Illya Kun is an amazing professor, and I am really glad I took a class with him. You can tell he really cares about his students, and whether his students are learning or not. The class atmosphere was very upbeat, and you felt free to ask questions about even the most random of things (like dozens of different words for hats, or the usage difference between a perfective and imperfective word, or what some random slang you heard in a song means). He doesn't give up on students, which I think is even more important for small classes like those in the Russian language department. Illya puts in the extra effort to help all of his students succeed, and I really appreciated that, given how difficult a language Russian is. Plus, he's funny, and has lots of interesting cultural stories about Soviet Russia, and Ukraine, so you'll learn not only about the Russian language, but the culture as well. If Russian is not super easy for you, but you are invested in getting better, you should definitely take a class with Illya. He's very good at recognizing what a student knows and doesn't know, and helping accordingly. But not in the kind of way that makes you lazy. If you are already really good at Russian, or the kind of student who likes a more focused, regimented kind of class, you might be *slightly* annoyed at how often the class will digress into discussions that are fascinating and highly technical, but not ultimately useful for your grade. These digressions, though, are wonderfully informative.
Nataliya is not only one of the best professors I have ever come across, but is truly one of the most kind-hearted and welcoming individuals on this planet. Seriously. In class, she is a compassionate (albeit demanding) professor, who sets high expectations and thoroughly invests herself in the progress of her students. She always comes to class with a huge rush of energy, despite the fact that she teaches multiple sections and oversees the entire language program (with Alla Smyslova, I believe). Moreover, she makes herself essentially available at all hours - willing to meet at any time, answering e-mails late at night, staying after class to talk, etc. She and her husband Ilya (also a fantastic human being) recently came here from Harvard, and they both are exuberant and devoted to their subject. I have heard stories of students going to Russia and meeting up with Nataliya and Ilya, going around the city with them to concerts, bars, museums, etc. For me personally, Nataliya has been an essential member in my progress - writing numerous letters of recommendation (often at short-notice), referring me to different language programs and different people, offering advice, discussing topics related to other courses, talking about life, etc. I wholeheartedly recommend Nataliya, and would tell any of my friends to take Russian with her as a must before leaving Columbia.
Illya is an extremely adept teacher. He's Nataliya's husband, and looking at her reviews they're like the dynamic duo of the Slavic languages. He is very skilled at telling exactly where each student is with the lesson, and making sure everyone understands the topic at hand before moving on. He makes sure to engage every student with the material, and his teaching style is very casual. He also sporadically intersperses anecdotes about living in Soviet Russia in class, which are total gems.
What is it about the Russian department monopolizing all the nice professors? This woman is incredibly nice, smart, patient, and instructive. She isn't even Russian, and her accent sounds like it's on the money! I look forward to her class every day, and I listen to every word she says in order to maximize my learning. Margo is a treasure. She will keep you on your toes, though.... No slipping through the cracks in this class.