Hey there. Happy Wednesday 🙂 In honor of International Women’s Day/Women’s History Month I’ve decided to spotlight strong, independent women from history on the blog. As I was researching the latest Leine Basso thriller, I ran across the story of the woman I’ve chosen for the inaugural post: Lyudmila Pavlichenko.
Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Ukrainian-born sniper active in the Red Army during WWII with 309 confirmed kills, including 36 enemy snipers (which means she probably killed far more Nazis than 309 since to confirm a kill it had to be witnessed by another person). In an era where women in the US and Soviet Union weren’t allowed to join the military and fight on the front lines, Pavlichenko blasted through the glass ceiling imposed by the Russian military by being an expert at what she did. Eventually, the Soviet Union not only allowed but actively trained 2,000 women to be snipers, 500 of whom survived the war. Pavlichenko was one of those survivors and often worked in the “no man’s land” between the front lines of her unit and the enemy’s.
She was a woman after my own heart. At the age of 14 when a neighbor boy boasted about how good of a shot he was, she took it upon herself to learn how to shoot better than he did. “I practiced, a lot,” she was quoted as saying. In 1937, she went on to attend college at Kiev University, intending to become a teacher.
From an article in the Smithsonian: “[Pavlichenko] was in Odessa when the war broke out and Romanians and Germans invaded. “They wouldn’t take girls in the army, so I had to resort to all kinds of tricks to get in,” Pavlichenko recalled, noting that officials tried to steer her toward becoming a nurse. To prove that she was as skilled with a rifle as she claimed, a Red Army unit held an impromptu audition at a hill they were defending, handing her a rifle and pointing her toward a pair of Romanians who were working with the Germans. “When I picked off the two, I was accepted,” Pavlichenko said, noting that she did not count the Romanians in her tally of kills “because they were test shots.”
Her first day on the battlefield, she was scared to death and couldn’t bring herself to shoot. A fellow soldier set up next to her to give her courage but was quickly killed by a German sniper. Again from the Smithsonian article: “Pavlichenko was shocked into action. “He was such a nice, happy boy,” she recalled. “And he was killed just next to me. After that, nothing could stop me.”
Justice Robert Jackson, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Eleanor Roosevelt (Source: Library of Congress)
In 1942 she traveled to the US to drum up support for a second front and while there met and became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. Reporters gave Pavlichenko a hard time about not wearing makeup and not dressing like a woman should, and to say she was shocked is probably an understatement. She had been awarded the highest honor in Soviet Russia, the Order of Lenin, among other commendations, for what she’d done in the war, and American reporters were concerned about how she looked. (Hasn’t changed much, has it?)
Intrigued by her story, I found a recent film (2015) on Amazon chronicling her life. The Battle for Sevastopol is in Russian and English with English subtitles. The subtitles whoosh by pretty fast, so have your pause button handy, but the movie itself was cinematic and gut-wrenching and definitely one to watch if you’re into war movies based on a true story.
After being wounded in battle, Pavlichenko went on to train snipers until the war ended, and then returned to university to earn her Master’s degree in history. There were reports that she married a fellow soldier during the war, but that he was killed in the Battle for Sevastopol. There’s a scene in the movie that details this, although I found scant information out there about him.
Read more about Lyudmila Pavlichenko:
Also in honor of International Women’s Day, I’m participating in two promotions featuring strong female characters: from March 6-17th, the 1st Annual Women’s History Month Giveaway (all genres), and running March 8-15th, the Nasty Women Giveaway (the name says it all 🙂 All books are through #Instafreebie, so all you’ll need to do to download your free books is sign up for the newsletter for the author of whichever titles you choose. I guarantee you’ll find yourself some new authors to read 🙂