Our world is filled with Ukrainian roots, as the famous Ukrainian proverb goes, “Our flower blooms worldwide.” Hollywood is no exception, with some American stars excelling in the Ukrainian language, singing Ukrainian songs, cooking unparalleled borscht, and even mastering the traditional hopak dance. Others, more recently, have developed an interest in their ancestors’ homeland and actively support Ukraine during its challenges.
While there are more Ukrainian actresses in Hollywood than listed here, let’s focus on the most influential and outstanding Ukrainian beauties who have conquered the global screens.
Anna Sten, a Ukrainian Hollywood trailblazer from the 20s and 30s, is celebrated for her beauty and talent in films such as “The Girl with the Hatbox,” “The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov,” “Nana,” “Wedding Night,” and others.
Born Hanna Fesakova in 1908 in Kyiv to the owner of a private dance school and a prima ballerina at the Kyiv Opera, turbulent times – World War I, revolution, the death of her father – prompted her to seek stability early in life. At 16, she was already performing at the Kyiv Small Theatre on Khreshchatyk, where she later met and married the renowned actor Boris Sten.
During the same years, Anna Sten began her film career. Success followed the movie “The Girl with the Hatbox,” and films featuring her were sent to international festivals. During a screening in Berlin, the actress received several lucrative offers and decided not to return to the USSR, where repression had already begun.
She starred in numerous films in Germany and, in 1932, received an invitation to Hollywood from Samuel Goldwyn, who intended to make her the next Greta Garbo. Despite the success of her first film “Nana,” with a salary surpassing Mary Pickford’s, beauty, and talent, Anna did not conform to Hollywood standards: her accent was a drawback, she was considered “too plain” in conversation, and she adored homemade borscht with dumplings (which affected her figure).
When her career declined, Anna seemed unfazed. She hosted TV shows, seriously took up painting, and focused on charity. When asked if she felt a connection to her distant homeland, Anna Sten replied simply: “I am Ukrainian, and I never forget that I spoke only Ukrainian until I was twelve.”
declares actress, director, and producer Vera Farmiga. The star of the series “Bates Motel” was born in Clifton, New Jersey, to a family of Ukrainian immigrants. Her grandparents met in a displaced persons camp in Germany during World War II, from where they emigrated to the United States in 1950 with their little daughter, Vera’s future mother. Farmiga’s father was born in Ukraine.
Vera is the second child in the family, with siblings Victor, Stefan, Nadia, Alexandra, Larisa, and Taissa, whose names emphasize the family’s commitment to their Ukrainian roots. Vera grew up in a close-knit Ukrainian community and spoke only “yukie” – the family’s term for the Ukrainian language – until the age of six. She attended a Ukrainian Catholic school, actively participated in “Plast” (the Ukrainian scouting organization), danced in the folk ensemble “Syzokryli,” and even toured Ukraine with the group. The star takes pride in being able to dance the hopak – a traditional Ukrainian dance!
For Christmas, Vera’s large family gathers at her house, and each time, the hostess prepares the traditional twelve-course “Holy Supper.” Vera’s culinary specialty is borscht, prepared according to her grandmother’s recipe. Amidst challenging times for her parents’ homeland, Vera Farmiga vehemently condemned Russian aggression and urged the world to support Ukraine. She frequently posts on social media in support of Ukraine, recites poems by Ukrainian poets, and participates in solidarity actions.
Olga Kurylenko, the “Bond Girl,” can boldly be called the “Ukrainian Cinderella” in the world of cinema. The actress was born in 1979 in Berdiansk (now occupied by dictator Putin’s Russian forces). When she turned three, her parents divorced, her father disappeared from her life, and she had to share a small apartment with her grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and a cousin. Her mother’s salary as a school drawing teacher barely covered their food expenses, and Olga still remembers how her mother sewed her a jacket from her winter coat and constantly patched tights and sweaters.
The girl attended a music school, learning to play the piano, and joined a ballet studio while also studying languages – skills that proved valuable later in life. The turning point in Olga Kurylenko’s destiny came when a scout from the Red Star modeling agency spotted the thirteen-year-old and offered her a chance to try modeling. While her modeling career flourished, Olga became interested in cinematography.
Today, the actress has over 50 film credits to her name, with the most famous being “Quantum of Solace.” Olga Kurylenko lives in London, actively pursues her film career, raises her son, and devotes much attention to child protection issues.
On social media, Olga identifies herself as a “Slavic” and openly admits that Russian was spoken in her family. However, in February 2022, the star spoke out against Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine: “I understand the suffering of millions of families affected by the war in Ukraine, including my own family. Now imagine the suffering of children, completely alone. They have no parents to take care of them. They are voiceless, forgotten victims of war, and they need our help.”
Actress Ivanna Sakhno has no doubt about her Ukrainian identity. Born in Kyiv, she lived in Ukraine until the age of 13, cherishes the Ukrainian language, and recommends Ukrainian films like “The Lost Letter” and “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” to her friends.
