fields and 20 pieces each? These “international” draughts (warcaby stupolowe / международные шашки) are my first love. This first love has led me to my second love: my husband, who in turn has led me to Belgium. Having arrived in Belgium in 1996 I discovered my passion for languages. Already having a bachelor degree in English language (University of Wrocław, Poland), I first learned Dutch at the Instituut voor Levende Talen in Leuven (1996-1997), where I`m currently employed. Next in line were Russian and Polish at KU Leuven. Finally I got my PhD degree at the University of Antwerp (2008). Now I have the luck that my passion has become my profession: I teach languages (Russian at Instituut voor Levende Talen and Polish at Centrum voor Levende Talen) and I’m loving it!

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Herman Seldeslachts

Herman is our research associate (campus Leuven)

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Karlien Verhaeghe

Karlien is our expert librarian (campus Leuven)

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Kris Van Heuckelom

Kris is our professor of Polish literature and culture (campus Leuven) and coordinator of our research group

kris-van-heuckelomI am a child of the Cold War. My earliest encounter with the world behind the Iron Curtain took place in the early 1980s, when I was about six years old. One of my uncles was involved in solidarity actions set up to help the Poles suffering under martial law. One day, this uncle came back to Belgium and offered my parents an icon representing the Divine Mother. Kitschy and ugly as it was, this image of the Black Madonna came to occupy a central place in our living room and excited my childish curiosity because of a seemingly unpronounceable inscription: Pod twoją obronę uciekamy się. Soon after, these five words became some sort of secretive code for me and my two brothers, a mysterious mantra which we used to repeat to each other at various occasions.

madonnaOnly as a first-year student of Slavic in Leuven, I came to discover the actual meaning of the Polish text. (Although currently in pretty bad shape, the Black Madonna can still be admired in my office.) The rest is history. Over the past two decades, I have taken multiple opportunities to experience life in East Central Europe. After finishing my PhD in Polish literature, me and my family moved across the Atlantic Ocean and spent one year in the second largest Polish city of the world (Chicago, home to more than 1 million Polish immigrants and ethnics). Upon our return to Europe, we settled in the Francophone part of Belgium, which means that border-crossing has now become one of my daily routines.

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Lien Verpoest

Lien is our professor of Russian area studies and coordinator of our students exchange programs (campus Leuven)

lienI am the daughter of a scientist and a poetic humanities teacher. My parents had a postcard on their office door with Joseph Beuys’ famous words ‘Wer Nicht Denken Will, Fliegt Raus!’ If I would say that this became the tagline of my youth, I’d be lying. I was raised with a love for art, literature and travel. My parents took me around the world, with longer stays in the US and Asia.

In high school, Russian literature made me realize that Russia was still the great unknown for me. During my studies, I became fascinated with Russian history. It was only during an MA year in International Politics at the University of Lund in Sweden that I discovered the complexity of Russian politics, and especially Russia’s challenging relationship with Western Europe. After my PhD in Political Science, I returned to the Faculty of Arts. There, I teach several courses on Eastern European politics and history, which, especially in the Russian case, are very complementary topics.

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Marina Ferry

Marina is a teacher at our Center for Russian Studies (campus Leuven)

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Martine Van Goubergen

Martine is our professor of Russian (campus Brussels)

martineWhy Russia? At first it was Russian music and, more specifically, the violin concerto of Tchaikovsky which captivated my attention and awakened my fascination for this mysterious country and culture. My father, who was a musician himself, used this opening to introduce me to other areas of Russian culture. And so I took my first steps into the magical world of Russian thought and Russian arts.

But to put all these new materials and impressions into context, I had to reinforce my own Western background. So I first plunged into a four-year journey through classical studies. Plato and Seneca guided me, Homer and Virgil inspired me.

After my classical studies, I intended just to take a course in Russian literature, but this was without taking into account the persuasive power of Professor Jan Scharpé, who warned me that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I took a course in Russian literature without taking a course in Russian language. So I decided to do the full four-year program in Slavonic studies, a decision which I have never regretted. Russian language and literature opened the doors of Russian philosophy to me. My doctoral thesis was on Lev Shestov, one of the most appealing authors I have ever read. His profound knowledge of both Western and Russian thought strengthened my conviction that life is not a question of either… or, but rather of both… and.

“But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong stand face to face” (Kipling)

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Nelly Grebeneva

Nelly is our teaching assistant of Russian (campus Antwerp)

Olga Novitskaja

Olga is our professor of Russian language and interpreting (campus Antwerp)

olganovIt is difficult for the new generation to understand what it was like when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. When I arrived in Belgium as the young wife of a Belgian Slavist, it was not just for me as though I was disembarking on another planet, but for the Belgian students as well, it was like meeting an alien from another planet. “Do Russians really exist after all?” was what I could read in their eyes.

A lot of things were very different indeed, and a lot of other things were so familiar and so recognizable. This play of differences and similarities and the very good contact I had from the very beginning with the Slavonic scholars and students surrounding my husband made me want to share my perspective, as a native, on Russian language and culture.

And so I decided to enroll in Slavonic studies. My doctoral thesis was on Gogol. Why this author? There is a very simple explanation: when I was a child, my father used to read me Pushkin’s fairy tales as bedtime stories. But I noted that his bedside book was Gogol’s Dead Souls. When I asked him why he was reading this book, he answered me: “This book is about our lives and about our country. This book is all about us!”  So Gogol and my PhD made me feel as if I was returning to my roots.

