10 Ukrainian Women Who Achieved Worldwide Fame but Are Virtually Unknown in Ukraine

ukrainian women

Slowly but surely, Ukrainians are discovering themselves. We learn about famous individuals worldwide who have Ukrainian roots, reclaim artists and performers wrongly attributed to Russia for a long time, and strive to take pride in our heritage. From Mila Jovovich and Kazimir Malevich to Anna Yaroslavna, the Queen of France, there are already quite a few well-known names.

Today, we decided to briefly introduce 10 remarkable women with Ukrainian roots who gained global recognition at different times but are still not widely known among Ukrainians.

Actress Tamara Vyshnevska - "The New Greta Garbo"

Born in Volyn, which was part of Poland at the beginning of the last century, Tamara's father, a Ukrainian newspaper editor, was sent to a concentration camp by the Polish authorities for his pro-Ukrainian stance. Tamara, often called the new Greta Garbo, gained popularity in Poland, showcasing her talent in dancing and mastering six languages. However, World War II disrupted her rising Hollywood career. She managed to escape occupied Warsaw in 1944 and settled in the United States. Despite hopes for a Hollywood career, she ended up working odd jobs, leaving her mark on the history of world cinema.

German Silent Film Star Kseniya Desni

Kseniya emigrated to Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and, settling in Berlin, started her acting career. She was noticed by director Johannes Guter, who began casting Kseniya in his best films. The actress, known at that time as Dada, signed a contract with the largest German film company UFA.

In 1924, she played the lead role in Johannes Guter's film "Der Sprung ins Leben." Interestingly, a yet unknown Marlene Dietrich appeared as an extra in it. However, the era of sound cinema arrived shortly after, and Kseniya left the film industry. Along with her daughter Tamara, who later also became a famous actress, she settled in London.

From 1950 until her death, she lived in France, in the town of Roquefort-les-Pins, where her daughter and son-in-law opened a hotel-restaurant on the French Riviera.

Mathematician Marina Vyazovska

Born in Kyiv and currently residing and working in Lausanne, Marina Vyazovska solved the eight-dimensional sphere-packing problem in 2016, a mathematical challenge that had puzzled scholars since the 17th century. She received the Salem Prize in 2016 and the Fields Medal in 2022, often referred to as the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics."

Artist and Costume Designer Sonia Delaunay

A futurist artist hailing from Odessa, Sonia Delaunay, pioneered a new artistic movement known as "Orphism/Simultaneism," significantly influencing the history of French fashion in the 1920s. In addition to creating impressive and vibrant artistic canvases, she designed theatrical costumes, patterns for haute couture fabrics, and had a considerable impact on Parisian and, consequently, global fashion. One of her "optical" dresses adorned the cover of Vogue in its time.

Her artistic inspiration stemmed from the beauty of Ukraine, which remained etched in her heart forever: "I love the pure, bright colors of my childhood, Ukraine. I remember peasant weddings in my country, where red and green dresses adorned with numerous ribbons danced in celebration. I remember how watermelons and melons grow, tomatoes contrast with red-roofed houses, and large sunflowers – yellow with a black heart – shine in the light, high blue sky," she wrote.

For more about Sonia Delaunay, read our material.

Cybernetics Scientist Katerina Yushchenko

A programmer, scientist, and inventor, Katerina Yushchenko authored the world's first programming language for computers. Despite not being in use today, her contribution to the field of cybernetics is substantial. Born in Chyhyryn, she faced persecution during Stalin's regime but continued her academic journey, eventually becoming a leading figure in theoretical programming.

Hollywood Actress Natalie Wood

Natalia Zacharenko, later known by the stage name Wood, was born in the USA to a family of Ukrainian immigrants. She took on her first role at the age of 4, and with the efforts of her mother and her own talent and beauty, she found her way to Hollywood. Natalie, a three-time Oscar nominee, is best known as the leading actress of 1960s Hollywood, particularly for her role in "West Side Story," a film now considered a classic.

Astronaut Heidi Maria Stefanyshyn-Piper

Ethnic Ukrainian born to immigrant parents from Western Ukraine, she became the 445th person to venture into space twice. Spending a total of 27 days on a spacecraft and conducting five spacewalks, she maintained her Ukrainian identity, supported by her parents who were actively involved in the Plast organization. She received various Ukrainian honors for her achievements.

Opera Singer Antonina Chekhovska

A talented Ukrainian girl who, after emigrating to the USA, captivated the world with her extraordinary voice. While initially planning a career in medicine, Antonina worked as a dental assistant. However, her talent and the desire to pursue it led her to debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. She sings in several languages, expressing a particular fondness for Italian due to its linguistic affinity with Ukrainian.

Maria Bashkirtseva - an artist and the first woman in history whose paintings were exhibited at the Louvre.

Born in the aristocratic family of Ukrainians on the Poltava region, the future opera stage star, she and her mother moved abroad in the late 19th century. Despite dreaming of a musical career, she fell ill with tuberculosis and lost her voice. Consequently, she began to realize another talent and eventually became known in France as an artist, and her paintings are still displayed at the Louvre.

However, Maria was not only an artist but also a talented sculptor and writer – her "Diary" became a bestseller. Interestingly, French actress Juliette Binoche admired her work and dreamt of portraying Bashkirtseva.

Maria passed away at the age of 25. Knowing that her illness was progressing, she worked 12 hours a day, trying to achieve the maximum possible. And she succeeded.

Hollywood Star Anna Sten

The peak of popularity for Kyivan Anna Petrovna Fesak occurred between 1930 and 1950. Starting her acting career in Kyiv's Small Theater on Khreshchatyk, she later starred in Soviet films and became the "ideal of Soviet female beauty." Anna ventured to Berlin in the 1930s, where she gained popularity in European cinema before receiving invitations to Hollywood. Her debut in the U.S. with films like "The Girl with the Hat Box" and "Land of Captivity" brought her fame worldwide, including in the USSR and Ukraine.

This is an incomplete list of notable Ukrainian women whom we should take pride in or at least be aware of. Let's continue our exploration and stories about our fellow countrywomen in the future.


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