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32 Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Born in Ukraine

Chris Weeks / Getty Images

Even though Ukraine may be in the news today for all the wrong reasons, before the Russian invasion it was a vibrant, thriving country – the largest in Europe outside Russia – known as “the breadbasket of Europe” for its rich soil, and one of the world’s three largest exporters of wheat, corn, sunflower oil, and other agricultural products. With a population of more than 43 million and a land area of nearly 224,000 square miles, it also boasts seven World Heritage Sites, and was the home of one of the world’s earliest constitutions, written in 1710. (Here are 32 things you may not know about Ukraine.)

In addition, over the centuries, what is now Ukraine has been the birthplace of numerous illustrious figures. Because the histories of Russia and Ukraine have been intertwined for more than 1,000 years, and because Ukraine was officially part of the U.S.S.R. as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1922 to 1991, a number of prominent “Russians” were actually born on what is now Ukrainian soil – among them the revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the composer Sergei Prokofiev. (These were the republics of the Soviet Union.)

By the same token, because Eastern Europe has seen empires come and go over the centuries, some well-known people were born in what places that were then part of Poland or the Austrian or Austro-Hungarian empires, but are now firmly within Ukraine’s borders.  

Click here to see 32 famous people you didn’t know were born in Ukraine

To compile a list of famous people born in Ukraine and determine details of their careers, their birth (and where appropriate death) dates, and birthplaces, 24/7 Tempo consulted Vox Ukraine, Biography, Britannica, The New York Times, The Famous People, and Wikipedia. Birthplaces are given as they were at the time of birth, with modern Ukrainian names noted when different.

Nikolai Gogol
> Known as: Author (“Diary of a Madman,” “The Overcoat”)
> Birth year: 1809 (d. 1852)
> Birthplace: Sorochyntsi (now Velyki Sorochyntsi)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
> Known as: Author, journalist, namesake of the term “masochism”
> Birth year: 1836 (d. 1895)
> Birthplace: Lemberg, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austrian Empire (now Lviv)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Conrad
> Known as: Novelist (“Heart of Darkness,” “Lord Jim”)
> Birth year: 1857 (d. 1924)
> Birthplace: Berdychiv

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Kazimir Malevich
> Known as: Avant-garde artist and writer
> Birth year: 1879 (d. 1935)
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Alla Nazimova
> Known as: Silent film star; founder of the legendary Garden of Allah hotel in Hollywood
> Birth year: 1879 (d. 1945)
> Birthplace: Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire (now Ukraine, but illegally occupied and claimed by Russia in 2014)

Source: Topical Press Agency / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Leon Trotsky
> Known as: Key Bolshevik revolutionary, founder of the Red Army
> Birth year: 1879 (d. 1940)
> Birthplace: Yanovka (now Bereslavka, Ukraine)

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Anna Akhmatova
> Known as: Famed Russian poet and translator
> Birth year: 1889 (d. 1966)
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: London Stereoscopic Company / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Mischa Elman
> Known as: Noted violinist with a career spanning more than 60 years
> Birth year: 1891 (d. 1967)
> Birthplace: Talne

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sergei Prokofiev
> Known as: Composer (“Peter and the Wolf,” “Alexander Nevsky”)
> Birth year: 1891 (d. 1953)
> Birthplace: Sontsovka (now Sontsivka)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Babel
> Known as: Author, playwright, “the greatest prose writer of Russian Jewry”
> Birth year: 1894 (d. 1940)
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Wilhelm Reich
> Known as: Controversial doctor and psychoanalyst
> Birth year: 1897 (d. 1957)
> Birthplace: Dobzau, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austria-Hungary (now Dobrianychi, Ukraine)

Golda Meir
> Known as: Fourth prime minister of Israel, first female head of state in the Middle East
> Birth year: 1898 (d. 1978)
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Louis “Kid” Kaplan
> Known as: Hall of Fame boxer, 1925 world featherweight champion
> Birth year: 1901 (d. 1097)
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Lee Strasberg
> Known as: Actor, director, drama teacher (“the father of method acting in America”)
> Birth year: 1901 (d. 1982)
> Birthplace: Budzanów, Poland (now Budaniv, Ukraine)

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Vladimir Horowitz
> Known as: Multiple-Grammy-winning pianist and composer
> Birth year: 1903 (d. 1989)
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Nathan Milstein
> Known as: Famed violinist, specialist in Bach’s solo violin repertoire
> Birth year: 1904 (d. 1992)
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Leonid Brezhnev
> Known as: Long-serving general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, successor to Nikita Khrushchev
> Birth year: 1906 (d. 1982)
> Birthplace: Kamenskoye (now Kamianske, Ukraine)

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Zino Davidoff
> Known as: “King of Cigars,” founder of the Davidoff brand
> Birth year: 1906 (d. 1994)
> Birthplace: Novhorod-Siverskyi

Source: Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

David Oistrakh
> Known as: Celebrated violinist, violist, and conductor
> Birth year: 1908 (d. 1974)
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: Express / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Simon Wiesenthal
> Known as: Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter
> Birth year: 1908 (d. 2005)
> Birthplace: Buchach, Kingdom of Galicia, Austria-Hungary (now Ukraine)

Source: Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Sviatoslav Richter
> Known as: Pianist, hailed as “one of the greatest recreative artists of all time”
> Birth year: 1915 (d. 1997)
> Birthplace: Zhytomyr

Source: Erich Auerbach / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Emil Gilels
> Known as: “One of the world’s greatest pianists,” according to the new York Times
> Birth year: 1916 (d. 1985)
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Isaac Stern
> Known as: Multiple-Grammy-winning violinist
> Birth year: 1920 (d. 2001)
> Birthplace: Kremenets (then Poland, now Ukraine)

Stanisław Lem
> Known as: Science fiction writer (“Solaris”), futurologist
> Birth year: 1921 (d. 2006)
> Birthplace: Lwów, Second Polish Republic (now Lviv)

Source: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Yakov Smirnoff
> Known as: Comedian, actor (“Night Court,” “Brewster’s Millions”)
> Birth year: 1951
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: Kevin Winter / Staff / Getty Images Entertainment

Milla Jovovich
> Known as: Supermodel, actress (“”Zoolander,” the “Resident Evil” franchise)
> Birth year: 1975
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Lenny Krayzelburg
> Known as: Multiple Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer
> Birth year: 1975
> Birthplace: Odessa

Source: David Ramos / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Jan Koum
> Known as: Computer engineer, founder of WhatsApp
> Birth year: 1976
> Birthplace: Kyiv

Source: Tony Duffy / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Oksana Baiul
> Known as: Olympic gold-medal-winning figure skater
> Birth year: 1977
> Birthplace: Dnipro

Source: Vanni Bassetti / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Olga Kurylenko
> Known as: Model, actress, Bond girl (“Quantum of Solace”)
> Birth year: 1979
> Birthplace: Berdyansk

Source: Rich Polk / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Mila Kunis
> Known as: Actress (“That ’70s Show,” “Black Swan”)
> Birth year: 1983
> Birthplace: Chernivtsi

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