Kimberly St. Julian Varnon

Headshot photo

Ph.D. Candidate

Penn Presidential PhD Fellow
Fontaine Fellow


Kimberly's research explores ideas and understandings of race, Blackness, ethnicity, and nationality policy in the Soviet Union and East Germany.

Her public writing analyzes the linkages between race, foreign policy, and culture in the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Moscow Times, and the Kennan Institute's Russia File. She has also become a regular commentator on Ukraine and Russia in American and international media outlets such as AP, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBC, and BBC.


Advisor: Dr. Benjamin Nathans

Kimberly is an avid learner of languages and hopes to add B/C/S to her repertoire before she completes her doctoral studies.

For media inquiries, please get in touch with her via her website. She is also currently booking talks and guest lectures for Fall 2023.

Online Office Hours




B.A. History, Swarthmore College, 2012

M.A. Regional Studies: Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, Harvard University, 2014

M.A. History, University of Pennsylvania, 2022

  • Teaching Assistant of the Year, 2022
  • NESEEES Graduate Essay Prize, 2022
  • REEEC Summer Research Laboratory Associate, 2022
Research Interests

Soviet nationality policy

Race and ethnicity in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine, and East Germany

African and African Diasporic racial identity and experience in the USSR and East Germany

Contemporary Russo-Ukrainian relations

Courses Taught

Teaching Assistant: History of American Law since 1877 (Tani), World War I (Holquist), East Asian Diplomacy (Dickinson), The Soviet Century (Nathans)

Selected Publications

Review of "Racism in Modern Russia: From the Romanovs to Putin" Ab Imperio 3/2022: 377-380.

"Ukraine's Story Can Find Listeners in Africa.Foreign Policy. August 2022.

"How I contribute to the Ukrainian War Effort." Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. August 2022. 

"Celebrity Attention on Ukraine." Inkstick Media. August 2022.

"Europe Can't Afford Vacillation on Ukraine." Foreign Policy. July 2022. 

"Ice Cream Diplomacy." Inkstick Media. February 2022.

Not Your Meme: Kazakhstan in the Western Imagination.” Lossi36. January 2022.

"Afro-Ukrainian Wrestler Zhan Beleniuk Won Olympic Gold but can't Escape Racism.First and Pen. August 2021.

"Andrea Lee's 'Russian Journal' A Tapestry of the Late Soviet Era." Kennan Institute's Russia File. February 2021. 

"The Ties That Bind: Black Lives Matter, Ukraine's Euromaidan, and the Realities of European Integration." Krytyka (Ukraine). June 2020. (also available in Ukrainian)

"The Curious Case of Russian Lives Matter." Foreign Policy.  July 11, 2020. 

"A Voice from the Slavic Studies Edge: On Being a Black Woman in the Field." ASEEES NEWSNET August 2020, vol. 60 no.4

"Yelena Khanga, Belonging, and Blackness in Russia." New York University Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. November 6, 2020.


2022-2023 SASGov History Department Representative

UPenn Fontaine Society

Committee for the Advocacy of Diversity & Inclusion, Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)

Communications Advisory Committee Member, Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES)

Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN)

Board of Directors, Graduate Student Representative (2021-2023), Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS)

Book Review Co-Editor, H-Net Ukraine


CV (file)