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Famous Americans with Russian Roots

Famous Americans with Russian Roots

Russian Immigrants at Ellis Island

Friday, November 18, 2016

by Letitia Rydjeski

America is a land built by immigrants, people who come looking for opportunity, freedom, and a better life. And a fair number of those immigrants have come from Russia, the former Soviet Union, and the former Russian empire. According to the latest US Census data, there are about 3 million Russian-Americans in the US. 

We researched famous Americans with Russian roots and offer this compilation. Our database is by no means comprehensive, but it is the most complete list we have seen anywhere, and we will be constantly supplementing and adding to it (send us additions and updates).

{Click on the individual's profession or avocation to read short bio.}


Ernst Neizvestny ~ Artist
(1925 - 2016) Born in Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg today). A sculptor, painter and graphic artist, he fought and was severely wounded in World War II. Studied art in Riga, Latvia and Moscow. In 1962, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev criticized Neizvestny's modernistic sculptures as "degenerate." Emigrated to the US in 1976, after which he gained international renown, becoming the recipient of multiple international awards for his massive sculptures. In 2004 he became an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts. [more info]

Mikhail Shemyakin ~ Artist
(1943 - ) Born in Moscow and raised in a military family. He studied art in Leningrad (St. Petersburg today) but was expelled for his controversial creative work concerning religious art. Further controversy around his art eventually caused the Soviet authorities to subject him to psychiatric treatment in the late 1960's and expel him from the Soviet Union in 1971. He settled in Paris where he achieved international acclaim. He has worked in various media, achieving renown for his paintings, sculptures and stage designs. Shemyakin lived in New York from 1981 until 2007, when he returned to Paris.


Mark Benioff ~ CEO & Philanthropist
The founder of Salesforce and soon to be owner of TIME magazine traces his roots back to Kiev, from where his grandfather came to the US as a refugee. [more info]

Michael Bloomberg ~ Businessman, Ex-mayor of New York
(1942 - ). Born in Boston, his paternal grandfather, Alexander "Elick" Bloomberg, was an immigrant from Russia. His maternal grandfather, Max Rubens, was an immigrant from present-day Belarus, then part of the Russian empire. He graduated in 1964 with a BS in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and earned an MBA from Harvard in 1966 and then worked on Wall Street for many years. Laid off from Salomon Brothers in 1981 with a $10 million severance, he began his own business information company that grew into the financial industry's premier screen-based info provider and a business information empire. He was elected Mayor of New York in late 2001, and held that office until 2013. Since then he has been active in both business and national politics. [more info]

Sergey Brin ~ Co-founder of Google
(1973 -) Born in Moscow, Brin emigrated with his family to the US in 1979. In 1993 he earned a BA in mathematics at the University of Maryland, then did doctoral work in computer science at Stanford. He established Google with friend Larry Page in 1996. Brin is also involved in numerous other scientific and philanthropic works. [more info]

Peter Demens ~ Entrepreneur
(1850-1919) was born Pyotr Alexeyevitch Dementyev was a Russian immigrant to the United States who became a railway owner and one of the founders of the U.S. city of St. Petersburg, Florida. [more info]

Ben and Perry Feigenson ~ Entrepreneurs
Ben and Perry Feigenson emigrated from Russia to Detroit, where they began working in a bakery. They opened a bottling plant in 1907, and began adding cake frosting flavorings to soda water, which they sold from a wagon they drove on the city streets. The Faygo Pop Company was incorporated in 1939, and went on to become a successful soft drink company in the Detroit, Michigan area. [more info]

Armand Hammer ~ Business person
Businessman deeply involved with the Soviet Union. Born to Jewish parents who emigrated from the Russian empire. [more info]

Oleg Kalugin ~ Soviet Spy, American Entrepreneur
(1934 -- ) Son of an NKVD officer, Kalugin was recruited to work for the KGB in the 1950's after he graduated from Leningrad State University. He was trained in foreign intelligence, and for his first assignment he traveled to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship to study journalism at Columbia University in 1958. After his time in Columbia he worked as an agent under the cover of the UN in New York City. In the late 1960's he began working under cover in the Soviet Embassy in Washington, DC. His work earned him a promotion to KGB general. He returned to the USSR in the mid-1970's and continued his KGB career as head of foreign counterintelligence. By 1980 Kalugin was the subject of KGB intrigues which set back his career, and later in the 1980's after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power he began to criticize the work of the KGB inside Russia. He was supposedly forced out of the KGB in 1990. Kalugin aligned himself with Boris Yeltsin and was active in countering the 1991 attempted hardline coup. In 1995 he took up a teaching position at Catholic University in Washington, DC. He also was instrumental in the establishment of The Spy Museum in Washington, DC. In 2002 Kalugin was tried in absentia in Moscow and sentenced to 15 years for spying for the West. Kalugin has remained critical of the Russian regime and President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB subordinate of his. Kalugin became a US citizen in 2003, and currently is affiliated with the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies in Washington, DC.

Alexey Pajitnov ~ Inventor of Tetris
(1956 -) In 1984 Pajitnov developed the Tetris computer game while a computer scientist at a research lab under the auspices of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. A Soviet government-owned company sold the game in the West beginning in 1986 and collected the hard-currency royalties. Pajitnov moved to the US in 1991 and founded in 1996 the Tetris Company with Henk Rogers. He also worked at Microsoft from 1996 to 2005 where he developed and worked on numerous computer games. Pajitnov remains active in the development of computer games.

