The uncertain journey of my Russian identity

Alexei Sorokin
5 min readMar 9, 2022

First, there is a question of what makes up one’s national identity. What makes one — irrespective of where one’s home is—a Russian, an American, a Brit, and so on.

I could write a lot about this and venture into the territory of soul searching.

But I also know a shortcut answer to my question.

If you speak with an accent, there is a good chance your identity is closely linked to the country where you spent your younger years. You spent enough years in your nation of origin to reach adolescence so you have memories that do not fade, even with years, and everything that comes with them — personalities, life stories, culture, music, food, politics, habits, historic events, knowing the language of course.

My situation is really complicated on this front (my accent!). I wrote this story on the topic.

I absolutely have an accent but it’s a slight accent and not an easily recognizable Russian accent. Still, when I meet new people, it’s almost a habit to mention that I’m Russian, to pre-empt the inevitable question “Where are you from?”

I immigrated to America in 2013. A lot of things happened since then. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was obviously the main — until this terrible war with Ukraine — geopolitical event that launched Russia into isolation. There were other events too that were in the news but were probably less shocking to an average Western observer. In February 2015 one of Russia’s most prominent opposition leaders, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in the center of Moscow.

Look at this picture. By “center of Moscow” I mean “center of Moscow”. One of Russia’s most iconic landmarks, St. Basil Cathedral, is the background. By the way, there is a legend that Ivan Grozny (“the Terrible”) poked the eyes of the architect who built the cathedral so he could never build anything as beautiful. It’s all fitting isn’t it — Ivan Grozny (Grozny doesn't quite mean “terrible” in Russian; it means evoking fear), imprisonments, prosecutions, poisonings, assassinations, beatings, and suspicious suicides–of politicians, journalists, businessmen, and even artists–five hundred years and the taste of Russia’s violent history hasn’t changed. If Putin felt his destiny is closely tied to the destiny of the country…

Alexei Sorokin

A Russian immigrant in America, father of 4, Cambridge and Harvard Business School alum. I run and write every day. More here: