Cherlin V. Strokes to the portrait. Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky // Principy èkologii. 2019. № 2. P. 129‒136. DOI: 10.15393/

Issue № 2

Letters to editors


Strokes to the portrait. Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky

   Vladimir Alexandrovich
PhD, Dagestan state univeersity,
L. I. Khozatsky
Summary: The article tells about a very interesting scientist, teacher, educator and person. This is Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky , associate Professor of the Leningrad state university. He had that odd combination of human qualities: seriousness and "playfulness," even in a certain sense, childishness, rigor and amazing emotional tenderness, even sentimentality. But the most important features of Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky as a serious scientist were: academic, scientific mind, encyclopedic education, absolute pedagogical gift and respect, as well as the ability to truly love not available to everyone. It so happened that the author of this article was well familiar with Lev Isaakovich, with his family. Lev Isaakovich was my scientific mentor, who “set up” my scientific activity on a serious general biological approach to solving even the most particular scientific problems. For this, I express to him my deepest respect, reverence and sincere love.

© Petrozavodsk State University

Received on: 04 December 2018
Published on: 28 June 2019

A few years ago, Lev Yakovlevich Borkin have published an article about Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky (Borkin, 2013). It reports about the life and scientific works of this scientist.

My article is not a systematic statement of the scientist's path or a description of his scientific researches. It does not repeat what has been already written about him. These are my fragmentary, even unrelated to each other memories about him as a person who means a lot to me in past, and still means a lot to me up today. I wrote because I cannot help but write. For me, this is a repayment of a very important duty to a person, thanks to whom I became what I became now, and whom I sincerely love and respect.

Almost all the zoologists of Leningrad, who studied at the Biological department of the Leningrad state university (now it is the Saint-Petersburg state university), passed through the lectures and exams of Lev Isaakovich. And all his students who were still alive, remember him with grate respect.

Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky was really a great scientist. During his lifetime, he has published 267 articles. 2/3 of his publications were concerned reptiles (mainly turtles). The first place in the range of his scientific interests is firmly occupied by paleontology (more than a third), then there are works of general character (the evolutionary theory and the theory of systematics), the others – on morphology and history of science, ecology and physiology (ecological- physiology), zoogeography, the works on philosophy and learning (Borkin, 2013). But at the same time, few people outside of Leningrad knew him, and now, after his death, a new generation of students of the Saint-Petersburg state university do not remember him at all. Nevertheless, Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky certainly influenced the education of several generations of biologists. In this regard, he deserves to have more than one article written about him.

Recently, I have written several articles about biologists, whose memory is somehow smoothed over time. And in every article, I always repeat the same phrase: "We have no right to forget about such extraordinary people!" At the risk of being misunderstood and reproached in repetitions, I consider it my duty to repeat specially in this article too: "We have no right to forget about such extraordinary people! »

And the first thing I want to remember, is my meetings with a married couple – Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky and Alexandra Ivanovna Shcheglova. They lived together for 59 years!

I visited their home in Leningrad, caressed their white cat, drank tea with them. Although Lev Isaakovich himself preferred, if possible, to drink at home not tea, but some kind of oatmeal jelly. The home apartment of Lev Isaakovich was imbued with the spirit of calm, science and ... love. For me, the latter was no less important than anything else. Quiet communication, purring cat at your side… They had a special cat, it didn’t accept everyone, did not go to everyone’s hands and didn’t allowed everyone to caress it. One day, my friend and also a student of Lev Isaakovich, Nikolai Sergeevich Golubev, saw an interesting picture. Lev Isaakovich played with the cat, chasing it around the apartment. The cat pretended to be scared and ran away from him. This couple jumped out into the corridor, and then ran back into the room, and already the cat ran after Lev Isaakovich and "scared" him.

Here, sitting in soft armchairs, serious, we held some unhurried conversations on a variety of topics related to science and ordinary life. Our conversations concerning Lev Simeonovich Berg and Alexander Alexandrovich Lyubishchev were very interesting. I was very interested in their publications at that time, and Lev Isaakovich, recognizing their right to their own view of the problems of evolution, warned me against hasty judgments and believed that their scientific works should be read only at a scientifically mature age, so that they would not cause confusion in scientifically immature minds.