Michael Smolyansky ~ Entrepreneur
(1947-2002) Born in Kiev, and educated as a mechanical engineer, Smolyansky emigrated to the US in 1976 and founded Lifeway in 1986, making Kefir in the basement of his Skokie, IL home, and taking the company public just two years later. The company had annual sales of $12 million at the time of his death. His daughter Julie and son Edward now run the company. [more info]

André Tchelistcheff ~ Master Winemaker
(1901-1994) Born into an aristocratic family. After the Bolshevik Revolution Chelishchev fought for the Whites during the Russian civil war, nearly dying from injury on the battlefield. After escaping Bolshevik Russia he studied to be a winemaker in both Czechoslovakia and France, and in 1938 was plucked from a lab in France to come work in the US and resurrect a wine industry decimated by the Prohibition. He was the force behind the popularity of California wines, and came to be known as the "dean of American winemakers" [more info]


George Balanchine ~ Choreographer
(1904 -- 1983) Born in St. Petersburg, Balanchine's ethnic origins were Georgian. He was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School in 1913. Balanchine and his family spent the war and revolution years in Petrograd. In 1921 he began working in the ballet troupe of the State Academic Theater for Opera and Ballet (the re-named Mariinsky Theater), and he enrolled in the Petrograd Conservatory. Still a teenager, Balanchine had already choreographed his first ballets by this time. In 1924 while on a tour of Germany with other Soviet dancers, Balanchine and his wife escaped to Paris. There he linked up with Sergei Diaghilev, who hired him to choreograph for Les Ballets Russes. Balanchine's career flourished. He composed numerous ballets and smaller pieces and worked with leading dancers and set designers. Les Ballets Russes went bankrupt in 1929, forcing Balanchine to find work in various locations in Europe until 1933. In 1933 he moved to the US and opened The School of American Ballet with the backing of a couple of American benefactors. He soon began to choreograph Broadway musicals, and in 1938 moved to Hollywood and began choreographing for movies. He returned to New York and in 1946 formed the Ballet Society. In 1948 he was invited to work as artistic director in what became the New York City Ballet, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Mikhail Baryshnikov ~ Ballet Dancer
(1948 -- ) Born in Riga in Soviet Latvia, Baryshnikov became a star dancer in Leningrad's Kirov ballet troupe by the late 1960's. In 1974 while on tour he defected to the US. He began his US career in the American Ballet Theater(1974-1978), then danced in the New-York City Ballet. During 1990-2002 he was artistic director of the White Oak Dance Project, and in 2005 he established the Baryshnikov Dance Center in New York City which houses studios for dance, music and theater. Baryshnikov has also appeared in movies, television shows and plays. He became a US citizen in 1986.

Cheryl Burke ~ Dancer, Actress
(1984 - ) Cheryl Burke, a professional dancer, is known for starring on the television series Dancing with the Stars. Her father is of Russian and Irish descent.

Maks Chmerkovsky ~ Dancing With The Stars
(1980 - ) Born in Odessa, Soviet Ukraine, Chmerkovsky and his family emigrated to the US in 1994. He became a professional ballroom dancer, instructor and choreographer. He has appeared frequently on Dancing With the Stars, and has also appeared in Broadway dance shows. He has competed in Latin ballroom dance competitions, placing 2nd in US competition and 7th in world competition.

Mikhail Fokin ~ Choreographer
(1880 - 1942) Born in St. Petersburg, Fokin studied ballet at the Imperial Ballet School. He debuted in the Mariinsky Theater in 1898 but went on to be one of the troupe's choreographers. He also mastered several musical instruments. In 1909 he moved to Paris where he was the resident choreographer for Les Ballets Russes. He returned to Russia in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I, but in dramatic circumstances managed to escape Bolshevik Russia for Sweden in 1918. He emigrated to the US in 1919 and founded a ballet school in New York City in 1921, and the "American Ballet" company in 1924. He closed this company in 1930 and went to work in Hollywood, where he received mixed reviews for his choreography. He still enjoyed critical acclaim for his ballets in the 1930's in the US and Europe. Fokin is considered to be one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century.

Alexander Godunov ~ Dancer
(1949 -1995) Godunov was a ballet dancer and movie star. He migrated to the West in 1979 after he refused to return to the USSR during a foreign tour. He starred in Hollywood movies, and in TV commercials. (Molson hired him for his famous TV commercial on ice beer).

Theodore Kosloff ~ Dancer, Choreographer
(1882 -- 1956) Kosloff received his ballet training at Moscow's Imperial Theater. After graduating in 1901, he began working with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In 1909 while on tour in the US, Kosloff was introduced to American director Cecil B. De Mille, who helped him embark on an acting career in silent movies. Kosloff would combine acting, dancing and choreographing through the 1930's. His movie career, which thrived through the 1920's thanks to his striking appearance, declined after the introduction of sound, as his strong Russian-accented English put off American directors. Later in his career he opened a successful dance school in Los Angeles.

Natalia Makarova ~ Dancer
Defected to the West in 1970. [more info]


Mikhail Florinsky ~ Historian
(1894-1981) Emigrated from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, first to the UK and then the US. Taught economics at Columbia University and was instrumental in shaping American post-War views of the USSR. The author of more than a dozen books, he produced his major work in 1963, after his retirement, the two-volume ''Russia: A History and an Interpretation.''

Simon Kuznets ~ Economist
(1901 -- 1985) Simon Kuznets was born in Belarus when it was part of the Russian empire. In 1918 he entered the Kharkhiv Institute of Commerce in Kharkhiv, Ukraine, where he studied economics, statistics and mathematics. His studies were interrupted by the civil war that overtook Ukraine after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. In 1922 he and his family emigrated to the US. He studied at Columbia University in New York City where he earned his BS, MS and PhD by 1926. From 1927 to 1961 he worked at the National Bureau of Economic Research where he was instrumental in developing many measures of US national economic performance. From 1961 to 1970 he taught at Harvard University. He also worked as an advisor to numerous foreign governments with emphasis on Asia. He developed the eponymous "Kuznets Curve," a concept relating to inequality and economic growth. Kuznets received many awards and other forms of recognition for his work, including the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1971.

Vassily Leontiev ~ Economist
(1906 -- 1999) Leontiev was born in Munich, Germany while his father was a professor of economics there. The family returned to their native St. Petersburg, Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1921 Leontiev entered the University of Leningrad at the age of 15 and earned a "Learned Economist" degree there in 1925. Also in 1925, his support for academic freedoms and persecuted colleagues resulted in his detention by the Cheka (Soviet secret police) on several occasions. The authorities allowed him to emigrate in 1925, whereupon he moved to Germany and began studies at the University of Berlin. In 1931 he emigrated to the US and began working at the National Bureau for Economic Research. Already in 1932 he joined the Economics Department at Harvard University, becoming a full professor in 1946. At Harvard he was one of the early users of the first computers in conducting research. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1973. In 1975 he joined New York University and directed its Institute for Economic Analysis.


