Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born on July 12, 1916 to Mikhail Belov and his wife, Elena Trofimivna Belova. Her father was a locksmith. When she was fourteen, the family moved to Kyiv. Lyudmila was a self-described tomboy who was fiercely competitive. Her ambitions led her to join a shooting club, where she developed skills as an amateur sharpshooter. She was able to earn both a sharpshooting certificate and also a Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge.

In 1932, at about sixteen years old, Lyudmila married Alexei Pavlichenko. She soon gave birth to their son, Rostislav. However, their marriage did not last long. She soon moved back in with her parents and attended night school. She also took a day job at the Kyiv Arsenal factory.

In 1937, Lyudmila Pavlichenko enrolled at Kyiv University, where she studied history. She also enrolled in a military-style sniping school for six months; the Red Army taught the courses.

In 1941, Nazi Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union; Pavlichenko was twenty-five years old and in her fourth year of University. Nevertheless, she was among the first to volunteer in the Odesa recruiting office. Pavlichenko requested to be in the infantry, but the registrar attempted to push her into being a nurse. She refused to relent and was eventually accepted into the army as a sniper. She was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.

It was hard for women of the time to become a part of any military unit. However, Pavlichenko was one of two thousand female snipers in the Red Army. Although she was assigned to a combat role, she was issued little more than a fragmentation grenade due to weapons shortages. That changed for her on August 8, 1941. On that day, an injured soldier handed her his Mosin–Nagant model 1891 bolt-action rifle. She took out her first two enemies within a short time and proved to be more than her comrades expected. She fought in the battle of Odesa for two and a half months and is credited with killing one hundred eighty-seven soldiers.

In August of 1941, Lyudmila was promoted to senior sergeant after she added one hundred more kills to her official tally. In that very same year, she married fellow sniper Alexei Kitsenko. Unfortunately, he was mortally wounded by a mortar shell not long after the wedding.

The Nazi’s overran Odesa on October 15, 19141. At that point, Pavlichenko and her unit were withdrawn to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. There they participated in the siege of Sevastopol. From that point on she began training other snipers. In May 1942, the Southern Army Council cited her as having killed two hundred and fifty-seven Axis snipers. During her time as a sniper, she claimed to have killed a total of three hundred and nine Axis soldiers, including thirty-six snipers.

In June of 1942, Lyudmila was hit in the face with shrapnel from a mortar shell. She was ordered to be evacuated from Sevastopol via submarine and spent a month in the hospital. Instead of being sent back to the front, she became a propagandist for the Red Army. Her nickname was ‘Lady Death.’

Towards the end of 1942, the Red Army sent her on a publicity tour of the United States and Canada. In the United States, she was surprised by the extent of sexism she faced. Although she was the first Soviet citizen to be received by a U.S. President when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt invited her to the White House, she soon realized that the press and others did not take her seriously. She was referred to as “Girl sniper” and said, “One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat.” They were also overly concerned about whether or not she wore makeup on the front lines.

Perhaps her most extraordinary moment of the tour was when, in Chicago, she scolded the men and told them, “I am 26 years old and I have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”

Lyudmila Pavlichenko never returned to the frontlines. Instead, she continued to travel in an attempt to raise money for the war. She also continued to train snipers. In 1943, she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. She was also awarded the Order of Lenin twice.

After the war, Lyudmila finished her education at Kyiv University and became a historian. From 1945 to 1953, she was a research assistant at the Soviet Navy headquarters. She was also active in the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War and was even visited by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Despite all of her accomplishments, Lyudmila constantly struggled with depression. She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the war and losing her husband. It is believed that her PTSD, and its resulting alcoholism, caused her to pass away from a stroke at the age of fifty-eight on October 10, 1974.[1][2]

[1] King, Gilbert (21 February 2013). “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper”. Smithsonian.
[2] inogradova, Lyuba (2017). Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union’s WWII Sniper Corps. Quercus. pp. 37–47.

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