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Pieter Boulogne

Pieter is our professor of Russian literature and culture (campus Leuven) and webmaster

kipI find it difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why I grew from a normal Flemish boy into a Slavist, but I like thinking that my sister, having presented me with my first Dostoevsky book (The Eternal Husband) when I turned 16 and, on top of that, having introduced me to the early movies by Emir Kusturica, is partly responsible. During my doctoral period, overexposure almost got me cured from my Dostoevsky mania.

My career as a Slavist has led me to, among other curious places, the university of Antwerp, where I’ve been training Russian translators and interpreters, and Ghent university, where I have been teaching (and am still teaching) Russian literature. Apart from that, being a committed public service interpreter myself, I have trained future public service interpreters and translators in Brussels, as an employee of the Flemish Integration Agency. With my recent appointment as a professor of Russian literature at KU Leuven, I feel I have returned home – although, in fact, I have never completely quitted this institute since I enrolled here as a student in 2000. Sticky place.

In 2014, I was granted political asylum in Wallonia, where I live with my girlfriend, surrounded by chickens and daughters, in a small village où on se dit bonjour. If it wasn’t for them, I would indulge more often in literary translation from Russian, chess (amateurish level) and Italian swear words (proficient level).

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Raymond Detrez

Raymond is our professor emeritus of history of the Balkans (campus Leuven)

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Rosalinde Aendekerk

Rosalinde is our student counselor (campus Leuven)

rosalindeI got acquainted with the Slavic world by dancing. As a teenager, each year I traveled through East Europe as a member of the folk dance group De Boezeroenen, to participate at international folklore festivals. This is where my love for Slavic dances, music, languages and cultures began, and how I learned my first Slavic words. With great enthusiasm I discovered, on a beautiful autumn day, the unsuspected existence of Slavonic and East European Studies. A study program built around the languages, cultures, history and societies of my favorite region? It seemed too beautiful to be real.

But real it was! A couple of years afterwards, I became one of these Slavic dancers that I had always been looking up to. During my stay in Wrocław as an exchange program student I went dancing and singing twice a week at the folk dance group Kalina. And that summer, I found myself on the stage of the International Folklore Festival of Hasselt as a Polish dancer.

After graduating in Slavonic Studies and completing my Academic Teaching Training, I started working as a student counselor at the Faculty of Arts of KU Leuven. My job is to coach students of the subfaculty Language and Area Studies, which includes Slavistics, from the very first day of their arrival until their graduation proclamation. In so doing, I can share my passion for the Slavs with our future generations of Slavists.

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Sandra Toffel

Sandra is our assistant in Polish linguistics (campus Leuven)

sandravierkantI grew up in the city of dwarves, also known as Wrocław. After my parents brought me to a library for the first time, there was no way back. I became an avid reader, sharing my time between exploring bookshelves and following theatre workshops. After high school, I moved to Cracow, to deepen these interests by studying Polish philology and comparative literature. Accidentally, this city, with its small and cozy cinemas, became a place where I developed my slightly weird taste for movies. There, I also discovered Italo Calvino’s books, which soon inspired me to go to Italy to study his work. While strolling around narrow streets during my year in Venice, I met a group of Italian students, who were studying Polish. That was a revelation which shaped my future path. I came back to Cracow and started studying teaching Polish as a foreign language, and soon began working out new ways how to make Polish more user-friendly for foreigners, who take up the challenge to learn it. And this is what I still do here in Leuven, working in our department since 2012.

When I’m not writing on a black board, I try to find the next unique bookshop, or learn the names of unusual spices, to use them in my kitchen.

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Tatjana Soldatjenkova (In memoriam)

Tatjana was our professor of Russian linguistics (campus Leuven)

Vladimir Ronin

Vladimir is our professor of Russian history and culture (campus Antwerp)


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Vladimir Zherebov

Vladimir is our lecturer in Russian (campus Leuven)

vlazherBeing born in the eighties in the Urals, I lived a childhood through the last years of the Soviet Union. There, I witnessed the infamous period of Perestroika and the transformation of Russia into its current state, whereupon I moved to Belgium. That, in a way, makes me a child of two profoundly different cultures – which is probably reflected in my further academic and teaching activities.

My main field of interest has always been at the crossroads of language and psychology. My curiosity about human creativity has eventually brought me to the doors of KU Leuven, where I obtained a doctoral degree with a cognitive analysis of Russian poetry.

Currently, I’m teaching Russian language and linguistics in the bachelor and master programs of Slavonic and East European Studies. Apart from that, I coordinate various Russia-related  events under the supervision of our Arts Faculty. In our Center for Russian Studies, I organize Russian language courses for adults from outside our university, including an intensive annual course of Russian and a workshop of poetic translation.

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Wim Coudenys

Wim is our professor of Russian history (campus Antwerp)

wimcI studied Russian, not only because I wanted to do something different from my friends in school, but primarily because I wanted to get access to sources that hardly any Belgian historian could read. And I never regretted my choice: Russia is a fascinating country, and I’m never short of subjects to look into.

My main interest is Belgian-Russian relations during the interwar period. It was triggered by my granddad, who during the First World War saw Russian Prisoners of War in a neighboring village, and I kept digging until I found out what was really had been going on. I’m primarily interested in people, their relations (networks) and their achievements (be in in culture, politics, life in general).

Apart from being a historical sleuth (and enjoying every bit of it), I’m also intrigued by the way ‘Russian history’ came about and, from a contemporary point of view, how Russia’s past is presented and (ab)used for political reasons. I like to challenge my students’ prior convictions, if not prejudices, with regard to Russia (and the West as well!). My ultimate goal: that you should never take anything for granted, but start to critically assess the world you are living in.

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