Alexander P. de Seversky ~ Engineer
(1894-1974) Born into a noble family with military connections, Seversky learned how to fly a plane by the age of 14. He attended the Imperial Russian Naval Academy. Initially serving in the navy at the outbreak of World War I, in 1915 he was trained in military aviation. Although his first air combat mission ended in a crash that necessitated the amputation of his right leg below the knee, Seversky went on to become Russia's top naval fighter pilot during World War I. In 1918 he left Bolshevik Russia for the US as a member of the Russian Naval Mission in the US. Soon after he involved himself in US military aviation, and in 1923 founded the Seversky Aero Corporation that produced airplane parts. The company failed after the 1929 stock market crash, but in 1931 Seversky received financial backing to form the Seversky Aircraft Corporation, which developed and produced new types of aircraft. In 1939 he lost control of the company, which went on to produce many planes for the US effort in World War II. He wrote a bestselling book "Victory Through Air Power" around that time. After World War II he formed the Seversky Electroatom Corporation which dealt with precautions against nuclear attack, and provided consulting services on airplanes and aviation.

Alexander Lodygin ~ Engineer And Inventor
(1847-1923) Alexander Nikolayevich Lodygin was born into a noble family of modest means. He attended the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology where he began research and development on the precursor to the modern-day light bulb. In 1872 he patented a filament lamp in Russia and several Western European countries, and in 1874 he established his own electric light manufacturing company. In the late 1870's Lodygin became involved in the Narodnik political organization that agitated against Tsarist power in Russia. After the assassination of Tsar Alexander III in 1881, he emigrated to the US in 1884 to escape possible repression. There he continued his R&D efforts, patenting various inventions such as tungsten filaments, tungsten alloys, electrical motors among others. He returned to Russia in 1907 where he continued to develop inventions and began teaching at the St. Petersburg Institute of Electrical Engineering. He left Russia for the US again in 1918, after which a decline in his health became a factor until his death in 1923.

Igor Sikorsky ~ Helicopter Designer And Inventor
(1889-1972) A Russian native of Kiev, Ukraine, Sikorsky's interest in aviation developed while he was still a child. By the age of 12 he had designed his first flying toy airplane. He studied engineering in Kiev and France, and began designing airplane engines. By World War I he was chief engineer at the Russian Baltic Railroad Car Works in St. Petersburg. He emigrated from Russia to the US in 1919 as a result of the turmoil of the Russian civil war. Initially he worked as a teacher while searching for opportunities in aviation. In 1923 he established the Sikorsky Manufacturing Company which produced airplane engines. In the late 1920's and early 1930's he was the owner of numerous aviation-related patents. His company would eventually join with the United Aircraft and Transport Association, later known as United Technologies. [more info]

Vladimir Kosma Zvorykin ~ Inventor Of Television
(1888 -- 1982) Zvorykin was born into a prosperous merchant family. He attended the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology where he worked on electrical telescopy, the science that would eventually lead to the development of television. After graduating in 1912, he went to Paris and studied X-ray technology at College de France. During World War I he worked on testing radio equipment for the Russian Army. In 1918 he left Russia via Siberia for the US only to return in 1919 to aid General Kolchak and the White forces during the civil war. When the Whites collapsed he returned to the US and stayed. Zvorykin found work at Westinghouse Laboratories where he resumed his research work on television. He patented several inventions vital to the development of television and invented the iconoscope and kinescope, both key elements of television technology. In 1930 Westinghouse transferred its television research to parent company RCA, where Zvorykin worked on perfecting the television technology he was in the process of developing. By 1939 RCA was publicly promoting the early television at the World's Fair in New York City. Zvorykin would also invent the electron microscope. He finished out his career at RCA and received numerous awards for his inventions later in life.


Woody Allen ~ Actor, Writer, Director, And Musician
(1935 -- ) Woody Allen (born Allen Stewart Konigsberg) began his career as a comedy writer in the 1950's. In the 1960's he switched to stand-up comedy in New York and toward the late 1960's he began to direct his own films. Allen's filmography consists of over 60 films, and he is the recipient of four Academy Awards and nine BAFTA's. He has also written several and performed in his own Broadway plays. He also plays clarinet in a jazz band that plays in New York clubs. Allen is of Russian Jewish heritage.

Pamela Anderson ~ Actress
(1967 -- ) Pamela Anderson, a Canadian-American actress, began her career as a model, but is known best for her role in the Baywatch television series. She is also a noted animal rights activist. Her mother is of Russian ancestry.

Michael Bay ~ Film Director And Producer
(1965 -- ) Michael Bay is an American film director and producer known for big budget and action films. Some of his repertoire consists of films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror and the Transformers series. Bay's grandfather was Russian.

Mel Brooks ~ Actor, Entertainer
(1926 -- ) Mel Brooks is a TV pioneer, writing and appearing in television comedies back when the medium became popular in the 1950's. He was a writer for Your Show of Shows, and paired with Carl Reiner in writing, acting and comedy recording endeavors. He developed and wrote for the television comedy, Get Smart. He became a successful movie director in the 1970's, with such films as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety to his name. Brook's mother was of Ukrainian/Russian/Jewish heritage.

Yul Brynner ~ Actor
(1920 -- 1985) Yul Brynner (born as Yuliy Borisovich Briner) was born in Vladivostok of Russian and Swiss-German parents. His father abandoned the family when Brynner was three years old. His mother took him and his sister to Harbin, China, and then in 1932 to Paris. There Brynner sang and played the balalaika in night clubs. In 1940 he and his mother emigrated to the US, where he began to work in theater, radio broadcasting and a bit of television. He spoke little English when arrived, which initially hampered his career. By the 1950's his English was not an issue and his film career began to flourish. He is best know for his leading role in The King and I, which opened on Broadway in 1951. He would win an Oscar for the movie version of his role as the king of Siam in 1956. He would go on to star with many other leading Hollywood actors in many popular films, such as The Magnificent Seven and The King and I in the 1950's and 1960's.

Amanda Bynes ~ Actress
(1986 -- ) Amanda Bynes was a child star in the 1990's. She appeared in several movies as a teenager, and acted in both movies and plays until 2007,when she announced a hiatus in her career. He mother is of Russian Jewish descent.

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Chekhov ~ Actor
(1891 -- 1955) The nephew of Russian author Anton Chekhov, Mikhail was a theater actor, director and author. Born and educated in St. Petersburg, Chekhov became one of Konstantin Stanislavsky's most celebrated students. He emigrated from Russia in the late 1920's to Germany. He worked in Kaunas State Drama Theater in Kaunas, Lithuania from 1930 to 1935. He spent the next three years in the UK in the theater he established, The Chekhov Theater School. He emigrated to the US in 1938, and managed to make a career thanks to his former close association with Konstantin Stanislavsky. Despite this connection, he was not the most prominent teacher of Stanislavsky's Method Acting in the US. His books on acting methods have enjoyed considerable popularity among contemporary US actors. In addition to his theater work, Chekhov acted in about ten movies in the 1940's and 1950's, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Alfred Hitchock's movie, Spellbound.

David Copperfield ~ Magician
(1956 -- ) David Copperfield (born as David Seth Kotkin), is a commercially successful illusionist and stage magician. His paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia.

Sandra Dee ~ Actor
(1942-2005) Born Alexandra Zuck in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1942, the only child of Mary (née Cymboliak) and John Zuck, who met as teenagers at a Russian Orthodox church dance and married shortly afterward, but divorced before Sandra was five years old. She was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry, and raised in the Russian Orthodox faith.

Leonardo DiCaprio ~ Actor
(1974 -- ) Leonardo DiCaprio, a Golden Globe, Silver Bear and Academy Award winner, is a leading Hollywood actor, with some 30 roles to his name. He has also produced 14 films. His is a very prominent environmental activist. His maternal grandmother was Russian.

Kirk Douglas ~ Actor
(1916 -- ) Kurt Douglas (born Issur Danielovich) was born in Amsterdam, New York to Belarussian-Moldavan-Jewish parents and grew up in considerable poverty. Known as Izzy Demsky in his childhood and youth, he changed his name legally before entering the Navy in World War II. He studied acting at St. Lawrence University in northern New York state, getting through by taking out a loan and performing all kinds of odd jobs to support himself. After his discharge from military service in 1944 due to war injuries, he pursued careers in radio, theater and commercials. By 1946 he began to get movie roles, and in 1949 had his first major success in The Champion, a film about a boxer, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Douglas would go on to received both nominations and win dozens of acting awards both in the US and internationally. He achieved a filmography of almost 100 films from the 1940's to 2008.

Michael Douglas ~ Actor
(1944 -- ) The son of Kirk Douglas, Michael studied drama at the University of California in Santa Barbara. His first noteworthy role was in the television series, The Streets of San Francisco, where he played a police detective with fellow actor Karl Malden. He produced One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 which won the Oscar for best film. He won his own Oscar for his role as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street. He is also the recipient of a BAFTA and Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA nomination. His filmography consists of over 50 files from 1966 to 2016. Douglas is of Russian-Jewish heritage from his father Kirk.

Peter Falk ~ Actor
(1927 -- 2011) Peter Falk played the well known TV character "Lieutenant Colombo" that lasted from 1968 to 2003. Falk began his career in theater in the early 1950's. After some success in regional theater, he made inroads on Broadway in the mid-1950's. He obtained early television roles in the late 1950's, but had trouble breaking into film because he had an artificial eye which was obvious on camera. In 1968 Falk first played the Colombo role in a film called "Prescription: Murder." He would play the role regularly from 1971-1978, and later in his career he made occasional appearances as Colombo in TV movies. Falk was of Russian-Jewish heritage on his father's side.

Carrie Fisher ~ Actress
(1956 -- ) Carrie Fisher, an American actress known best for her role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie, is of Russian descent through her father, Hollywood actor Eddie Fisher.

Eddie Fisher ~ Actor, Singer
(1928 -- 2010) Actor and singer Eddie Fisher was born to Russian-Jewish emigrants in Philadelphia. Fisher was a popular music superstar in the early 1950's, after which he began a movie career in the later 1950's. In the 1960's and after he concentrated more on his music career.

Harrison Ford ~ Actor
(1942 -- ) Harrison Ford, of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame, has Russian-Jewish ancestry through his grandparents, who were born in Belarus when it was part of the Russian Empire.

Alexander Golitzen ~ TV and Theater Stage Designer
(1908 -- 2005) Alexander Golitzen, born a Prince in Russia, hailed from the noble Golitsyn family. He and his parents escaped from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution by way of Siberia and China. The family managed to emigrate to the US and settled in Seattle, Washington. There Golitzen earned a degree in architecture at the University of Washington. In 1939 he began working on set design and production in MGM Studios. In 1942 he moved to Universal Studios. Over his 30-plus year career, Golitzen received 14 Oscar nominations for his work, and from this total received three Oscars for Phantom of the Opera in 1943, Spartacus in 1960 and To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962. In 2011 he was inducted into the Art Directors' Hall of Fame.

Milla Jovovich ~ Actress
(1975 -- ) Born in Kiev in Soviet Ukraine, Jovovich emigrated with her family to the US in 1980. She began modelling and acting while in her teens, and her career expanded to roles in both independent US and European films. She also developed a music recording career, providing on occasion sound tracks to independent movies. She is the spokesperson for various clothing and cosmetics brands.

Lisa Kudrow ~ Actor
(1963 -- ) Lisa Kudrow is best known for her role as Phoebe Buffay on the "Friends" TV show, for which she won an Emmy Award in 1998. She has also appeared in about 30 films, and has produced TV shows and movies for TV. Aside from her Emmy Award, Kudrow has received numerous nominations and awards, including two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Kudrow is of partial Belarussian-Jewish heritage.

Mila Kunis ~ Actor
(1983 -- ) Mila Kunis was born in Chernivtsi, Ukraine. She emigrated with her family to the US in 1991. She took acting classes in her teens, and got some bit roles and commercial work, but found initial success playing Jackie Burkhart on "That '70's Show." Since 1999 she has provided the voice of Meg Griffin on the "Family Guy" animated series. She has played several movie rolls, and has received several nominations for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Peggy Lipton ~ Actor, Entertainer
(1946 --) Lipton began her career in modelling in the 1960's. Her family moved to Hollywood in the mid-1960's where she managed some bit parts in several different television series in 1965-1968. She enjoyed her greatest professional success as Julie in "The Mod Squad" television series from 1968 to 1973. She won a Golden Globe Award in 1971 for this role. Lipton is of Russian Jewish descent through her father.

Walter Matthau ~ Actor And Comedian
(1920 -- 2000) Born on the Lower East Side of New York City, Walter Matthau was raised by a Russian-Jewish father and a Lithuanian-Jewish mother. He began acting in plays as a child at Jewish summer camp. He served in the US Air Force in Britain during World War II. After the war he pursued his interest in acting by attending The New School in New York City. From there he developed into a respected New York stage actor. He branched out into the movies and television later in the 1950's, and began to acquire dramatic roles with leading Hollywood actors. In 1965 he first played his most famous role, that of Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, on Broadway with Art Carney as Felix Unger. In 1968 he would make a film version of the comedy duo with Jack Lemmon as Felix. Matthau made almost 60 films and acted in 16 plays, and was professionally active right up to the time of his death in 2000. He received an Oscar, a BAFTA, and two Tony Awards, along with numerous nominations.

Wentworth Miller ~ Actor
(1972 -- ) Born in the UK but a naturalized US citizen, Wentworth Miller developed an acting career by getting roles in a number of different television series. He branched out to videos and has both written and sold a couple of screenplays. He currently acts in recurring roles as Leonard Snart/Captain Cold that he first played in the movie The Flash. Miller is of partial Russian heritage through his mother.

Alla Nazimova ~ Actor
(1879-1945) Hugely famous silent screen actor. Nazimova was a living legend for 40 years, cavorting with the likes of Valentino and Chaplin. She was the first woman to own a movie studio, yet was largely forgotten after her death. Nonetheless, she inspired both Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill to become playrights. [more info]

Larisa Oleynik ~ Actress
(1981 -- ) Larisa Oleynik was born in California, and began an acting career as a child when she landed a role in Les Miserables. She starred in a children's program, The Secret Life of Alex Mack in the 1990's. In 1998-2000 she appeared regularly in Third Rock From the Sun as the character Alicia Strudwick. She most recently appeared in Mad Men as Cynthia Baxter, the girlfriend then wife of character Ken Cosgrove. She has also appeared in independent films and had a starring role in the film 10 Things I Hate About You. Oleynik is of Russian-Ukrainian heritage through her father.

Sean Penn ~ Actor
(1961 -- ) Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn is of Russian- and Lithuanian-Jewish descent through his father.

River Phoenix ~ Actor
(1970 -- 1993) River Phoenix acted in a number of notable films in the 1980's early 1990's. His role in the 1988 film Running on Empty earned him an Oscar nomination. River and his brother Joaquin Phoenix are the only two brothers ever both nominated for Oscars. He is of Russian Jewish heritage through his mother.

Natalie Portman ~ Actress
(1981 -- ) Natalie Portman was born in Israel to an Israeli father and an American mother of partial Russian-Jewish heritage. At the age of three she moved with her family to the US. She studied acting while studying psychology at Harvard University. In 2004 she received an Oscar nomination for her role in the film Closer, and in 2010 she won the award for her role in the film The Black Swan. She has also won two Golden Globe Awards and a BAFTA.

Joan Rivers ~ Comedian
(1933 -- 2014) Comedian Joan Rivers was born Joan Alexandra Molinsky. She was the daughter of Russian-Jewish emigrants. Known for her acerbic wit, Rivers was one of the earliest female stand-up comedians, achieving national popularity in the 1960's. Thereafter she continued with her stand-up career, appeared as a guest on many talk shows, recorded several comedy albums and wrote several books. Later in her career she involved herself in reality television and the QVC channel.

Olesya Rulin ~ Actress
(1986 -- ) Born in Moscow, Olesya Rulin and her mother emigrated to the US in 1994 and joined her father, who had left Russia two years earlier. She appeared in all three Highschool Musical films in 2006-2008, and has had other secondary roles both in television and film. She is also know for her charitable works.

Steven Seagal ~ Actor
(1952 -- ) Known for his action films since the 1980's, Steven Seagal is of Russian-Jewish descent through his father. Seagal is also known for his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his friendship with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Steven Spielberg ~ Filmmaker
(1946 -- ) Steven Spielberg's grandparents were Orthodox Jews born in Ukraine. For a detailed account of his career, please access the adjacent web link. [more info]

Teller ~ Magician
His father was of Russian-Jewish origin. [more info]

Sofia Vassilieva ~ Actor
(1992 -- ) Born to Russian immigrants in Minnesota, Sofia Vassilieva began a modeling career at the age of seven. By the age of ten she had her first movie roles. She has since continued her acting career all while earning a BA at Columbia University in 2014.

Natalie Wood ~ Actor
(1938 -- 1981) Born Natalie Zacharenko, Natalie Wood starred in a number of classic Hollywood films, including Miracle on 34th Street, Rebel Without A Cause and West Side Story. She was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Rebel Without A Cause in 1955 and Splendor in the Grass in 1961. Her parents were Russian emigres, and her paternal grandfather was killed in street fighting during the civil war in 1918. Wood's Hollywood career peaked by the early 1960's. She remained active in movies and television afterward, sometimes with mixed reviews. Her untimely death by drowning in 1981 produced a tabloid sensation as investigators were never able to determine exactly how she entered the waters around Catalina Island from the boat she and her husband Robert Wagner were operating at the time. Wagner remained under suspicion afterward as possibly being responsible for her death. The case was never solved.

Anton Yelchin ~ Actor
(1989 -- 2016) St. Petersburg-born Anton Yelchin was a young, Russian-born actor that made a career in Hollywood as the Pavel Chekhov character in the Star Trek series, as well as the "Clumsy Smurf" in a couple of the smurf movies. He died in a freak accident whereby his Jeep rolled back down a steep incline where it had been parked and pinned him to a fence.


Jim Talent ~ U.S. Senator
(1956 -- ) Former US Senator Jim Talent, Republican of Missouri, has Russian-Jewish heritage through his paternal grandparents.

John Basil Turchin ~ Union Army General
(1822-1901) John Basil Turchin, born Ivan Vasielievich Turchaninov, was born in southern Russia in the Don Cossack Oblast, in what would be today the Rostov Oblast. His father was a major in the Russian army, and he too joined the army in 1843. He participated in the Russian campaign to aid Hapsburg Austria suppress the 1848 Hungarian revolution. Soon after he attend the Imperial Military School in St. Petersburg, graduating in 1852. In 1856 he and his new wife emigrated to the US, taking up residence in Chicago where he worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. When the US Civil War erupted in 1861, Turchin joined the Union Army and was designated a Colonel of the 19th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Turchin's decision to allow his soldiers to ransack a Confederate town in May 1862 in defiance of his commanding office, Major General Don Carlos Buell, caused him to face court-martial proceedings. Turchin was fortunate, as General Buell's conciliatory policies toward the Confederates were unpopular in the North. President Abraham Lincoln promoted Turchin to brigadier general during the proceedings, and he was not convicted of the charges against him. He would distinguish himself as a military leader in battles in Tennessee and Georgia. After the war he worked in real estate. Toward the end of his life he succumbed to dementia, and died in an institution.


