Its 1941 and the 25th infantry division of the Red army, has been ordered to defend a hill near a village just outside of Odessa in the Ukraine.
German and Romanian soldiers are on the approach as a young Ukrainian soldier peers through the scope of a mosin nagant rifle. The sniper finds a target, exhales slowly and fires a shot into a Romanians chest creating an exit wound the size of an apple.
After cycling the rifle’s bolt action, the sniper places the cross hairs on another Romanian and sends a second round down range striking a second Romanian in the heart.
Both soldiers fall to the ground motionless. Dead.
The shooter is a 24yr old Ukrainian woman Lyudmila Pavlichenko. This was her killing her first two soldiers and it took just a year after this for her to be hailed the most successful female sniper of all time.
She was born in a small Village near Kiev on July 12th 1916. During her teens she worked at Kiev’s Arsonary and participated in Kiev’s mandatory military training programmes. She began to get noticed due to her supreme accuracy and entered various shooting competitions where she was a step ahead of the rest of the competition. She joined a paramilitary organisation where she learned to hand glide and parachute. She volunteered to join the red army at a time were women were not really accepted. She was told to become a nurse instead when she offered to join the rifle regiment, but her marksmanship certificate convinced the recruiter about her capabilities.
The Soviet Union were more relaxed about having women in combat compared to the United States. Women could join the army in a number of roles but were especially suited for sniping due to them being smaller, flexible, cunning, patient and more susceptible to combat stress. Lyudmila was wounded on 3 separate occasions, but continued to fight and racked up over one hundred kills in 10 months in the region. Lyudmila was promoted to senior sergeant but Odessa was eventually lost to the Germans and she was shipped out to the city of Sevastopol. She fought her for 250 days and promoted to the rank of Junior Lieutenant.
In June 1942 Lyudmila was wounded by mortar fire and moved out of Sevastopol to the mainland. Her final kill count was 309, including over 100 officers and no less than 36 enemy snipers. She was one of the highest scoring female snipers in the history of combat. Sadly, Lyudmila’s division the 25th did not make it out of Sevastopol. The Germans took the city and a majority of the soldiers, including her husband, were killed. The story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a propaganda dream and she ended up travelling all around the world so people could hear her story.
As popular as Lyudmila Pavlichenko was, she conflicted with American women. Pavlichenko expressed her concerns in an interview with Time magazine. She was amazed at the kind of questions put to her by the women’s press correspondence in Washington. Lyudmila stated;
“Don’t they know there’s a war, they were asking me silly questions like do I use powder, nail polish and curl my hair. One reporter even criticised the length of my uniform skirt saying that American women wear shorter skirts, and that my uniform made me look fat. This made me angry, I wear my uniform with honour, it has the order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women, what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for they have yet to learn.”
Upon returning to the Soviet Union Lieutenant Pavlichenko was promoted to major. She was also awarded the title, hero of the Soviet Union which is equivalent to the American medal of honour. She instructed snipers at the central women’s sniper training school for the rest of the war. There were 407 instructors which produced 1061 graduates. These students and teachers were responsible for nearly 12000 confirmed kills during the course of the war. She moved back to Moscow and became a Historian for her remaining years before she died in October 1974 at the age of 58. Lyudmila Pavlichenko not only experienced conflict, but she also experienced the ideological conflict that existed between the East and the West.
Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko was more than just a sniper she was an icon of her time, a hero to her countrymen and example of the conflict and cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union.