Lyudmila Pavlichenko

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Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko
Lyudmila Pavlichenko portrait.jpg
Native name
Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко
Birth nameLyudmila Mikhailovna Belova
Nickname(s)Lady Death
Born12 July [O.S. 30 May] 1916[1]
Bila Tserkva, Russian Empire
(present-day Ukraine)
Died10 October 1974(1974-10-10) (aged 58)
Moscow, 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]
ChildrenRostislav Pavlichenko [1]
Other workSoviet Committee of the Veterans of War

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, (Russian: Людми́ла Миха́йловна Павличе́нко, Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко, romanizedLyudmyla Mykhailivna Pavlychenko, (née Belova; 12 July [O.S. 30 May] 1916 – 10 October 1974) was a Soviet sniper in the Red Army during World War II,[2] credited with 309 confirmed kills,[a][3][4] making her the most successful female sniper in recorded history.[5][6]

Lyudmila was nicknamed "Lady Death" due to her incredible ability with a sniper rifle.[7] She served in the Red Army during the Siege of Odessa and the Siege of Sevastopol, during the early stages of the Eastern Front in WWII.

After she was injured in battle by a mortar shell, she was evacuated to Moscow.[7] After Pavlichenko recovered from her injuries she trained other Red Army snipers, and was a public spokesperson for the Red Army. In 1942, she toured the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. After the war ended in 1945, she was reassigned as a Senior Researcher for the Soviet Navy. Lyudmilla Pavichenko died due to a stroke on 10 October 1974, at the age of 58.[3][8]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Bila Tserkva (present-day Ukraine) in the Russian Empire on 12 July [O.S. 30 May] 1916, Pavlichenko (née Belova) moved to Kiev with her family at the age of fourteen. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a St. Petersburg factory worker.[9] As a child Lyudmila was a self-described tomboy, who was fiercely competitive at athletic activities. In Kiev, she joined an OSOAVIAKhIM shooting club and developed into an amateur sharpshooter, earning her Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge and a marksman certificate. As a teenager, she attended evening school at night, as well as complete household chores.[7] During the day, she worked as a grinder at the Kiev Arsenal factory.[7][10] She enrolled at Kiev University in 1937 where she studied history, intending to be a scholar and teacher. While attending college, she competed on the university's track team as a sprinter and pole vaulter.[9][7] While attending university, she was enrolled in a military-style sniping school for six months by the Red Army.[7] It is thought by Julie Wheelwright that some biographical details may have been changed or omitted altogether. [11]

World War II[edit]

Pavlichenko in a trench (1942).

In June 1941, 24-year-old Pavlichenko was in her fourth year studying history at Kiev University when Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union.[10] Pavlichenko was among the first round of volunteers at the Odessa 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, they finally let her in the army as a sniper. Thus 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 (although female soldiers were still just 2 percent of the Red Army's total number),[7] of whom about 500 survived the war.[9][7] Although she was assigned a combat role, she was issued with just a fragmentation grenade due to 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 this event as her "baptism of fire", because after this she was officially a sniper.[7]

Pavlichenko fought for about two and a half months during the Siege of Odessa, where she recorded 187 kills.[12] She was promoted to Senior Sergeant in August 1941, when she reached 100 confirmed kills. At age 25, she married a fellow sniper, Alexei Kitsenko.[7] Soon after the marriage, Kitsenko was mortally wounded by a mortar shell, and died from his injuries after a few days in the hospital.[9] When the Romanian Army gained control of Odessa on 15 October 1941, her unit was withdrawn by sea to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula,[12] to fight in the Siege of Sevastopol (1941–1942).[10][8] There she trained other snipers, who killed over a hundred Axis soldiers during the battle.[8] 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,[13][10] including 36 Axis snipers.

In June 1942, Pavlichenko was hit in the face with shrapnel from a mortar shell. After her injury, the Soviet High Command ordered that she be evacuated from Sevastopol via submarine.[14] Because of her propaganda value, she was too valuable to lose.[8] She spent around a month in the hospital.[9] After she had recovered from her injuries, instead of being sent back to the front, she became a propagandist for the Red Army.[7] Due to her high kill count, she was nicknamed "Lady Death".[15][7][3] She also trained snipers for combat duty until the end of the war in 1945.[3]

Visits to Allied countries[edit]

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

In 1942, Pavlichenko was sent to Canada and the United States for a publicity visit as part of the USSR's attempts to convince the other Allies of World War II to open a second front against Nazi Germany.[8] 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 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".[7] When meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C., 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."[5][16] 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 25 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 Canada, she was presented with a sighted Winchester rifle now on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. 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 attained the rank of major, 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 years and death[edit]

