Y’all, today’s BAMF is absolutely amazing! I’m just going to jump right in because I am so excited to share her story with you!
Lyudmila Pavlichenko (whom I will refer to here on out as “Mila”) was born on July 12, 1916 in Bila Tserkva, Russia. When she was 14 years old, she moved to Kyiv and joined a shooting club. She became an amateur sharpshooter while she worked at the Kyiv Arsenal Factory. Mila went through university and eventually graduated with a Master’s Degree in history in 1937.
Mila continued her education at the Kyiv University and, in June 1941, was aghast when Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union and bombed her beloved school. She was one of the first volunteers to step inside a recruiting office, requesting to join the infantry. First, she was offered a position as a nurse, but she turned it down. Soon, however, she was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.
She was one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, though only 500 or so survived the war. Mila was sent all over, racking up a total of 309 kills, which included 36 enemy snipers! In 1942, Mila was wounded by mortar fire and taken off the front lines. She was gaining much notoriety and the leaders of the Red Army were afraid for her safety.
She spent much of her time after that visiting Allied countries and was invited to the White House (the first Soviet to ever be received by an American president) by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She met Eleanor Roosevelt and the two formed a great friendship.
While in the U.S., Mila was shocked by the questions she received by journalists. She is quoted as saying, “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.” During a speaking engagement in Chicago, Mila decided she had had enough. She said, ““Gentlemen, 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?” (Tell ‘em, girl!)
Mila eventually went back to the Soviet Union, where she earned the rank of Major. She never saw combat but trained snipers until the end of the war. Mila was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, got her picture on a postage stamp, and was even written about in song by Woody Guthrie!
Mila proved that it didn’t matter that she was a woman; she was tough as nails and could fight fascism just as well (or even better!) than anyone else!