Musicians, artists, CEOs and more all feature in our inaugural list of the top 25 Russian women who've made a significant contribution to the country's creative culture over the past 12 months. While some of the women on the list such as Olga Sviblova, the grande dame of the Moscow gallery world, have devoted years to driving Russia’s cultural scene, others, such as filmmaker Daria Belova, represent the country’s emerging talent. Whether veterans or newcomers, each - listed below in alphabetical order - has played a key role in helping shape a new creative future for Russia.
  • Text: Nadia Beard, Samuel Crews, Maryam Omidi, Jamie Rann and Igor Zinatulin

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,
members of Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot are an obscure art-punk protest band with a righteous message but little international impact. Oh wait, no. In October 2012, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were not fined, or just ignored, for singing an anti-Putin punk anthem in a Moscow cathedral, but rather jailed for two years on grounds of "hooliganism motivated by racial hatred" (Samutsevich was released on appeal). Since then they’ve barely been out of the headlines, in Russia and the west, and showed considerable integrity and strength in the face of harsh prison conditions and — after their release on amnesty in December 2013 — arbitrary arrest and Cossack whippings. Although they are not widely loved in Russia, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have taken a studied approach to becoming important symbols of integrity, opposition and cultural pluralism.

Daria Belova, filmmaker

Daria Belova was awarded the Discovery Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival while still a student. Her winning entry, Come and Play, deftly melds together themes of post-World War II anxiety, blurred reality and a non-linear timescape. After graduating in philology in St Petersburg and working as a journalist, Belova moved to Germany to study at the Berlin Film School where she made Come and Play as part of her coursework. Since Cannes, offers from French producers have been pouring in making Belova a young talent to watch.

Alisa Chumachenko, founder and CEO of Game Insight

Alisa Chumachenko worked her way up from secretary to marketing executive of Moscow gaming company Astrum before setting up her own firm, Game Insight, in 2010. The free-to-play games company has fast eclipsed its US rival Zynga, ensuring Chumachenko a regular spot on lists of top women in tech. In 2013, the company raised $25m in investment from Russian venture capital firm IMI.VC, allowing Chumachenko to grow the company further. With an office in San Francisco, more than 40 games for iOS, Android and Facebook, 250 million users worldwide and titles in 18 languages, Game Insight is indisputably a world leader in the gaming industry.

Ekaterina Degot, curator

Art historian, writer and Moscow conceptualism devotee Ekaterina Degot kept herself busy last year. She co-curated the first Art Triennale in Bergen, Norway along with David Riff, a member of the art group Chto Delat, borrowing the main title for the exhibition from the brothers Strugatsky Utopian story written in 1965 Monday Begins on Saturday. This collective curatorial project has been shortlisted for the Innovation prize — Russia’s prestigious art award which is due to be awarded on 9 April at the Museum of Moscow. Degot is also teaching history of art at the Rodchenko School for Photography and Multimedia on top of contributing to Artforum and Frieze magazines.

Masha Gessen, journalist and writer

As worldwide attention turned to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law last year, journalist Masha Gessen continued to establish herself as a vociferous advocate of sexual minorities and critic of President Vladimir Putin. Gessen, who is gay, wrote often about her fears for herself, her partner and children. A US citizen, she left Moscow for New York in December 2013, citing Russia’s increasingly homophobic climate and the proposed bill to remove children from gay parents as reasons behind her departure. Her critically-praised new book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot examines the story of the feminist punk band.

Alina Ibragimova, violinist

Alina Ibragimova’s talent has been evident from a young age. As a student at Britain’s renowned Yehudi Menuhin School, she was playing Bach’s solo works with no vibrato, something musicians twice her age rarely dare to try. Her radical take on classical works of music has propelled Ibragimova onto the international musical scene where she has played as a soloist and chamber musician across the world at venues including Wigmore Hall, Palais des Beaux Arts and Carnegie Hall. Leaving rapturous applause in her wake, the 29-year-old’s most recent success has been a recording of Mendelssohn’s two violin concertos with Hyperion Records.

Elena Klimova, LGBT activist

Being an LGBT activist is rarely an easy task, but add an anti-gay propaganda law into the mix and the job becomes infinitely harder. Elena Klimova, a journalist and political activist, is the creator of website Children-404, an online support group for LGBT teenagers in Russia. The website offers teens a forum where they can anonymously voice their experiences of being gay in Russia, with a team of psychologists on hand to provide pro-bono advice.

