Key point: Crafty and deceptive, with a strong sense of survival, she employed various ploys and tricks to keep going when the lifespan of the average sniper was about three weeks. Captured snipers from either side were summarily executed on the spot.
The last train west chugged across the River Bug to the German-occupied side of the Russo-German border at 0200 on June 22, 1941. An hour later, as the short summer night lifted from central Ukraine, Hitler violated his nonaggression pact with Stalin and launched Operation Barbarossa. Three million Axis soldiers, 6,000 big guns, 2,000 Luftwaffe warplanes, and thousands of tanks flooded into the Ukraine.
Kiev, capital of Ukraine, was one of Hitler’s final objectives, along with Moscow and Leningrad. Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, 24, a history student at Kiev University, was walking to classes when a swarm of Nazi fighters buzzed in low and fast to chew up the block. She dashed for cover. That night, she made up her mind. “I am going to fight.”
She arrived at the recruiting office the next morning wearing high heels and a crepe de chine dress with her nails manicured and her dark, wavy hair groomed short. She looked more like a fashion model than a German killer. The recruiter laughed at her.
“Why don’t you work in the factories like other women?” he demanded.
The rapid industrial development of the Soviet Union and the worldwide depression of the late 1920s and 1930s combined to move large numbers of Russians from their farms to the cities. In the spirit of egalitarianism, young women were encouraged to work, go to college, and participate in military training. Like many girls and boys of the times, Lyudmila was fond of military sports and activities. She was an excellent natural rifle shooter and won a number of badges in regional rifle matches. As Hitler’s spreading war threatened to engulf the Soviet Union, she prepared by enrolling in a volunteer sniper school arranged by her local Komsomol.
At the recruiting office, she took out her sniper’s diploma, Voroshilov Marksman’s Badge, and other shooting and paramilitary honors and dropped them on the table in front of the recruiter who had laughed at her. The expression on his face changed.
“You’re going to get your fingernails dirty,” he said as he stamped her application. Accepted.