I used to visit them at their cottage in township Komarovo, where Lev Isaakovich and I wandered through the forest, picking mushrooms, and then Alexandra Ivanovna fried them for us, and we all had dinner together with pleasure. We watched and caught vipers in the landings along the railway track, discussing what we saw.

I had the opportunity to see how Lev Isaakovich and Alexandra Ivanovna communicate, and this left an indelible mark on my entire life. I will give an excerpt from my essay that I wrote many years ago, when I was young. To a large extent, this essay was written under the impression of communicating with their family:

"...And here is, the young love on wave of sensual ecstasy soars in boundless heights, and then it descends to the level of fussy everyday life and its unformed spirituality, and again up, and then down... By old age, the even and calm spirit of two people, not indignant so much y carnal lusts, experienced and wise, tempered by the ups and downs of passionate youth and affirmed by the achievements of maturity, continues to grow and became stronger; the spiritual love, filling the entire space of their souls, so inextricably merges together the united by the Lord spouses, that no more troubles, no temptations, nor even death can separate them anymore. And again, and again, with tears of affection and light sadness, I remember the words of an elderly man who now has already died, addressed to his seriously ill wife: "Don't worry, I will always be with you... If you lose your vision – I will be yours eyes, if you lose your hearing – I will be your ears, if you can't walk – I will become your feet... Don't worry, we are together forever...” For a worldly person, this is the highest point of love, which is closest to God, and it is actually richer and brighter than all its sensuously enthusiastic young ups, it is indeed something to strive for, that is worth asking God. Such a high spiritual love pours out in excess on everything around, it enlivens, surprises and touches, solace and directs, it makes people and the whole world cleaner and kinder. »

It was surprising that I, who accidentally happened to be near at this amazing conversation between two elderly people, heard such pathos, but at the same time absolutely calm words spoken by Lev Isaakovich to his beloved wife. They were the expression of a deep human essence. Perhaps, someone will consider this text too theatrical, ostentatious, far-fetched, somehow unnatural. But it was really! Maybe someone will consider this text too theatrical, ostentatious, far-fetched, somewhat unnatural. But it really was! And, knowing Lev Isaakovich also from this side, I felt an incredible surprise just from the fact that everything he said came from the heart, from the very depths of the soul, without the slightest shadow of falsehood and guile, completely sincerely and naturally. I remember this episode for the rest of my life! It accompanies me from my youth to the present days, when I am already in adulthood. It's impossible to forget! Twice in my life I have come across such a stunning, tender, highest expression of love of a couple who lived together to old age. One such couple was the family of Professor-toxicologist Pyotr Pavlovich Perfiliev. They were also very elderly spouses, but their tender attitude to each other was simply fascinating! And the second was thq family of L.I. Khozatsky. When I looked at these spouses, I felt the same state as if for the first time in my life I was facing some unsurpassed human creation, for example, the "Sistine Madonna" ... but this is much higher – it is a manifestation of real, truly divine love! And what I have just said is no longer my overly pretentious statement. This is the real truth. Selfless, sincere, sacrificial love – is a priceless gift of God, that a person receives. And if he treats it correctly, if he carefully and reverently carries it through his whole life, through all trials, precisely in a divine way, then it makes sense to remember this no less than about the achievements of this person in science, art or in social life. This is extremely important! This is one of the most important characteristics of a person! This is just for what my meetings with Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky were of great value for me. This is a talent, and perhaps the most important one to talk about and remember. And I'm happy that I saw it!

I lived in Tashkent all the 80's. I often flew to Leningrad and every time I met with Lev Isaakovich. I went to his Department of zoology of vertebrate animals in the university, and we sat for a long time, talking about a variety of things, beginning from the thermal biology of reptiles and up to family relationships, various difficult life situations, and so on. I really appreciated these conversations. Among other things, they showed me how important it is to be able to talk to him on all these topics, how versatile person he is. He is like with a “double bottom” – it seems to be simple and straightforward, but in fact, when he opened, appears to be deep and sensitive.