Marina Kolesnik, founder of Oktogo

In 2010, Marina Kolesnik saw a gap in the market. Realising that Russians preferred homegrown brands, she launched Oktogo, a kind of, which today is the country’s leading online hotel reservation service. Since then, the Harvard Business School graduate has raised millions of dollars in venture capital funding from investors that include Mangrove Capital Partners, Skype’s earliest backer. The company, recently rebranded as, has gone from strength to strength. For the second year in a row in 2013, Oktogo picked up the Best Internet Service award from National Geographic Traveller.

Nina Kraviz, DJ and music producer

Siberia-born DJ and music producer Nina Kraviz is always on the move. Her standard tour diary looks like a teen band’s fantasy — photoshoot in Paris, late-night session in London and a sunrise after-party in Berlin, all packed into 24 hours. But her flight to stardom was far from linear — she spent years studying dentistry at a military academy and worked as a freelance journalist until her distinctive hardcore-meets-space-disco style was noticed by the producers of Red Bull Music Academy in 2006. Last year was especially prolific with two new vinyl releases on a respected indie label and yet another global tour under her belt.

Marina Loshak, director of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

In June 2013, Marina Loshak was appointed to one of the most important roles in Russian art: the directorship of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, replacing the eminent Irina Antonova. Loshak, who is a member of the Kandinsky Prize expert committee, had won plaudits for her innovative helming of the Manege exhibition space and its satellite projects, including the new Worker and Kolkhoz Woman museum.

Varvara Melnikova, director of Strelka Institute for media, architecture and design

Since taking over the directorship of Strelka in August 2012, Melnikova has consolidated the institute’s position as a driving force for public discussion and education around urbanism, architecture and design in Russia. Melnikova has been responsible for founding the institute’s consulting arm, which has worked with the city government on projects such as the development of Gorky Park, the new National Centre for Contemporary Arts building, and the establishment of a network of cultural centres in Russia’s regions. In recognition of her work, this year, Domus magazine named Strelka among the top 100 architecture schools in the world.

Natalia Meshchaninova, film director

For years Natalia Meshchaninova lived in the shadow of the revered filmmaker Valeria Gai Germanika. The pair had worked on a number of films together as well as a television series entitled School, a thought-provoking programme about a Russian high school that sparked widespread public debate about education in the country. Now Meschaninova has gone it alone with glittering results. Her first feature debut, The Hope Factory, went straight to the Rotterdam International Film Festival, known as a key event for spotting young talent.

Irina Nakhova, conceptual artist

Fresh from winning the €40,000 Kandinsky Prize, one of the country’s top awards for visual arts, conceptual artist Irina Nakhova has just been chosen to represent Russia at the next Venice Biennale, making her the first woman artist to have ever been selected. Nakhova’s winning Kandinsky Prize installation, Untitled, uses photos from her family’s archive to examine the impact of Stalin’s purges, and will be exhibited in New York later this year.

Natalia Osipova, ballerina

Read any review of one of Natalia Osipova’s performances and you’ll be met with a string of superlatives. One critic recently described the 27-year-old ballerina as "one of the most exciting dancers in the world" while another said she had "unique physical gifts — an astonishing jump and preternatural lightness and bounce". Since joining The Royal Ballet in London last year, the virtuoso star has wowed audiences and critics alike. Barely three months into 2014 and Osipova has already won the Critics Circle National Dance awards for best female dancer.

Irina Prokhorova, editor and head of the Civic Platform party

Shrewd and mild-mannered, writer Irina Prokhorova burst into the public consciousness after confidently defeating pro-Vladimir Putin film director Nikita Mikhalkov in a round of televised debates during the 2012 presidential elections. That well-reported incident suddenly turned Prokhorova, an editor of the intellectual magazine New Literary Observer, into one of the most popular opposition leaders in a country where open criticism of the government is rarely heard on state-backed TV channels. Not surprisingly, last year Irina Prokhorova replaced her brother as a leader of the newly-formed liberal party Civic Platform, which is likely to get a considerable chunk of the vote at the next parliamentary elections in Moscow.

Alina Rudnitskaya, documentary filmmaker

Alina Rudnitskaya, 37, is spearheading a new generation of women documentary filmmakers emerging in Russia. In December 2013, a group of women directors walked away with all the prizes at the ArtDocFest Documentary Film Festival in Moscow but it was 37-year-old Rudnitskaya who took home the Grand Prix award for her film Blood (2013), which follows a mobile blood bank team as they travel to remote corners of Russia.

Alina Saprykina, director of the Museum of Moscow

In May last year Saprykina was appointed director of the Museum of Moscow, a project which, since 2008, has brought together six major museums in the capital, with an enormous range of historical exhibits. The appointment came at the highpoint of the Moscow Ministry of Culture’s campaign to bring innovative new talent into state-sponsored initiatives, and was a recognition of her work as founder of Artplay, the well-regarded design centre and art cluster. In September a new concept was announced for the Museum of Moscow, aimed at using young talent to renovate the museum’s large Proviantsky Warehouses site.

