Sophie Pinkham

Professor of the Practice


Sophie Pinkham is a writer, journalist, and critic specializing in Russian and Ukrainian literature, culture, and politics. Her book Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine (2016, W.W. Norton/William Heinemann) blends reportage, cultural criticism, and memoir. Her work in progress The Spirit in the Trees (forthcoming from W.W. Norton in the US, William Collins in the UK, and Dutch and German publishers) is an exploration of the forest’s role in myth, culture, and politics in Russia and its surrounding territories. She has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar grant for the project.

A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, Pinkham writes primarily (though not exclusively) about Russia and Ukraine. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Economist 1843 Magazine, The New Yorker, New Left Review, The Washington Post, and many other publications.

Trained as a Slavist, Pinkham received a PhD from Columbia in 2019. Her academic and teaching interests include the relationship between writer cults and national identity in the later Soviet Union and contemporary Russia; the poetics of censorship; the politics of comedy, tragedy, and historical memory in post-socialist culture; and environmental studies. 

Pinkham previously worked in international public health in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, focusing on HIV, drug use, and women’s health. She produced a short documentary, Balka (2010), on women, drugs, and HIV in Ukraine. 

Personal website:


  • “Fireball Over Siberia,” on Andy Bruno’s new history of the Tunguska Event of 1908, June 2023
  • “Lost in a Dark Wood”: reported feature on migrants crossing the forest on the Belarusian-Polish border, The Economist 1843 Magazine, March 2023
  • “Immune to Despair”: on Ukrainian writer and activist Serhiy Zhadan, New York Review of Books, September 2022
  • “The Thorny Politics of Translating a Belarusian Novel,” on Alhierd Bacharevic’s Alindarka’s Children and linguistic imperialism, New York Times, June 2022
  • “A Hotter Russia,” on Thane Gustafson’s Klimat, New York Review of Books, June 2022
  • “’They’re Willing to Risk Ruining Their Lives’: Putin’s War is Driving Russians Out,” reported guest essay, The New York Times, March 2022
  • “What Young Ukrainians Have Lost Overnight,” The New Yorker, March 2022
  • “Unlucky Stars: Portents of War in Ukraine,” on Yevgenia Belorusets’ Lucky Breaks, The Baffler, March 2022
  • “Can Volodymyr Zelensky Save Ukraine?” Analysis, New York Magazine, February 2022
  • “The Freedom of Historical Fiction,” on Russian Formalist critic Yury Tynianov’s novels Young Pushkin, Kuchlya, and The Death of Vazir-Mukhtar, New York Review of Books, March 2022
  • “Searching for Freedom After the Cold War,” on Lea Ypi’s Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History, The New Republic, February 2022
  • Review of Ludmila Ulitskaya’s Just the Plague, Times Literary Supplement, December 2021
  • “Designs for Living,” on Yugoslav architect Svetlana Kana Radević, New York Review of Books, September 2021
  • “Yesterday Never Existed,” on Osip Mandelstam, Poetry, July 2021
  • HIV in Russia, dir. Yuri Dud’ (review), Slavic Review 80, Issue 2, Summer 2021.
  • “Ghosts of Borodino,” on Maria Stepanova, Harper’s, June 2021
  • “No More Mother-Saviors,” on Russian feminist poetry by Galina Rymbu, Lida Yusupova, and others, New York Review of Books, April 2021
  • “Something Resembling Normal Life,” on North Korean writer Park Nam-nyong’s novel Friend and the North Korean version of socialist realism, New York Review of Books, December 2020
  • “Funeral Rites,” on Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral, New Left Review/Sidecar, December 2020
  • “Nihilism for Oligarchs,” New Left Review 125, Sept-Oct 2020.
  • “A Beginner’s Guide to End Times,” on Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens’s How Everything Can Collapse, Bookforum, Sept/Oct/Nov 2020
  • “Normal is Over for Russia’s Hinterland,” Foreign Policy, August 2020
  • “Living by Lies,” on Joshua Yaffa’s Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia, New York Review of Books, August 2020
  • “Doing a Coup: The Many Lives of Catherine the Great,” The Nation, July 2020
  • “Realists of the Soviet Fantasy,” on Aleksandr Deineka and Aleksandr Samokhvalov, NYRB, May 2020
  • “The Playful Propaganda of ‘The History of Ukraine,’” The New Yorker online, February 2020
  • “Blood on the Ice,” on Bathsheba Demuth’s Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait, NYRB, December 2019
  • “Ukraine’s New Leading Man,” on Volodymyr Zelensky, NYRB, June 2019
  • “The Chernobyl Syndrome,” on books by Kate Brown, Adam Higginbotham, and Serhii Plokhy, NYRB, April 2019
  • “The Collective Body,” on Anya Bernstein’s The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia, in The Nation, March 2020
  • “Vasily Grossman’s Lost Epic,” on Stalingrad, in The New Republic, Aug. 2019
  • “No Direction Home,” on post-Soviet nostalgia, The New Republic, May 2018
  • “Timothy Snyder’s Bleak Vision,” The Nation, May 2018
  • “The Candle of Memory,” on Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine, Dec. 2017
  • “Understanding Russia’s War Stories,” The New Republic, September 2017
  • “How a Russian Street Art Museum Defies Kremlin Censors,” The New Republic, July 2017
  • “What Caused the Russian Revolution?” The Nation, June 2017
  • “Ukraine’s Underground AIDS-Treatment Railroad,” Foreign Policy, Mar 2017
  • “Listening to Ordinary Russians by Drawing Them One by One,” on Victoria Lomasko’s Other Russias, The New Yorker online, February 2017
  • “Pure Imagination,” on Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Bookforum, Feb/Mar 2017
  • “When were you thinking of shooting yourself?” on Mayakovsky, London Review of Books, February 2017
  • Zdesizdat and Discursive Rebellion: The Metropol Affair,” Ulbandus Review Vol. 17,  2016.
  • “Witness Tampering,” on Svetlana Alexievich, The New Republic, August 2016
  • “Teffi’s Memories and the Women of the Russian Revolution,” The New Yorker online, May 2016
  • “Letter from Belgorod,” on Victory Day, The Nation, August 2015
  • “Prattletraps,” on Sergei Dovlatov’s Pushkin Hills, London Review of Books, May 2015
  • “Watching the Ukrainian Oligarchs,” The New Yorker online, April 2015
  • “Eastern Promises,” on Emmanuel Carrère’s Limonov, Bookforum, Dec/Jan 2015
  • “Making Deals in the Paradise of Thieves: Leonid Utesov, Arkadii Severnyi, and Blatnaia Pesnia,” Ulbandus Review Vol. 16, 2014.
  • “Soviet Animation and the Thaw of the 1960s: Not Only for Children” (book review), The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, November 2014.
  • “Sofiya Tolstoy’s Defense,” The New Yorker online, October 2014
  • “Pussy Riot in Translation,” Dissent, Summer 2014
  • “Waiting for the Unexpected,” on Gaito Gazdanov, LRB, March 2014
  • “The Museum of the Revolution,” on Victor Serge, The Nation, November 2013
  • “Oligarchs and Graphomaniacs,” on Russia’s Debut Prize, The Nation, April 2013
  • Additional publications in 1843 Magazine, BOMB, Dissent, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, The New York Times, n+1, The Paris Review Daily, and the Times Literary Supplement.


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