When Lev Isaakovich passed away and we came to their house in a large group after saying goodbye at the crematorium, Alexandra Ivanovna came up to me, leaned over to my ear, and looking around, so that no one else could hear her, asked me: "Don't you feel that he is here now? " I froze, and my heart ached literally. It was exactly what I felt immediately when I entered the house! Lev Isaakovich was here! Having lived a great life in this beloved apartment among his favorite books and soft old furniture, with his beloved wife, he did not leave either one or the other after his death. No wonder he said to his Alexandra Ivanovna: “Don’t worry, you and I will be together forever ...”



Why do I consider Lev Isaakovich my main, most important teacher and mentor in the field of science in general and biology in particular?

We met when I was a schoolboy. I come to the school biological olympiad and occurred in the parlor of Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky. Then I did reach the final, but my interest in amphibians and reptiles acquired a certain meaning – I met a man who made this interest his specialty. That was very important for me at that time. This gave a definite direction to my life.

I started visiting the Department of vertebrate zoology and its Zoological clud. In parallel I began to visit Lev Isaakovich regularly. In the last years of school, when I went to the South of our country for the summer, we talked about the options for those elementary works that I could do while on vacation. Most of these works concerned observations related to the thermal conditions of life of sand lizards (Lacerta agilis). I tried, and even something I did.

Then I started reading more and more literature about reptiles, about zoologists' travels to different countries, geographical descriptions of Middle Asia and other regions that were very interesting for me. My most "readable" authors at that time were E.N. Pavlovsky, F.F. Talyzin, P.P. Perfilyev, A.D. Nedyalkov, M.D. Makhlin, S.V. Pigulevsky, A.N. Formozov, O.P. Bogdanov, and others. When I have finished the school (and it was the English school), instead of practical training, I agreed to translate from English into Russian a book on the origin of turtles for Lev Isaakovich. Having entered the Biological department of the Leningrad state university, and at the same time having come to the work in the terrarium of the Leningrad Zoo, I began to gain experience, observe, set up the first experiments. In parallel I also go on expeditions to Middle Asia (Karakum desert, Badkhyz). I often consulted with Lev Isaakovich on many complex questions.

Although we did not always agree on specific scientific problems, it was always extremely important for me to know his opinion, even critical, primarily because Lev Isaakovich could look at even the most basic questions through the prism of global general biological views and problems. This could be done only by a person with a broad scientific outlook, armed with a general scientific methodology and culture. I perceived him as (and indeed he was) one of the last encyclopedists, "smithers of the Golden age" of Russian classic biological science of the XIX-th – beginning of the XX-th century. Representatives of this group of people can be met now very rear, exactly before my view they began to leave quickly one by one. And it was twice more important for me to communicate with Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky.

Despite the fact that my specific, thermobiological physiological and ecological studies, which I had already begun to conduct by that time, were completely independent, I developed, implemented and analyzed their planning, methodology, etc., Lev Isaakovich had a huge impact on the “general philosophy” of my work.

Despite the fact that my specific, thermobiological, physiological and environmental studies, which I had already started to conduct, were completely independent, their planning, methodology, etc. I developed, implemented and analyzed myself, Lev Isaakovich had a huge impact on the "general philosophy" of my works. Once again, I would like to draw your attention to an important point: although our views on particular problems, specific works, etc., did not always converge, Lev Isaakovich instilled and corrected the general biological and scientific approach to solving problems, for which I am immensely grateful to him. Perhaps this is just the phenomenon of the scientific school. And my communication with Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky at the time when I was being formed as a scientist, introduced me to this school that now is already leaving. Probably, only God can be thanked for this, because this aspect (to occur in the right place at the right time) did not depend on me in any way, it was not my merit.

My research has gradually "shattered" some of the established, classic ideas of ecological physiology about thermal and other adaptations and other important aspects of reptile biology. I can't say that Lev Isaakovich was happy about this. We argued, each of us, most often, remained at his own convictions, but these disputes with a person of this level were very valuable, enriched experience, provided the basis for new thoughts, new works. For me, it was just a gift from God.

