Lyudmila Pavlichenko

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Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko
Lyudmila Pavlichenko portrait.jpg
Lyudmila Pavlichenko in 1940s
Native name
Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко
Birth nameLyudmila Mikhailovna Belova
Nickname(s)Lady Death
Born12 July [O.S. 29 June] 1916[1]
Bila Tserkva, Russian Empire
(present-day Ukraine)
Died10 October 1974(1974-10-10) (aged 58)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Red Army
Years of service1941–1953
RankLieutenant in the Army
Senior Researcher with rank of Major in the Soviet Navy
Unit54th Stenka Razin Rifle Regiment in 25th Rifle Division
Soviet Navy General Staff
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union
Spouse(s)Aleksey Pavlichenko[1] Alexei Kitsenko
ChildrenRostislav Pavlichenko[1]
Other workSoviet Committee of the Veterans of War

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, (Russian: Людми́ла Миха́йловна Павличе́нко; Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко, née Belova; 12 July [O.S. 30 May] 1916 – 10 October 1974) was a Soviet sniper in the Red Army during World War II, who was credited with 309 deaths,[a][2][3] making her the deadliest female sniper in recorded history.[4][5]

She served in the Red Army during the siege of Odessa and the siege of Sevastopol, during the early stages of the fighting on the Eastern Front.

After she was injured in battle by a mortar shell, she was evacuated to Moscow.[6] After she had recovered from her injuries she trained other Red Army snipers and was a public spokeswoman for the Red Army. In 1942, she toured the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. After the war ended in 1945, she was reassigned as a senior researcher for the Soviet Navy. She died of a stroke at the age of 58.[2][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Lyudmila Belova was born to Russian parents in Bila Tserkva, Kiev Governorate, in the Russian Empire (now in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine) on 12 July [O.S. 30 May] 1916, to Mikhail Belov, a locksmith from Petrograd, and his wife Elena Trofimovna Belova (1897–1972).[8] The family moved to Kyiv when Lyudmila was aged 14.[9] As a child, Lyudmila was a self-described tomboy, who was fiercely competitive at athletic activities. In Kyiv, she joined an OSOAVIAKhIM shooting club, developed into an amateur sharpshooter and earned her Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge and a marksman certificate.

In 1932, she married Alexei Pavlichenko, and gave birth to a son, Rostislav (1932–2007). However, the marriage was soon dissolved, and Lyudmila returned to live with her parents. She attended night school as well as performing household chores.[6] During the day, she worked as a grinder at the Kyiv Arsenal factory.[6][10]

She enrolled at Kyiv University in 1937, where she studied history and intended to be a scholar and teacher. There, she competed on the university's track team as a sprinter and pole vaulter.[9][6] She was also enrolled in a military-style sniping school for six months by the Red Army.[6]

World War II[edit]

Pavlichenko in a trench (1942).

In June 1941, Pavlichenko was aged 25 in her fourth year studying history at Kyiv University when Nazi Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union.[10] Pavlichenko was among the first round of volunteers at the Odesa recruiting office, where she requested to join the infantry. The registrar pushed Pavlichenko to be a nurse, but she refused. After seeing that she had completed multiple training courses, it finally let her in the army as a sniper, and she was assigned to the Red Army's 25th Rifle Division.[10] There, she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army,[6] of whom about 500 survived the war.[9][6] Although she was assigned a combat role, she was issued with just a fragmentation grenade because of weapons shortages. On 8 August 1941, a fallen comrade handed her his Mosin–Nagant model 1891 bolt-action rifle. Pavlichenko then shot her first two enemies and proved herself to her comrades. She described the event as her "baptism of fire" because that was when she officially became a sniper.[6]

Pavlichenko fought for about 2+12 months during the siege of Odesa and recorded 187 kills.[11] She was promoted to senior sergeant in August 1941, when she reached 100 confirmed kills. At 25, she married a fellow sniper, Alexei Kitsenko.[6] Soon after the marriage, Kitsenko was mortally wounded by a mortar shell and died from his injuries a few days later in the hospital.[9]

When the Nazis and their Romanian allies overran Odesa on 15 October 1941, her unit was withdrawn by sea to Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula,[11] to fight in the siege of Sevastopol.[10][7] There, she trained other snipers, who killed over 100 Axis soldiers during the battle.[7] In May 1942, newly promoted Lieutenant Pavlichenko was cited by the Southern Army Council for killing 257 Axis soldiers. Her total of confirmed kills during World War II was 309,[12][10] including 36 Axis snipers.