Mikhail Karpovich ~ Historian
(1888 -- 1959) Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, the young Karpovich joined the illegal Socialist Revolutionary Party. After the failure of the 1905 Revolution, he moved to France, but returned to Russia in 1908 and began studying history in Moscow University. During World War I he worked in the Ministry of War, helping coordinate the effort to get military supplies to the front. After Tsar Nicholas abdicated in February 1917, Karpovich joined the Provisional Government. By coincidence he befriended Boris Bakhmetev, who would become the government's first Ambassador to the US. Bakhmetev took Karpovich to the US as part of his mission in May 1917. Karpovich remained at the Russian Embassy until 1922, after which he moved to New York and began lecturing and translating. In 1927 he began a long career at Harvard University as a lecturer. In 1947 he was designated Chairman of Harvard's Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, a position he held until 1957.

Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovtsev ~ Historian, Academic
(1870 -- 1952) Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovtsev was the son of a Latin teacher who went on to study at the universities of Kiev and St. Petersburg, after which he became a professor of Latin at the University of St. Petersburg. He taught there from 1898 to 1918, but left Russia for Sweden, the UK, and finally in 1920, to the US in the wake of the Russian Revolution. He became a professor at the University of Wisconsin in 1920, and in 1925, transferred to Yale University where he oversaw the university's archeological activities. Early in his career Rostovtsev was an expert on ancient Russian and Ukrainian history. Later he espoused theories on the fall of Rome that aroused mild controversy amongst his peers. He died in New Haven, Connecticut at the age of 81.

Georgy Vladimirovich Vernadsky ~ Historian
(1887 -- 1973) Vernadsky came from the intelligentsia. His own father was a respected geologist. Vernadsky graduated from Moscow University with a degree in history in 1910 after spending two extra years in Germany after the 1905 Revolution. Vernadsky was known for his liberal political views and associated with the "kadet" party. After the outbreak of revolution in 1917, he taught in Perm, then Kiev, and then finally in Simferopol in the Crimea where White forces held sway. When the Whites lost Crimea in 1920, he emigrated from Russia and eventually settled in Prague where he taught at the Russian School of Law. He was offered a position at Yale University in 1927 as associate professor of history. He remained at this post until 1946, at which point he became a full professor of Russian history until his retirement in 1956.


Masha Gessen ~ Journalist
Journalist, author and translator, born in USSR, lives in New York. [more info]


Isaac Asimov ~ Author, The Foundation Series
(1920 -- 1992) Born in a small town between Smolensk, Russia and Gomel, Belarus to Jewish parents, Azimov himself never learned Russian. His family spoke Hebrew, and he emigrated with his family to the US when he was three years old. He grew up in Brooklyn, and began reading pulp science fiction as a boy. He began to write his own stories at the age of 11, and by 19 he was selling his science fiction stories to local publications. Exceptionally gifted, Azimov graduated from high school at the age of 15, and entered college to study zoology. He switched his major to chemistry, but after having obtained his BS, he failed to gain acceptance into medical school. He was accepted for graduate work in chemistry, earning his MS in 1941 and PhD in 1948. Azimov became faculty member at the Boston University School of Medicine. All the while he continued to write science fiction, and by 1958 he was making more selling his stories than he was as a tenured professor at Boston University. He switched to writing full time. Asimov wrote his entire adult life, and is the author of such science fiction classics as The Foundation Trilogy written in 1951-1953, the Extended Foundation Series, the Robot series, the Lucky Star series and the Norby Chronicles. His writing career spanned from the late 1920's to his death in the early 1990's and consisted of hundreds of science fiction books, short stories and articles, over a dozen mystery books (notably the Black Widow series), and numerous popular science and non-fiction/popular science books.

Alexei Bayer ~ Writer
New York-based author and translator. He writes in English and in Russian, his native tongue, and translates into both languages. His translations have appeared in Readings and Words Without Borders, as well as in such collections as The Wall in My Head, and Life Stories. His mystery novels, Murder at the Dacha, The Latchkey Murders, and Murder and the Muse were published by Russian Life Books.

Joseph Brodsky ~ Poet
(1940 -- 1996) Born in Leningrad approximately 15 months before the Nazis' siege of the city during World War II, Joseph Brodsky barely survived early childhood what with the deprivations of that time. His father was a photographer in the Soviet navy and his mother worked as an interpreter, yet the family lived in relative poverty. An unruly child, he left school at the age of 15 and began working a series of menial jobs. At the same time he became deeply interested in literature and poetry and taught himself Polish and English to enhance his knowledge base. By the age of 18 he had become well known for his poetry in Soviet dissident literary circles. At the age of 23 the Soviet authorities denounced his poetry, had him institutionalized twice and put him on trial for parasitism. He was sentenced to five years of exile in a remote area of the Arkhangelsk region. There he lived in a small cabin and continued to read English-language poetry. The authorities allowed him to move back to Leningrad after 18 months, in December 1965, after a group of literary and musical luminaries protested his exile. He resumed writing and publishing poetry in the mid-1960's, more of which was being published and receiving acclaim in the West. Wanting to rid themselves of his presence, the authorities began a pressure campaign to get him to emigrate in the early 1970's. Brodsky resisted their pressure, but in the end he was forced on to a plane flying to Vienna in June 1972. Once in Vienna, he was taken under the wing of American academics who managed his transfer to the US and then eventual employment at several different US universities. At the same time his literary career continued to flourish. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1991 he was designated Poet Laureate of the United States. After having suffered several years of heart issues, Brodsky died in January 1996 at the age of 55 of a heart attack in New York. He is buried in the Isole di San Michele Cemetery in Venice, Italy.

Sergei Dovlatov ~ Writer
(1941 -- 1990) Born to a Jewish father and Armenian mother about two months after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, Dovlatov's earliest years were spent in Ufa, in the Republic of Bashkiria. After World War II he lived in Leningrad with his mother, where he became acquainted with dissident writers and poets such as Josef Brodsky, Yevgeny Rain and Anatoly Naiman. He began writing in samizdat publications in the 1970's while he earned his living as a journalist in official publications. As the 1970's progressed he was in greater trouble with the authorities for his underground publications. He emigrated to US in 1979. After settling in the US, his humorous and personal writings, written in Russian, made him famous abroad and underground in Russia, and now posthumously in Russia.