After the war, Pavlichenko finished her education at Kiev University and began a career as a historian.[7][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, due to the loss of her husband in the war.[8] She also suffered from PTSD and alcoholism, and these factors are believed to have contributed to her early death.[8] Pavlichenko died from a stroke on 10 October 1974 at age 58 and was buried in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Her son Rostislav is buried next to her. She gave birth to Rostislav when she was 15 years of age and he was raised by her mother, allowing her to continue her studies.[10]

A second Soviet commemorative stamp featuring Lyudmila Pavlichenko's 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 Ukrainian title, "Незламна " ("Indestructible" / "Unbreakable")). A joint Russian-Ukrainian production, it was released in both countries on 2 April 2015.[22] The international premiere took place two weeks later at the Beijing International Film Festival. The film 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, titled Lady Death, was published by Greenhill Books in February 2018.[15] The book has a foreword by Martin Pegler and is part of the Greenhill Books Sniper Library series.[23] The book was serialised in the Mail on Sunday newspaper on Sunday 18 March 2018.[24]

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

She was featured in Jason Porath's website Rejected Princess.[26]

She is referenced in the Borderlands game franchise as a sniper rifle named "Lyuda" (on PC and PS3), "Lyudmila" (on Xbox One and PS4), and "White Death" on Xbox 360. In Borderlands 3, the Lyuda returns.

Awards and honors[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Most sources credit her with 309 kills based on her claims and official Soviet accounts, although modern historians have begun to question the tally. Russian historian Oleg Kaminsky called into question many feats attributed to her after analyzing her contradictory claims and timelines of events. Other sources indicate her score could have been higher since witnesses are required for a confirmed kill.


  1. ^ a b c Simonov & Chudinova 2017, p. 160.
  2. ^ Laws. "Secret Entertainment Today".
  3. ^ a b c d Lockie, Alex. "Meet the world's deadliest female sniper who terrorized Hitler's Nazi army". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  4. ^ Vinogradova, Lyuba (2017). Avenging Angels: Young Women of the Soviet Union's WWII Sniper Corps. Quercus. pp. 37–47. ISBN 9781681442839.
  5. ^ a b Lady Sniper, TIME Magazine (Monday, 28 September 1942)
  6. ^ Farey, Pat; Spicer, Mark (2009-05-05). Sniping: An Illustrated History. Voyageur Press. p. 129. ISBN 9780760337172.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Lady Death: Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the Greatest Female Sniper of All Time". 2018-12-06. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Linge, Mary Kay (2018-05-12). "Soviet 'girl sniper' had 309 kills — and a best friend in the White House". New York Post. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p King, Gilbert (February 21, 2013). "Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper". Smithsonian. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45 by Henry Skaida, Osprey Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1841765988/ISBN 978-1841765983, page 31
  11. ^ Sisters in Arms: Female Warriors from Antiquity to the New Millenium by Julie Wheelwright, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020, ISBN 1472838017/ISBN 9781472838018
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Mankiller: Major Lyudmila Pavlichenko by Henry Sakaida 1 of 2". Retrieved 2019-10-28.
  15. ^ a b Pavlichenko, Lyudmila; Pegler, Martin (5 February 2018). "Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper". Greenhill Books. Retrieved 9 June 2018 – via Amazon.
  16. ^ The World War Two Reader by Gordon Martel, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415224039/ISBN 978-0415224031, page 268
  17. ^ The Coventry Evening Telegraph, Saturday November 21st 1942
  18. ^ Henry Sakaida; Christa Hook (2003), Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45, 90, Osprey Publishing, p. 21, ISBN 978-1-84176-598-3, OCLC 829740681, retrieved 2011-12-03
  19. ^ "Miss Pavlichenko" dated to 1942 at
  20. ^ Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3,
  21. ^ " Miss Pavlichenko: Woody Guthrie: MP3 Downloads".
  22. ^ Battle for Sevastopol, retrieved 2018-09-29
  23. ^ "Greenhill Books". Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  24. ^ "During WWII, Lyudmila Pavlichenko Sniped a Confirmed 309 Axis Soldiers, Including 36 German Snipers". Today I Found Out. 2012-06-02. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  25. ^ Battle for Sevastopol
  26. ^ "Lyudmila Pavlichenko: The Deadliest Female Sniper in History". Rejected Princesses. Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)