In June 1942, Pavlichenko was hit in the face with shrapnel from a mortar shell. When she was injured, the Soviet High Command ordered for her to be evacuated from Sevastopol via submarine.[13]

She spent around a month in the hospital.[9] Once she had recovered from her injuries, instead of being sent back to the front, she became a propagandist for the Red Army.[6] Her high kill count gave her the nickname "Lady Death."[14][6][2] She also trained snipers for combat duty until the end of the war, in 1945.[2]

Visits to Allied countries[edit]

Pavlichenko (center) with Justice Robert Jackson (left) and US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington DC in September 1942.

In 1942, Pavlichenko was sent to Canada and the United States for a publicity visit as part of the Soviet Union's attempts to convince the other Allies of World War II to open a second front against Nazi Germany.[7] When she visited the United States, she became the first Soviet citizen to be received by a US president, as Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomed her to the White House.[9] Pavlichenko was later invited by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to tour the US, relating her experiences as a female soldier on the front lines.[9] During the publicity tour, Pavlichenko was not taken seriously by the press and was referred to as the "Girl Sniper."[6] When meeting with reporters in Washington, DC, she was dumbfounded by the kind of questions put to her. "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."[4][15] They also asked if she used makeup on the front line.[9] She was described by the reporters as very blunt and unemotional in her responses.[9]

Pavlichenko appeared before the International Student Assembly being held in Washington, D.C., attended the meetings of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and made appearances and speeches in New York City and Chicago. In New York City, she was given a raccoon fur coat by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.[9] In Chicago, she stood before large crowds, chiding the men to support a second front. "Gentlemen," she said, "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?" Her words settled on the crowd, then caused a surging roar of support.[9] The United States government presented her with a Colt semi-automatic pistol. In Toronto, Ontario, she was presented a Winchester Model 70 rifle equipped with a Weaver telescopic sight, now on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.[16] While visiting Canada, along with fellow sniper Vladimir Pchelintsev and Moscow fuel commissioner Nikolai Kravchenko, she was greeted by thousands of people at Toronto's Union Station.[9]

On Friday 21 November 1942, Pavlichenko visited Coventry, England, accepting donations of £4,516 from local workers to pay for three X-ray units for the Red Army. She also visited the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, then the Alfred Herbert works and Standard Motor Factory, from where most funds had been raised. She had inspected a factory in Birmingham earlier in the day.[17]

Having been made an officer, Pavlichenko never returned to combat, instead becoming an instructor and training snipers until the war's end.[10] In 1943, she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union,[18] as well as the Order of Lenin twice.[9]

Later life[edit]

When the war ended, Pavlichenko finished her education at Kyiv University and began a career as a historian.[6][9] From 1945 to 1953, she was a research assistant at Soviet Navy headquarters. She was later active in the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War.[10] In 1957, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Pavlichenko in Moscow during a visit to the Soviet Union.[9] Pavlichenko struggled constantly with depression because of the loss of her husband in the war.[7] She also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, factors that are believed to have contributed to her early death.[7]

Death and legacy[edit]

She died from a stroke on 10 October 1974 at 58 and was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Her son, Rostislav, is buried next to her.[citation needed]

A second Soviet commemorative stamp featuring her portrait was issued in 1976.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

Second Soviet Union-issued postage stamp dedicated to Pavlichenko

The American folk singer Woody Guthrie composed a song ("Miss Pavlichenko") as a tribute to her war record and to memorialize her visits to the United States and Canada.[19] It was released as part of The Asch Recordings.[20][21]

Pavlichenko was a subject of the 2015 film, Battle for Sevastopol (original Russian title, "Битва за Севастополь"). A joint Russian-Ukrainian production, it was released in both countries on 2 April 2015.[22] Its international premiere took place two weeks later at the Beijing International Film Festival. It is a heavily romanticized version of her life, with several fictitious characters and many departures from the events related in her memoirs.