Alexander Genis ~ Writer And Journalist
(1953 -- ) Alexander Genis, writer and journalist, emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1977. Taking up residence in New York, he became acquainted with Josef Brodsky, and began writing in émigré circles. Since the 1990's Radio Liberty has hosted his radio show, American Hour With Alexander Genis. He is the author of a dozen books on various topics of Russian culture.

Keith Gessen ~ Writer
Journalist and author of "A Terrible Country," he is a Russian-born American novelist, journalist, literary translator, and co-editor of n+1, a thrice-yearly magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City.

Olga Grushin ~ Writer
Born in 1971 Grushin is a successful novelist ("The Dream Life of Sukhanov") who was born in the USSR but became a naturalized US citizen in 2002.

Vladimir Nabokov ~ Writer
(1899 -- 1977) Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg to a wealthy noble family. The family was forced to flee St. Petersburg after the revolution. They emigrated to Western Europe and spent time in the UK, Germany and France. In Berlin, where Nabokov spent 15 years, from 1922 to 1937, he developed a reputation as a writer, but struggled financially. In 1940 the family emigrated to the US. Nabokov began working at Wellesley College, founding the school's Russian Department where he worked until 1948. He moved to Cornell University in 1948 where he taught Russian and European literature until 1959. During this time, in 1955, his most famous novel, Lolita, was published. The novel brought him not only literary acclaim, but considerable financial success as well. Later in 1962 another renowned work, Pale Fire, entrenched his reputation as a leading 20th century author. Nabokov was also a prominent authority on butterflies.

Ayn Rand ~ Author
(1905 -- 1982) Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinov'yeva Rosenbaum) was born in St. Petersburg to a prosperous family. A gifted child, she began writing novels and screenplays by the age of ten. The Russian Revolution ended the family's prosperity, after which they went into exile in the Crimea to escape persecution from the Bolsheviks. They did return to St. Petersburg, where Ayn was one of the first women to enter St. Petersburg University. She studied literature, history and social pedagogy, but was expelled before graduating due to her bourgeois origins. In 1925 she received a US visa to visit relatives, and 1926 she arrived in the US. She began writing screenplays and novels that had modest success in the 1930's. In 1943 her book The Fountainhead was published to both acclaim and high sales. She also became politically active in the 1940's, some of it in Hollywood due to her screenwriting background. In 1957 her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, was published. She developed a following of intellectual disciples during the 1950's and beyond, and propagated her own philosophy of Objectivism. She would remain prominent in conservative and libertarian intellectual and political circles for the rest of her life.

Gary Shteyngart ~ Writer
(1972 -- ) Gary Shteyngart emigrated to the US with his family in 1979. He showed no particular literary predilection in childhood, but rather, a trip to Prague inspired his first book, The Russian Debutante's Handbook. He is the author of three works of fiction and teaches writing at Columbia University in New York.

Natalia Solzhenitsyna ~ Wife of Alexander Solzhenitsyn
(1939 -- ) Natalia Solzhenitsyna, the second wife of write Alexander Solzhenitsyn, obtained US citizenship during her years in the US (1974-1994). She returned with her husband to live full-time in Russia in 1994. She is the mother of their three sons, the President of the Solzhenitsyn Foundation, and presides over her husband's literary legacy.


Irving Berlin ~ Songwriter
(1888-1989) Born in Tyumen, Russia, Irving Berlin is considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history. Nominated eight times for an Academy Award, Berlin is the author of such songs as Alexander's Ragtime Band, White Christmas, Easter Parade and There's No Business Like Show Business God Bless America and Putting On The Ritz.

Michael Bolton ~ Singer
(1953 --) Michael Bolton, (born Michael Bolotin), a popular singer and performer, is of Russian Jewish heritage through all four of his grandparents.

Semyon Bychkov ~ Conductor
(1952 --) Born in 1952 in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Bychkov emigrated to the US in 1974, and became a US citizen in 1983. He is a prominent conductor of both orchestral and operatic works. In more recent years he has made his career in Europe, and currently resides in Paris. [more info]

George and Ira Gershwin ~ Composer/Lyricist
Brothers George (1898-1937) and Ira (1896-1983) Gershwin are responsible for some of the most popular and classic US songs. Their words include such orchestral compositions such as American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue and the opera Porgy and Bess. Famous songs include Lady Be Good, Strike Up The Band, Funny Face, and Strike Up The Band and They Can't Take That Away From Me. The Gershwin brothers were born in New York City to Russian-Ukrainian-Jewish parents.

Serge Koussevitsky ~ Conductor
(1874 -- 1951) Koussevitsky was born in what is today the Tver Oblast to Russian-Jewish parents. He studied various instruments in his youth, and received a full scholarship to the Musico-Dramatic Institute of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. He joined the Bolshoi Theater orchestra at the age of 20 as a bass player. After marrying the daughter of a very wealthy merchant in 1905, he and his wife moved to Berlin where he both performed and conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic. He and his wife returned to Russia in 1909, where he formed his own orchestra and music publishing company. He remained in Russia after the 1917 Revolution, and managed to conduct at the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd. While in Western Europe in 1920 he and his wife decided to remain in the West. In 1924 he emigrated to the US after he was hired to be the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where he would enjoy a long and distinguished career until 1949.

Michael Perretta ~ American Hip Hop Musician
(1976 --) Michael Perretta, an American hip hop musician, better known as Evidence, has a Russian mother.

Sergei Rachmaninoff ~ Composer
(1873 -- 1943) Sergei Rachmaninoff graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892. He composed several works afterward, but in 1897 negative reaction to his Symphony No. 1 caused him to enter a four-year depression. His career languished for four years, yet successful therapy allowed him to resume his career, and his Symphony No. 2 received critical acclaim in 1901. He and his family emigrated from Russia to the US after the 1917 Revolution. He kept to a demanding performance schedule for many years, causing his output to fall. During his career he composed four concertos, three symphonies and dozens of work for piano solo, two choral works and three operas.

Ignat Solzhenitsyn ~ Conductor and Pianist
(1972 --) The middle son of the late Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Ignat has enjoyed a successful career as orchestral conductor and pianist. He has directed major orchestras in the US, Western Europe and Russia, and has toured with major orchestras as a pianist.

