Kimberly St. Julian Varnon

Headshot photo

Ph.D. StudentPenn Presidential PhD Fellow


Kimberly's work examines how Black experience in the Soviet Union shaped Black identity, and how the presence of people of color shaped ideas and understandings of race, ethnicity, and nationality policy in the Soviet Union, East Germany, and post-Soviet space. 

Her public writing analyzes the linkages of 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 been interviewed on multiple podcasts and on the Black News ChannelCNN, and MSNBC on Ukraine and Russia.

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 email the History department or contact her via her website.


B.A. History, Swarthmore College, 2012

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

Research Interests

Soviet nationality policy

Race and ethnicity in Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union/post-Soviet region, East Germany, and Yugoslavia

African and African Diasporic racial identity and experience in the USSR

Contemporary Russo-Ukrainian relations

Subjectivity in the Soviet Union

The Holodomor and peasant understandings of Soviet power in the countryside

Selected Publications

"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.


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)