Thus, Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky did not participate in the planning and implementation of my researches, but, of course, was for me the most valuable teacher and mentor in science.

I think that not only I can say this about his role in life and in scientific activity.



I was surprised and pleased by his reaction to the book I wrote about the organization of the phenomenon of life, about evolution. It was more than 30 years ago – in the second half of the 80's. I then lived in Tashkent and, to a large extent, based on the results of my own experimental studies, I developed a concept of attitude to the phenomenon of life, its organization and evolution. This concept differed significantly in its essence from the synthetic theory of evolution that was generally accepted at that time. I have written a brochure on this subject. For me, this was the first large work I had wrote. And I set out to print it in the Uzbek branch of the academic publishing house "Nauka". Scientific recommendations were needed for its publication.

One positive recommendation was given by Tashkent University. And here I cannot but mention with deep respect and gratitude about the wonderful biologist, one of the few who supported me in my opposition to the established system of views - about Oleg Vilyevich Mitropolsky. The point was not that I was directly opposed to the "foundations", but that I was defending my point of view. And Oleg Vilyevich supported me.

But I needed a second recommendation. And here I realized that I could not help asking Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky about it, but at the same time I was very afraid of it. I could not have foreseen his attitude to such a radical position. So, it turned out: both showing him and not showing him was equally scary.

However, of course, I sent him a manuscript for review. A little later, during one of my visits to Leningrad, we met, and I waited with awe for his verdict. The reaction of Lev Isaakovich was unexpected for me. In an official recommendation from the Department of Vertebrate Zoology of Leningrad State University, which he wrote himself, there were two main thoughts. First: my concept, as well as the generally accepted one, by and large, is fundamentally unprovable, since direct experiments and direct evidence for objective reasons cannot be obtained. And at the same time, my concept is no less justified (by indirect evidence and logical arguments) than the synthetic theory of evolution. From here followed a second thought: my concept of organization and the evolution of life has every right to exist as a hypothesis, and he recommends the manuscript for publication. Honestly, such a position was unexpected for me, but it became another very important touch to the portrait of Lev Isaakovich as a person and scientist, able to perceive the new, and most importantly - unexpected in science, and if it is not frankly incorrect, at least grant it the right to exist, to seek its place. Whether this place is found or not – is a matter of the future. But then, for a number of reasons beyond my control, this brochure did not appear, and, having finalized it, I already published a book on this subject much later (Cherlin, 2012).



Lev Isaakovich had his own cabinet at the Department of vertebrate Zoology at LSU. It was a small, long room. At one end of this room was a door that opened into the corridor of the Department of vertebrate Zoology. At the other end was a window where Lev Isaakovich's table stood. Near this table there was a chair where students who passed the terrible exam – comparative vertebrate anatomy – were usually doomed to sit. All zoologists feared this exam as much or even more than techies feared the exam on resistance of materials. The room was divided along the entire length by bookcases with literature and all sorts of things needed in the work. Thus, a long, very narrow passage led to Lev Isaakovich's table from the door, and in one place a passage was left between the bookcases that led to a narrow, like a crack, nook. There, in this nook, there was a small table with a lamp and a chair where one could sit and work. I sometimes sat there, reading and working, and listening to the dialogues that Lev Isaakovich sometimes had with students. Not all of them, of course, interested me. But there were also "pearls"!

Lev Isaakovich was not an absolutely serious person. He was very fond of jokes, liked good anecdotes, which he laughed at heartily, and even collected them. Sitting in my nook, I once accidentally overheard an examination of a student from Mongolia. She spoke Russian almost fluently. However, I was attracted by the fact that she seriously narrates Lev Isaakovich that in the remote areas of Mongolia the flocks were grazed by huge white dogs with two heads (this is at the University exam in comparative anatomy!!!). The bickering on this topic first went violently, and then subsided, being replaced by an equally interesting topic, to which the conversation was already switched by Lev Isaakovich: he for a long time, thoroughly and very academically tried to explain to the Mongolian student the whole deep meaning and specific emotionality of the Russian idiomatic, untranslatable expression “prisobachit’”, which has the word “dog” (in Russian – “sobaka”) in the root and which roughly means “to stick”, “to attach”, or something similar. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly their conversation, but I only remember that I was sitting behind the bookcases, holding my stomach with one hand and holding my mouth with the other, and shaking with silent laughter... It was an improvisational masterpiece! Simply – the ready pop number! And this is performed by a serious scientist – Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky!



