Story | 20 Aug, 2018

Dr Rustam Sagitov, one of Russia’s great nature conservationists

IUCN mourns the loss of Dr Rustam Sagitov, IUCN Regional Councillor for Eastern Europe, North and Central Asia, and Chair of the IUCN National Committee for Russia, who passed away on Sunday, 19 August 2018. Aleksei Zavarzin, IUCN CEC Regional Vice Chair Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Boris Erg, Director, IUCN Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office pay tribute to Dr Rustam, reflecting on his remarkable life and achievements, and the legacy he leaves behind in conservation, in Russia and the world at large.

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Rustam Sagitov

Photo: Baltic Fund for Nature

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Dr Rustam Sagitov on 19 August 2018, IUCN Regional Councillor for Eastern Europe, North and Central Asia, Chair of the IUCN National Committee for Russia, and above all, a dedicated conservationist and good friend. His son, Aleksey, was with him.


Rustam was approaching 68. In 2016, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, he added one more pearl to the long string of achievements in his remarkably prolific professional career. He was elected IUCN Regional Councillor for Eastern Europe, North and Central Asia. Since the very first day, he engaged in the new role with enormous energy and devotion and helped IUCN enhance its presence and visibility in the region while at the same time tirelessly promoting the region to the rest of the world. A dedicated environmentalist, respected professor of St Petersburg State University, a person with nuanced mediation skills and unparalleled kindness and patience, Rustam was the very right person to take on this new task. Today, his untimely passing represents an irreplaceable loss for the entire conservation community. We all feel orphaned realising the absence of his kind gaze, wise advice, and genuine respect for others.


Born in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Rustam graduated from the most prestigious Soviet school – Moscow State University and received his PhD in ornithology from another leading Russian University in St Petersburg. One of the very few Russian biologists in the mid 80s, he was granted a fellowship to spend a year at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Since then, he became the true gateway for the international approaches to conservation in Russia, and further down his career in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He was among the first Russian scientists to see the necessity of a delicate balance between research and conservation action and spent a lot of his energy on countless environmental projects and programmes in the Baltic region, Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and more.


Under Rustam’s leadership the issues of transboundary conservation, regional sustainable planning, and hands-on environmental education became well known in the region. Rustam’s effort to combine Russian tradition in environmental education with international conservation standards and approaches allowed him to nurture generations of young scientists from both his country and abroad, and instil in them lasting love for nature. Rustam’s foresight and wise guidance allowed many young talents to grow into conservation experts and embark on professional careers.


Rustam’s career was extremely prolific. Over the course of more than three decades, Rustam helped develop numerous projects and programmes in Russia, the Baltic region, the Fennoscandian Green Belt, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. His international collaborations and active participation in many international fora significantly contributed to making the region known to the rest of the world. He was one of the founders of the Baltic Fund for Nature, an IUCN Member, a member of the All-Russian Union for Birds Conservation, the St. Petersburg Naturalists Society, official Russian representative in the HELCOM HABITAT Working Group and a member of the Environmental Advisory Council of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.


Above all, Rustam was a good friend and teacher. Throughout his life, Rustam kept the admiration of nature and great care for humans a vital part of it. With his passing, we have lost a mindful colleague and teacher, a person who fully devoted himself to preserving nature and instilling values and integrity into people, a skilful organiser and wise negotiator, and a kind and thoughtful friend.


Rustam has departed prematurely and suddenly, leaving a great legacy and many unfinished projects behind him. It is our task not to let them fade away and cherish the memory of our dear friend Rustam.


“Leave the light when passing away” a popular Russian song says. Rustam has left a lot of light!

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User name: Katalin.CZIPPAN
on Sun, 26 Aug 2018 by Katalin.CZIPPAN (not verified)

Dear Rustam,

Thanks for your life given to all of us, for your beloved ones, human societies and the Created World, Mother Earth. You are major father, friend, scientist, teacher, organiser and leader, all. We have the luck of working with you in IUCN, sharing ideas on how to serve better the nature conservancy in our region, witnessing your humble work as a councillor. When you asked for a word we knew it was worth paying attention, it was always deep, deliberate and honest. Now you left us and started your ride in the heavens. We do our best to keep the light that you left to us. Peace with you. Pax vobiscum.

Vilmos Kiszel and Katalin Czippán