Heroes & Villains - Lyudmila Pavlichenko

As my first article of the year, I'd like to announce the launch of a new series that I will be focusing on creating for 2017. I like how I use the term "announce", like I have a following that merits that sort of scale. But anyways, that's not the point.

When I was a young LT, my parents would read me bedtime stories. Sometimes, these were the typical fare about Mr. Grumpy and Little Miss Perfect having a mediocre day at the beach or something. Most of the time, however, they read to me from Greek and Norse mythology. I didn't See Jane Run, I saw Jane become blessed by Athena and break into a sprint towards the Minotaur, cleaving its head from its shoulders with a blade crafted by Hephaestus. I believe it is this that was the beginning of my true passion in life.

In the broad sense, my passion is History. More specifically, my passion is the Heroes and Villains of history. I love to learn and teach the stories of people who were true paragons of humanity, as well as people who highlighted our worst qualities. I especially like the people who blurred the lines between those two things.

In this first installment, however, I'll be talking about someone who pretty thoroughly falls into the "Hero" side of things. Her name is Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko. Or, in her native Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко. Though to most, she'd likely just be "Ma'am" or "Major Pavlichenko."

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

THIS is what a Nazi-killing feminist looks like, in case you were wondering.

Pavlichenko was born in the Ukraine region of the Russian Empire in 1916, which was just in time for the Russian Empire to become the Soviet Union.

While living with her family in Kiev in her teens, she focused on three main things in life. The first was working at the Kiev Arsenal Factory, where she no doubt became what kids today refer to as "swole", since you kind of had to be that to work in a Soviet munitions plant. The second was earning a degree in history at college. And the third was becoming a highly qualified sharpshooter in the Soviet equivalent of the Junior Marines.

Just as a side note, according to Pavlichenko herself, she took up shooting after hearing a boy boast about his skills. She wanted to show him that a girl could shoot, too. Soon, she'd prove that to everyone, including a personal demonstration to around 300 fascists.

In 1941, Nazi Germany decided to try and cure Russia of communism the same way a doctor might try to cure a fever with bloodletting followed by total body immolation. Pavlichenko decided to put her scholarly studies on hold and join the Red Army.

Originally, they were planning on putting her in as a nurse since that's what you did with women back in the day when they weren't considered real people. Even her marksmanship certificate from OSOAVIAKhIM (aforesaid Jr. Marines parallel) wasn't enough. Eventually, she demonstrated her skill to the Red Army's satisfaction by shooting two enemy Romanian soldiers dead.

According to Pavlichenko, her nerves did get to her in her first real engagement, in Odessa. These weren't under-trained Romanian coalition soldiers she was facing this time. These were bloodthirsty professional Wehrmacht killers fielding some of the finest military equipment in the world. When a young Russian man was shot right next to her, she found new resolve, and started shooting back with devastating efficiency. Her first Nazis killed were a pair of scouts, who were probably not terribly happy they found her.

After Odessa fell to the Nazis, Pavlichenko moved with Soviet forces to Sevastopol. There, she found herself frequently assigned the unenviable task of counter-sniping operations. Normal sniping is where the shooter makes surprise attacks against an enemy force after sneaking to covert positions. Typically, a sniper is obligated to engage high value targets above all else, focusing on Officers, emplacement and vehicle crews, machine gun operators, and so on. A sniper on the job will follow a pattern of shoot-move-shoot, never making a shot from the same position unless the situation both warrants it and still permits exfiltration before the enemy can return fire.

Counter-Sniping operations are focused explicitly on enemy snipers, so as to keep them from sniping. The sniper is obligated to engage enemy snipers, and only enemy snipers, who are themselves on the lookout for snipers. It is a duel between two units specialized in stealth, camouflage, and surprise attacks enabled by those two things. A sniper duel, especially on the Ostfront, could last several days, in which one or both snipers could spend upward of 24 hours staying in the same position, waiting for any indication of the others' presence. Pavlichenko defeated a total of 36 better equipped Nazi men in counter-sniping operations.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

Pavlichenko on the job. Well, I think she probably got a bit cleaned up for the photo. She's holding an SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle. They didn't give those to just anyone.

On hitting 257 confirmed kills in May of 1942, Pavlichenko was given a citation of recognition, to which she responded with "I'll get more".  Worth noting is that the 257 did not include the two Romanians she had to kill to be let in the army in the first place. She considered them her trial run. Her final confirmed kills against the Nazis was 309.

That's 309 pieces of evidence against segregation in the military. It's also 309 pieces of evidence that Lyudmila Pavlichenko is nobody's bitch. There were many Soviet snipers with higher kill scores in roughly the same period of time. However, they were all men, and had to only deal with bullshit in the form of Nazi munitions and Stalin's logistics, while Pavlichenko had to also put up with the bullshit of people not taking her seriously because she was a woman.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

To the Soviets' credit, they were better at taking Women seriously than most at the time.

After finally getting the Nazis to take her seriously enough to wound her (only slightly seriously) with mortar fire, Pavlichenko was withdrawn from the front lines to become an instructor for other snipers. This was only partially because of her injury, which was not terribly incapacitating. The real reason for this shift was to keep Pavlichenko safe, as she had become a powerful icon of Soviet propaganda.

Around this time, the Germans actually tried to tempt Pavlichenko into defecting with, no shit, chocolate rations and an Officer position. When that didn't work, they resorted to threatening her directly in propaganda, stating they'd rip her into 309 pieces, one for every German she'd killed. Pavlichenko's response was an enthusiastic "They even know my score!"

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

A slightly more formal photograph of Pavlichenko. Like most living soviets in the '40s, she didn't often put her rifle down for very long.

Pavlichenko was sent on a propaganda tour to the other allied nations. In America, she was patronized by reporters about her lack of usage of beauty products in battle, the drabness of her uniform, and her appearance. Americans have long had a reputation for being terrible at survival instincts, hence, they harassed a lady who has killed 309 harder men.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Yes, there's lots of time to apply makeup while keeping the Fascists out of Ukraine so they don't take the rest of Eastern Europe and then the world.

Pavlichenko took it in stride, brushing away stupid questions and occasionally chastising the exceptionally obnoxious. She made friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and was presented a Colt handgun by FDR. Actually, she got rather a lot of guns from foreign representatives on her tour.

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

S.C. Associate Justice Jackson, Major Pavlichenko, First Lady Roosevelt

The message she carried with her was reflective of the greatest qualities of the Soviet Union.

“Our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war. From the first day of the Revolution full rights were granted the women of Soviet Russia. One of the most important things is that every woman has her own specialty. That is what actually makes them as independent as men. Soviet women have complete self-respect, because their dignity as human beings is fully recognized. Whatever we do, we are honored not just as women, but as individual personalities, as human beings. That is a very big word. Because we can be fully that, we feel no limitations because of our sex. That is why women have so naturally taken their places beside men in this war.”

The majority of this tale references the following source:
King, Gilbert. "Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper." Smithsonian.com. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/eleanor-roosevelt-and-the-soviet-sniper-23585278/.