The first English language edition of her memoirs, Lady Death, was published by Greenhill Books in February 2018.[14] It has a foreword by Martin Pegler and is part of the Lionel Leventhal's Greenhill Sniper Library series.[23]

Pavlichenko's story was featured in the fourth season of Drunk History, where she was played by Mae Whitman.[24][25]

In Call of Duty: Vanguard, protagonist Lt. Polina Petrova (voiced by Laura Bailey) was inspired by Pavlichenko.[26]

In the 1995 alternate history novel Worldwar: Tilting the Balance by Harry Turtledove, Pavlichenko seems to have been the inspiration for the minor character Tatiana in Pskov.

In the 1944 film comedy, The Doughgirls, Eve Arden played Sgt. Natalia Moskoroff, a highly-decorated Soviet sniper visiting the capital on a good-will tour.

Kate Quinn's 2022 novel The Diamond Eye is a fictionalized account of Pavlichenko's life.

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Most sources credit her with 309 kills based on her claims and official Soviet accounts, but modern historians have begun to question the tally. The Russian historian Oleg Kaminsky called into question many feats attributed to her by analyzing her contradictory claims and timelines of events. Source:


  1. ^ a b c Simonov & Chudinova 2017, p. 160.
  2. ^ a b c d Lockie, Alex. "Meet the world's deadliest female sniper who terrorized Hitler's Nazi army". Business Insider. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  3. ^ Vinogradova, Lyuba (2017). Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union's WWII Sniper Corps. Quercus. pp. 37–47. ISBN 9781681442839.
  4. ^ a b Lady Sniper, TIME Magazine (Monday, 28 September 1942)
  5. ^ Farey, Pat; Spicer, Mark (5 May 2009). Sniping: An Illustrated History. Voyageur Press. p. 129. ISBN 9780760337172.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Lady Death: Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the Greatest Female Sniper of All Time". 6 December 2018. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Linge, Mary Kay (12 May 2018). "Soviet 'girl sniper' had 309 kills — and a best friend in the White House". New York Post. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  8. ^ "Велика Вітчизняна Війна". 28 June 2009. Archived from the original on 28 June 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p King, Gilbert (21 February 2013). "Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper". Smithsonian. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45 by Henry Skaida, Osprey Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1841765988/ISBN 978-1841765983, page 31
  11. ^ a b Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present originally from Ukraine by Arthur Bernard Cook, ABC-CLIO, 2006, ISBN 1851097708/ISBN 978-1851097708, page 457
  12. ^ Pat Farey; Mark Spicer (5 May 2009). Sniping: An Illustrated History. MBI Publishing Company. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-7603-3717-2. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  13. ^ "Mankiller: Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko by Henry Sakaida 1 of 2". Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  14. ^ a b Pavlichenko, Lyudmila; Pegler, Martin (5 February 2018). Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper. Greenhill Books. ASIN 1784382701.
  15. ^ The World War Two Reader by Gordon Martel, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415224039/ISBN 978-0415224031, page 268
  16. ^ The Music of World War II: War Songs and Their Stories by Sheldon Winkler Merriam, 2019, ISBN 9780359647798, page 83
  17. ^ The Coventry Evening Telegraph, Saturday November 21st 1942
  18. ^ Henry Sakaida; Christa Hook (2003), Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45, vol. 90, Osprey Publishing, p. 21, ISBN 978-1-84176-598-3, OCLC 829740681, retrieved 3 December 2011
  19. ^ "Miss Pavlichenko" dated to 1942 at [1] Archived 1 June 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3,
  21. ^ " Miss Pavlichenko: Woody Guthrie: MP3 Downloads".
  22. ^ Battle for Sevastopol, 2 April 2015, retrieved 29 September 2018
  23. ^ "Greenhill Books". Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Drunk History" The Roosevelts
  25. ^ "Drunk History" Eleanor Roosevelt's Friendship with a Deadly Soviet Sniper (feat. Busy Philipps)
  26. ^ "New 'Call of Duty: Vanguard' trailer has wild WWII gunfights". 20 August 2021.
  27. ^ Simonov & Chudinova 2017, p. 164.


  • Simonov, Andrey; Chudinova, Svetlana (2017). Женщины - Герои Советского Союза и России. Moscow: Russian Knights Foundation, Museum of Technology V. Zadorozhny. ISBN 9785990960701. OCLC 1019634607.
  • Pavlichenko, Lyudmila; Pavlichenko (2018). Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper. Greenhill Books, London. ISBN 9785990960701.

External links[edit]