Ulyana Sergeenko,
fashion designer

2013 was the year in which Russian fashion started to be taken seriously, as something more than fur, diamonds and oligarchs. That’s in large part due to the success of Ulyana Sergeenko, who has made the move from arriviste couture buyer to lauded designer and fashion week mainstay. Noted for her traditional, opulent looks, Sergeenko has resurrected what little remained of Russian couture culture with attention to detail and a passion for storytelling in her collections — recently compared her to Galliano in that respect.

Julia Shakhnovskaya,
director of the Polytechnic Museum

After securing 9.9bn roubles for the reconstruction of Moscow’s Polytechnic Museum from the Russian government, one of the oldest science museums in the world, Julia Shakhovskaya was promoted from head of the museum’s development fund to director. Before joining the museum, Shakhnovskaya worked as a curator of cultural and intellectual projects for online media company SUP Media, Russian social networking site LiveJournal, and publishing house Azbooka-Atticus. With years of experience in the cultural sphere under her belt, Shakhnovskaya is set to be instrumental in shaping the museum-going experience in Moscow.

Natalia Sindeeva, CEO of Rain TV

It’s been a tough year for Natalia Sindeeva who’s been fighting to keep Rain TV, Russia’s only independent media channel, from going under. Despite her best efforts, the channel is likely to close within the next few months due to financial difficulties. Under her watch, the channel earned a reputation for reporting on sensitive issues that other media have shied away from. From the Moscow street protests in 2011 and 2012 to the recent unrest in Ukraine, Rain TV has been unwavering in its commitment to free speech and strong journalism. In the end it was this willingness to speak out that has proven to be Rain TV’s undoing: a controversial online poll on the Leningrad siege in January was met with disapproval from cable operators who promptly dropped the channel.

Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, artistic director of the ViennaFair

Since taking the reins of the ViennaFair — Austria’s answer to London’s Frieze — in 2012, Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt has been working hard on strengthening its international appeal. The fair’s 2013 edition, hosted under Steinbrecher’s supervision, accommodated 127 galleries from 26 countries, including 11 galleries from Russia. Running international art fairs is nothing new for 31-year old Steinbrecher-Pfandt who was born in Kazakhstan, studied contemporary art at Manchester University and then worked as an artistic director of Moscow’s Art Fair at the Central House of Artists, the largest modern art centre in Russia.

Olga Sviblova, director of the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Grande dame of the Moscow gallery world, Olga Sviblova has had a banner year as head of the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow, which she founded in 2001. MAMM has one of the best spaces in Moscow, as shown to great effect in Utopia and Reality, the Kabakov-Lissitzky double hander last autumn which was the standout show during the Moscow Biennale. A regular on prize juries — the Kandinsky Prize, for instance — last September, Sviblova was awarded a €15,000 Montblanc de la Culture Patronage Award to finance and develop a new project.

Natalia Vodianova, model and philanthropist

Although Nizhny Novgorod-born model Natalia Vodianova has travelled the world for some of the fashion industry’s biggest design houses, she has proved herself to also be a dedicated philanthropist. In 2004, she founded the Naked Heart Foundation, a charity that aims to keep children out of orphanages and ensure they have safe environments in which to play. Last year, the foundation collaborated with Russian ice-cream brand Inmarko to launch the free app Donate a Smile. Photos of users smiling are posted on an interactive smile map, with Inmarko donating ten roubles (20 pence) to the Naked Heart Foundation for each smile.

Tatiana Volkova, artist and activist

Curator and critic Tatiana Volkova is a torchbearer for Russian activist art at a time when it needs it most. As conservative forces collude to suppress dissent voices, Volkova’s Media Impact Festival, which ran for the second time in October 2013, threw the spotlight on art and protest with a series of discussions, exhibitions and workshops at Moscow’s Artplay. Her advocacy and innovation has now won mainstream recognition with a nomination for this year’s Kandinsky Prize, Russia’s biggest contemporary art award.

Zemfira, musician

One of Russia’s few rock stars with genuine cross-generational mass appeal and critical credentials, Zemfira caused a stir in 2013 by ending a six-year hiatus with album Live in Your Head. Her return showed her pop-rock powers were still in full working order, now catalysed by a range of new influences — an essay-length review in Afisha magazine cited Radiohead and Bon Iver. As her recent protest in support of Ukraine shows, in many ways the key to Zemfira guarantees continued success by combining accessible music with a proud resistance to bland homogeneity.