In her childhood, Ivanna aspired to become a figure skater or a taxi driver. However, growing up in a family of filmmakers made it challenging to escape the allure of the industry. At the age of 13, while studying in Vancouver, she added acting to her repertoire. Her determination and talent helped her break into the film industry. In October 2016, she secured a major role in “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” followed by another Hollywood blockbuster, “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” in October 2017. Finally, in September 2020, the horror film “Let It Snow” was released, with Ivanna Sakhno in the lead role.
She gained worldwide popularity through her role in the Disney+ series “Ahsoka,” part of the “Star Wars” franchise. In it, Ivanna portrayed Shin Hati, a former Jedi Padawan of Bailan Skolla, who turned to the dark side of the Force. Ivanna successfully created a compelling character—a charismatic and stylish rogue proficient with a lightsaber and “those Jedi tricks.” Despite living and working in the USA since 2013, Ivanna remains deeply concerned about events in Ukraine. She actively participated in Los Angeles diaspora rallies supporting the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 and, in 2022, condemned Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. Ivanna is not afraid to visit Ukraine; during the massive shelling of Kyiv in May 2023, she, like everyone else, sought refuge in a metro bomb shelter, expressing solidarity with the Ukrainian people and sending a strong message to Putin.
Another famous “American Ukrainian” is Milla Jovovich. The iconic star of the “Resident Evil” series was born in Kyiv in 1975 to Ukrainian actress Galina Loginova and Serbian doctor Bogdan Jovovich. In 1980, Milla, along with her parents, moved to the UK and later to the USA. She made her early debut in the romantic drama “Return to the Blue Lagoon,” but her worldwide fame came from playing an extraterrestrial in “The Fifth Element.”
Milla has always been interested in events in Ukraine. During the Euromaidan protests in 2014, she sent money to support affected activists, urging her fans to do the same. The actress often incorporates national motifs into her clothing collections. Once, she posted a video of herself singing the Ukrainian folk song “Oi, u hayu, pry Dunayu” almost without an American accent when she was 19. Milla closely follows everything happening in her homeland, especially as her relatives still reside in Ukraine. Recently, she shared the story of her sick uncle living in Ukraine amid the war, saying, “My uncle is helpless. He is very ill, living with his daughter, and every day, he hears rockets flying over his farm.”
In her younger years, renowned actress Mila Kunis was less interested in her roots. Raised in a family where Russian was spoken, Mila often identified herself as Russian in America, as explaining Ukraine’s location became tiresome. However, recent events in Ukraine deeply concern and trouble her.
Mila was born in Chernivtsi in 1983, and her family, including a factory engineer father and a schoolteacher mother, faced economic challenges. Mila encountered instances of anti-Semitism in school. When she was seven, the family immigrated to the USA to ease her assimilation into the new cultural environment; her mother enrolled her in a theater studio, setting the stage for her future fame in films like “Black Swan” and “Bad Moms.”
Mila became more curious about her homeland after becoming a mother. In 2017, she visited Ukraine for the first time with her daughter and husband, actor-producer Ashton Kutcher, and repeated the visit in 2019, meeting with President Zelensky and the First Lady. Mila and Ashton vehemently condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and promptly initiated fundraising efforts. They raised over $30 million, with Mila expressing pride that her children, being half-Ukrainian, could continue this heritage. She emphasized, “I am a typical American; I grew up in Los Angeles. But I have never been prouder to be from Ukraine. I am so proud that my children can continue this legacy.”
Katheryn Winnick, born Katerena Anna Vinitska, is a renowned Canadian actress who gained widespread popularity for her portrayal of the Scandinavian warrior Lagertha in the TV series “Vikings.” Although born in Toronto, Katheryn considers herself Ukrainian, as her parents hail from Galicia (Lviv and Ternopil regions).
The actress’s grandfather joined the ranks of the Sich Riflemen at the age of 16. Her great-grandfather was a lieutenant in the 1st Zaporizhian Division of the Army of the Ukrainian National Republic. Fleeing from Soviet authorities in the 1940s, they emigrated and Katheryn’s parents were born in Germany before eventually moving to Canada. Her mother, Lesya Vinitska, works in the Ukrainian Congress in Canada. Katheryn has siblings – sister Daria and brothers Adam and Markian. She exclusively spoke Ukrainian until the age of 8, attended a Ukrainian school in Toronto, visited a Greek Catholic church, and was an active member of “Plast,” where she began seriously practicing karate and taekwondo, making the combat scenes in “Vikings” familiar territory for her.
Since the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Katheryn has been actively involved in organizing aid for affected Ukrainians. She visited the devastated town of Irpin and was deeply moved by what she witnessed. “Seeing this with my own eyes, I realized how many families are suffering. Every life matters,” she wrote on social media.
In March 2022, she, along with her mother, established the Winnick Foundation, a charitable fund aimed at raising funds for the needs of Ukraine.
Source: The Gaze