Regina Spektor ~ Songwriter And Pianist
(1980 --) Regina Spektor, Russian born American singer-songwriter and pianist, was born in Moscow. She emigrated to the US with her family in 1989. In the US she pursued a musical education that encompassed both classical and pop musical genres. She has released several albums and has been an active performer in the independent music world. She has also composed songs for independent films. In 2016 she released her seventh album, Remember Us To Life.

Igor Stravinsky ~ Composer
(1882 -- 1971) Stravinsky was born near St. Petersburg, Russia. He initial began to study law on the wishes of his parents, but he became drawn to musical circles, spending a summer with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff, who was impressed with his musical ability enough to take him on as a private pupil. By 1908 Stravinsky's work as a composer and conductor was gaining the attention of leading classical musicians around Europe. He enjoyed particular success with Les Ballets Russes in Paris. He left Russia just before the outbreak of World War I in 1914, and did not return there until 1962. He made a musical career in Western Europe, performing widely in the 1920's and 1930's. He struggled financially for some years, and was supported by various benefactors. During the 1930's he developed contacts in the US, and in 1939 moved to the US, settling in Hollywood. He continued to compose symphonic works in the US to wide acclaim, and would remain professional active until the mid-1960's.

Philanthropy & Nonprofit

Marina Kovalyova ~ Founder And Head Of Russian American Foundation
Started the Russian American Foundation, now run by her daughter, Rina Kirshner.  [more info]


Alexei Abrikosov ~ Physicist
(1928 -) Alexei Abrikosov was born in Moscow, educated in the Soviet Union. From 1948 to 1965 he worked for years at the Institute for Physical Problems in Moscow, and from 1965 to 1988 he worked at the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, also in Moscow. He emigrated to the US in 1991 and began working at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. Among dozens of awards and honors he has received during his career, in 2003 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.

Vladimir Rojansky ~ Physicist
(1900-1981) Rojansky was born in Bologoye, Russia, located in today's Tver Oblast. During the Russian Civil War he joined the White Forced and ended up injured in the Far East. He was discharged in 1921, after which he made his way to the US via Asia. Once in the US he began studying physics and obtained a PhD from the University of Minnesota in 1928. He began research on quantum mechanics, and was a pioneer in the research of antimatter. He enjoyed a long teaching career, and in the 1950's began a career in the aerospace industry.

Pitirim Sorokin ~ Sociologist
(1889 -- 1968) ) Sorokin was a political activist both before and after the Russian Revolution. Despite all the turmoil in Russia at the time, he managed to establish the first Sociology Department at the University of St. Petersburg in 1918. At the same time was an anti-communist agitator. The Bolsheviks arrested him more than once for his political activism. At one point Lenin condemned him to death for his anti-regime activities, but he was released and by 1922 expelled from Russia. He emigrated to the US in 1923, and due to his academic background was able to begin an academic career in 1924. His pioneering research would concentrate on three main themes, social differentiation, social stratification and social conflict. He was a prolific author, with 37 books and 400 articles to his name. From 1930 to 1959 he was a professor at Harvard University, where he finished out his career.

Otto Struve ~ Astronomer
(1897 -- 1963) Struve was born in Kharkhiv, Ukraine to a family of renowned astronomers. He attended Kharkhiv University during World War I, and managed to obtain his degree despite some disruptions due to war and revolution. During the Russian Civil War he and his family became endangered due to their German heritage. They all left for Sevastopol where they would be protected by White Forces holding the region. After a series of family tragedies, by 1920 Struve was alone, living as an impoverished refugee in Constantinopol (Istanbul) Turkey. Through some very fortuitous connections and his family's international reputation in astronomy, he managed to obtain an offer to work at the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. He arrived in the US in October 1921. His career went on to flourish there, and in 1923 he had earned a PhD at the University of Chicago. He would enjoy distinguished careers both with the Yerkes Observatory and the University of Chicago. Struve authored 900 books and articles on a wide ranges of astronomy topics, and received dozens of awards and honors during his career.

Selman Waksman ~ Scientist
(1888-1973) Born in what is today the Vinnitsa Oblast in Ukraine, Selman Waksman emigrated to the US in 1910. He attended Rutgers University in New Jersey where he earned a BS in agricultural science, and would finish his education with a PhD in biochemistry at the University of California in Berkeley. Waksman returned to Rutger, joining as a faculty member of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. While there, he discovered numerous antibiotics that were groundbreakers in the treatment of infectious diseases. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1952 for his discovery of streptomycin, which proved effective against tuberculosis.


Sasha Cohen ~ Ice Skater
(1984 - ) Sasha Cohen (born Alexandra Pauline Cohen) is a US skating champion who is of Ukrainian-Jewish descent through her mother. She was the silver medalist at the 2006 Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.

Andrei Kirilenko ~ Basketball player
(1981 - ) Andrei Kirilenko, from Izhevsk, Russia, is a former basketball star who played with the Utah Jazz from 2001 to 2011, the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012-2013, and the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-2014. A US citizen, he is now living in Moscow, Russia and is head of the Russian Basketball Federation.

Anna Kournikova ~ Tennis Player
(1981 - ) Anna Kournikova became prominent in tennis during her early teens when she began winning junior championships. She made her Grand Slam debut at the age of 15 at the 1996 US Open. The peak of her career came during 1998-2000, when she placed well in all major tennis tournaments but she did not win any, as other players, in particular Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis, outplayed her. She ranked 8th in the world in singles at her best. She did win two Grand Slam doubles titles with Martina Hingis in 1999 and 2002. After 2001 her career began to wane due to injuries. Since 2003 she has played exhibition tournaments and has become involved in charity work.

Vladimir Kozlov ~ Wrestler
(1979 - ) Vladimir Kozlov is the ring name of professional wrestler Oleg Aleksandrovich Prudius. He led a successful wrestling and kick boxing career during 2006-2011. He has also had some minor roles in movies.

Nastia Lukin ~ Olympic Gymnast
(1989 -) Nastia Lukin and her parents (who were both Soviet-era gymnastics champions) emigrated to the US in 1991. At the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 she won the all-around gold medal in women's gymnastics, three silvers for the national team, uneven bars and balance beam events, and a bronze for the floor exercise event.

This is a constantly updated database. If you have a correction, or addition, please send us a note.

Special thanks to Laura Kline for gathering much of the original data (with the help of SEELANGS subscribers) which seeded this list. The list has been vetted, edited and updated by Letitia Rydjeski.