Having studied the temperature conditions of the European adder, Vipera berus, I tried to find a place where there would be quite a lot of snakes, but which would be located near the city. I have found such a place. It was located near the Komarovo railway station, in a thicket of bushes along the railway track. At first, I went there myself, but then I told Lev Isaakovich about it. He was very surprised, because in summer he lived just in Komarovo, i.e. almost every day he walked near this place, but he never noticed vipers there. He asked me to show him this place.

During one of our first joint excursions for vipers, I noticed that he behaves himself exactly not as I used to do it. I usually tried not to draw the attention of people around me or passers-by to what I was doing, especially when it concerns the work with the poisonous snakes. First, you can scare people. They probably didn't know that vipers lived near them. They did not know, they walked around calmly, did not worry, and never saw these snakes, because vipers themselves try to hide from humans. And apparently there were no accidents with snakes in this place. If people will know about such dangerous neighbors, they will be afraid to walk around the neighborhood and will not let the children go for a walk. In addition, someone may come up with an idea to destroy all the snakes in the area, since they are here, and this can be dangerous both for vipers and for whoever decides to deal with them. Secondly, it is very difficult to predict how people will react to what they will see. I have already encountered such unexpected reactions. So, seeing how I take some poisonous snakes, how it looks outwardly simple and everyday, some people suddenly decide that if I do it so easily, then it is not difficult at all and they can freely do the same. And suddenly people who have never taken any snakes in their hands, rush to grab dangerous snakes. It will be well, if there is a specialist nearby. And if not? And sometimes there are completely unexpected reactions. Once, long ago, I worked in the Zoo, I fixed in my hands a large lebetina viper (Vipera lebetina). And it was done for some "special" guests, because I had to show them something (I don't remember what it was). Suddenly a young girl jumps out of the group, stretches quickly her hands to the head of the snake, and I barely have time to pull the snake away from her… It's lucky that I did not get confused and did not make a mistake that could cost not only health, but even the life either to me, this girl, or maybe someone else. Later I found this girl and asked her: “Why did you do this? What did you want?” So, after all, she couldn’t even answer these questions to me! The meaning of her answers was unexpected: “I don’t know… I wanted somehow...”

Such reactions happen, they are absolutely illogical, unexpected and it is therefore, alas, impossible to predict them. Therefore, having this previous experience, when catching vipers and performing certain manipulations with them, I tried to turn away from people and, if there was an opportunity, to step aside, not to be seen.

But Lev Isaakovich, on the contrary, wanted to attract the attention of passers-by. He asked me to turn around and scare them, and so on. This was some kind of childish reaction that I did not expect from such an elderly and serious person. I, of course, did not succumb, and on the contrary, to the frustration of Lev Isaakovich, I left with caught snakes away from people.


This is how the most different human qualities were combined in one person: seriousness and playfulness, even childishness, austerity and amazing emotional tenderness, even sentimentality. But, in my opinion, the most important features of Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky were: academic, scientific mindset, encyclopedic education, unconditional pedagogical gift and respect, as well as the ability to truly love that is not available to everyone. And although Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky has been gone long time ago, I express my deepest respect and reverence to him, my sincere love!


In conclusion, I would like to thank my friend Fyodor Karlik, who encouraged me to write these memoirs.


Borkin L. Ya. Lev Isaakovich Khozatsky (1913–1992) as a zoologist, herpetologist and paleontologist, Trudy Zoologicheskogo instituta RAN. 2013. T. 317. No. 4. P. 356–371.

Cherlin V. A. The organization of the process of life as a system. SPb.: Russko-Baltiyskiy informacionnyy centr «BLIC», 2012. 124 p.

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