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The Russian Invasion

From Emma Goldman to Prokhorov (a selective survey of Russians in New York).

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Emma Goldman
Arrived 1885
America’s most famous anarchist. Born in Lithuania, deported in the midst of the revolution.

Al Jolson (né Asa Yoelson)
1894
A pioneer in Jewish entertainment, not so much in racial sensitivity.

Irving Berlin (né Israel Baline)
1893
The son of a cantor had one memory of his Russian toddlerhood: watching his house burn down in a pogrom.

Sholem Aleichem (né Rabinowitz)
1905
Yiddish writer behind Fiddler on the Roof.

Alexander de Seversky
1918
Aviation developer whose company helped the U.S. gear up for World War II.

Igor Sikorsky
1919
Developer of the first mass-produced helicopter, whose Connecticut company recently turned up on would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad’s target list.

Isaac Asimov
1923
Biochemistry professor, one of the greatest science-fiction writers, uncle of the creator of the Times’ “$25 and Under” restaurant column.

Alexandra Tolstoy
1929
Daughter of Leo whose still-operating Tolstoy Foundation has helped generations of international refugees escape.

George Balanchine (né Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze)
1933
Choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet.

Alexander Liberman
1941
Art director of Vogue, longtime editorial director of Condé Nast Publications.

Yul Brynner (né Yuli Borisovich Bryner)
1940
Star of movies and Broadway musicals, most famously The King and I.

Alexander Kerensky
1940
Last prime minister of Russia before the October Revolution.

Nathalie Babel Brown
1961
Edited her father Isaac’s translated writings after he was killed by Stalin in 1939; taught at the University of Texas and the University of California.

Rudolf Nureyev
1961
Sometime after his dramatic escape, our first artist-defector bought an apartment in the Dakota; after his death, its contents fetched almost $8 million at auction.

Joseph Brodsky
1972
Famous dissident poet kicked out of the U.S.S.R.; moved to New York in the early eighties and dominated émigré circles here.

Yakov Smirnoff (né Yakov Naumovich Pokhis)
1977
Exiled to Branson, Missouri, for coining the catchphrase “What a country!”

Roman Kaplan
1972
Owner of the Russian Samovar, by default the city’s most sophisticated Russian nightclub.

Mikhail Baryshnikov
1974
New York’s most famous defector, ballet dancer, and recurring Sex and the City guest star.

Alexander Godunov
1979
Ballet dancer who, after leaving the American Ballet Theatre, appeared in movies like The Money Pit (along with Yakov Smirnoff).

Sergei Dovlatov
1979
Émigré novelist championed by Brodsky.

Gary Shteyngart
1979
Semi-absurdist novelist, current standard-bearer of the immigrant literary scene.

Regina Spektor
1989
Classically trained Moscow-born singer-songwriter.

Eugene Hütz
1991
Gypsy punk’s most recognizable name (via his band Gogol Bordello), appeared in film version of Everything Is Illuminated.

Tamir Sapir
1976
Moved to New York and became a taxi driver; by 2002, had become a real-estate billionaire.

Edward Mermelstein
1976
Like Alexandra Tolstoy, the multilingual real-estate lawyer helps Russians find real-estate properties in the U.S. Unlike Tolstaya, he caters primarily to the absurdly wealthy.

Anna Anisimova
1991
Moved to New York at age 6 while her father stayed behind to become an oligarch, then, in 2004, bought Diane Von Furstenberg’s home and headquarters.

Ilya Kabakov
1992
The Soviet-era conceptual artist and memoirist has spent more than a decade on Long Island.

Lev Leviev
1971
The Londonite by way of Uzbekistan and Israel never quite made it to New York (a home in Florida is the closest he’s come), but his money did—into a sizable chunk of prized New York real estate.

Mikhail Prokhorov
2009
Having bought the Nets, Russia’s richest man is the anti–Emma Goldman. He came not to destroy the capitalist system but to buy it. And he didn’t even have to move.


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