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Published: Monday, 6/7/2010

Ex-surgeon fluent in 4 languages

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Zhanna Volkova of Sylvania, who worked as a surgeon before she fled the former Soviet Union in 1989 and ultimately retired from the Mercy St. Vincent Sleep Disorder Center two years ago, died Wednesday in the Hospice center at Flower Hospital. She was 74.

Ms. Volkova was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last June, though she never smoked, her daughter, Lana Shaulov, said.

Ms. Volkova was born in the Ukraine in 1935, and left her birthplace of Priluke with her mother to escape the German Nazi occupation during World War II. Because of their Jewish heritage, her father and extended family were slain by Nazi troops before her ninth birthday.

She and her mother resettled in the Soviet Union.

Though Jews were barred from higher education by the Soviet regime, Ms. Volkova's high marks qualified her for medical school in Moscow, her daughter said. She graduated with honors, and she specialized in surgery. She continued her education to become a pathologist and ultimately teach biochemistry in medical school.

"She wanted to teach, but my grandmother, she was actually kind of telling her what to do, said, 'Teachers don't make much money,'•" Ms. Shaulov said.

She was in her 50s when her career was derailed by a letter that invited her to move to Israel in 1989. The invitation led to the loss of her job, because Soviets who left the country were considered traitors, Ms. Shaulov said. After being out of work for a year, she decided to again leave the country with her mother. Her then 19-year-old daughter, Ms. Shaulov, was not granted special permission from her father to join her mother.

"We wrote letters every day. At that time it was before cell phones, before the Internet," Ms. Shaulov said.

She fled to a refugee camp in Italy by way of Austria, and after applying for permission to relocate in America, the two were selected for residency by the city of Sylvania.

In northwest Ohio, Ms. Volkova decided to pursue a new trade.

Despite the language barrier - "she didn't speak English," her daughter said - she earned a certificate to become a medical assistant in a year. She turned 62 the same year she changed careers and earned her U.S. citizenship.

"She could have waited three years and collected a Social Security check, but she never wanted that," her daughter said.

She worked at Mercy St. Vincent Sleep Disorder Center for about 10 years before she retired.

She was a talented painter and enjoyed redecorating her Sylvania apartment with her talent, her daughter said. At her death, she was fluent in Polish, Swedish, Russian, and English.

Ms. Volkova is survived by daughter, Lana Shaulov; two granddaughters, and a great-grandchild.

Funeral services will be noon Tuesday at the Chapel of Peace Mausoleum at Toledo Memorial Park Cemetery.

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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