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Lyudmila Pavlichenko: The Most Lethal Female Military Sniper of All Time

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko with a sniper rifle.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko with a sniper rifle.

"Lady Death"

She had the nickname “Lady Death.” Lyudmila Pavlichenko earned this nickname because of her success at being a military sniper. During the early stages of fighting on Russia's Eastern Front, and during the Siege of Sevastopol and the Siege of Odessa, she was part of the Red Army.

During this time, she experienced a serious injury during battle. She was hit by a mortar shell. Pavlichenko was then evacuated to Moscow. Once she had recovered, Pavlichenko was assigned to training other snipers in the Red Army. In 1942, she was a designated public spokesperson for the Red Army. During this time, Pavlichenko toured Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. In 1945, after the war, she worked for the Soviet Navy as a Senior Researcher.

Early Life

On July 12, 1916, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was born in the Russian Empire in what is now Ukraine. When she was fourteen, her family moved to Kyiv. Her mother was a teacher. Her father worked in a factory far away in St. Petersburg. Pavlichenko was known for being a very competitive athlete growing up. When in Kyiv, Pavlichenko joined a shooting club. She became a very successful amateur sharpshooter. Pavlichenko was one of the few females to earn the Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge as well as a marksman certificate.

Family and Education

When she was 16 years old, Pavlichenko married a doctor. The couple had a son named Rostislav. The marriage did not last a long time. In the evenings, she would go to school as well as do her housework. During the daytime, Pavlichenko worked at the Kyiv Arsenal factory as a grinder. In 1937, she became a student at Kyiv University. Pavlichenko studied history. Her goal was to be a teacher and scholar. During the time she was a university student, Pavlichenko joined a military-style school sponsored by the Red Army designed to teach how to become a military sniper.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko in sniper position

Lyudmila Pavlichenko in sniper position

World War II

Pavlichenko was 24 and in her fourth year of studying history at Kyiv University when the Germans attacked Russia. In June 1941, the German Army began its invasion of the Soviet Union. Pavlichenko was one of the first females to volunteer in the Odessa recruiting office. She asked to be part of the infantry. The person signing her up wanted her to become a nurse, but Pavlichenko refused. After reviewing her experience with guns, it was decided she could join the Red Army as a sniper.

Pavlichenko became part of the Red Army's 15th Rifle Division. This made her one of the 2,000 females in the Red Army who were snipers. Only 500 of them survived serving in the war. Her role was combat but because of a shortage of weapons, Pavlichenko was only provided with a fragmentation grenade to defend herself. When a fellow soldier was about to die, he handed Pavlichenko his rife. It was a bolt-action Mosin-Nagant model 1891. During the next few moments, Pavlichenko was able to prove herself to her fellow soldiers. She quickly shot and killed her first two enemies. After this, she was officially made a sniper.

Siege of Odessa and Sevastopol

During the Siege of Odessa, Pavlichenko recorded 187 kills. Pavlichenko fought for over two months during the Sieve of Odessa. When she reached 199 confirmed kills in August 1941, Pavlichenko was then given a promotion to the rank of Senior Sergeant. The Romanian Army took control of Odessa in October 1941. Pavlichenko's unit was moved to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. There she fought in the Siege of Sevastopol. Pavlichenko trained other snipers and in May 1942, she was promoted to Lieutenant.


In June 1941, Pavlichenko was injured when shrapnel from a mortar shell hit her face. The Soviet High Command ordered her evacuation. She left Sevastopol in a submarine. Her injuries required Pavlichenko to spend a month in the hospital. When she recovered from her injuries, she was given the nickname “Lady Death.”

Lyudmila Pavlichenko with Eleanor Roosevelt and White House official

Lyudmila Pavlichenko with Eleanor Roosevelt and White House official

Publicity Tour

Pavlichenko was not sent back to the front after recovering from her injuries. She went on a publicity tour. This was an attempt by the USSR to convince other Allies to open another front against Germany. Pavlichenko is the first Soviet citizen to be received by a U.S. President at the White House. She was invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to take a tour of the United States. Pavlichenko was treated harshly by the American press. She was very confused by their questions. One reporter even asked her if she wore makeup at the front lines. A Colt semi-automatic pistol was given to Pavlichenko by the U.S. Government. Canada gave her a sighted Winchester rifle. At Canada's Toronto Station, she was greeted by thousands of people. In Coventry, England local workers donated funds to purchase three X-ray machines for the Red Army. After the publicity tour, she obtained the rank of major. Pavlichenko didn't go back to combat. She worked as an instructor training snipers until the end of World War II.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko during publicity tour

Lyudmila Pavlichenko during publicity tour


When the war was over, Pavlichenko returned to Kyiv University and finished her education. She then worked as a historian. Pavlichenko worked as a research assistant from 1945 to 1953 for the Soviet Navy headquarters. She then worked for the Soviet Committee of the Veterans of War. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Moscow in 1957, she met with Pavlichenko.

"Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper"

"Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper"

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After the war, Pavlichenko suffered from severe depression. She also was an alcoholic and struggled with PTSD. Most people believe these factors led to her early death. On October 19, 1947, Pavlichenko died of a stroke. She was 58 years old. She was buried in Moscow at the Novodevichy Cemetery.

Movie poster for "The Battle for Sevastopol"

Movie poster for "The Battle for Sevastopol"


A song was composed by the American folk singer Woody Guthrie titled Miss Pavlichenko as a tribute to her war record. She was also the subject of a film titled The Battle for Sevastopol. It was a joint Russian-Ukrainian production released in 2015. An English version of her memoirs was released in 2018 and titled Lady Death.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on September 12, 2020:

Eric, thanks. There have been many, many article done about her.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 12, 2020:

Very well done. I have read about her before. Seems like this article? I am getting old ;-)

Readmikenow (author) on September 12, 2020:

Pamela, thanks. I agree with you. She did have a tragic end.

Readmikenow (author) on September 12, 2020:

Binoy, thanks. I agree.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 12, 2020:

What an amazing woman! She sounds like she was tougher then many of the male soldiers. I wonder if the alcoholism came from the PTSD. This is another very interesting article about a strong woman, Mike.

Binoy from Delhi on September 11, 2020:

Women in the army is common now, but at that time it was not so easy for a women to fight for her country at the front line.


Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Liz, thanks. She died in 1947...she was 58 years old.

Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Alan, thanks. I appreciate your comment.

Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Louise, thanks. I agree.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 11, 2020:

This is a very interesting biography. When did she die? I had not heard of her before.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 11, 2020:

Good piece of research and writing, Mike.

Along with women snipers there were women fighter pilots. I think the Germans were unnerved at the prospect of being shot down or destroyed by women, as their own military only had female nurses.

By the way, it was the German 'Ostfront' (Eastern Front) and Soviet Western Front. To them WWII was 'The Great Patriotic War'.

I saw the film "Enemy At The Door" a while ago, of the German siege of Stalingrad. Women featured in sniping roles there as well, in freezing conditions during the winter of 1942-43. The Soviet regime had a completely different outlook on women in the military from both the other Allied Powers and Axis forces.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 11, 2020:

This is a very interesting article on a woman I have never heard of before. It sounds like she has had a very interesting and colourful life.

Readmikenow (author) on September 11, 2020:

Cheryl, thanks. She was an incredible soldier.

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 11, 2020:

I didn't even know there were female military snipers. Thank you for the history lesson. I'm sharing this with my grandson who is in regular home school. I love learning new things from your articles.

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