Liudmyla Pavlychenko was a Soviet soldier during World War 2 and is regarded as the most successful female sniper in history, with a total record of 309 kills.
Born in a small village in Ukraine in 1916, Pavlychenko and her family later moved to Kiev when she was 9 years old. When she was 14 she joined a shooting club and became adept at firing rifles. As a young woman she studied history at Kiev university, during which time she also practiced sprinting, pole vaulting, and took classes at a sniper’s school to improve her marksmanship.
When Nazi Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Pavlychenko was among the first group of volunteers at the army recruiting office. Despite providing her marksmanship certificate, she was initially laughed at and told she could be a nurse instead. However she went on to prove her worth to the army by shooting two Romanian soldiers near Belyayevka, Odessa, using a Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle with 3.5X telescopic sight. Following this demonstration she was accepted into the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.
Pavlychenko was initially hesitant about taking human lives, but was shocked into action after witnessing the death of a young soldier next to her. “He was such a nice, happy boy,” she recalled. “And he was killed just next to me. After that, nothing could stop me.” For the next two and half months she spent in Odessa, Pavlychenko racked up a tally of 187 kills.
After Odessa fell to Romanian forces, Pavlychenko’s unit was relocated to fight in the 8-month long Siege of Sevastopol. During the siege she continued to excel, adding a further 257 kills to her record. As her kill count rose she was assigned to increasingly dangerous missions, including countersniping hunts which could last for entire days and nights at a time. By May 1942, Pavlychenko had dispatched 36 enemy snipers in this manner. She became so notorious that the Germans broadcast radio messages trying to bribe her to defect.
Despite being wounded on four separate occasions, Pavlychenko remained in active service until June 1942, when her position was bombed and shrapnel struck her face. Because of her fame she was withdrawn from duty and sent to the United States on a publicity visit, where she became the first Soviet citizen to be received by a US President. Pavlychenko was disappointed by the disparaging comments by the American press about her appearance in uniform, but emboldened by her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt she lashed out at them at a press event in Chicago, saying "I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?”
On returning home, Pavlychenko was promoted to Major and became a sniper instructor. In 1943, she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for her heroic service. After the war she went on to complete her education and became a historian attached to the Soviet navy. She died aged 58 and is buried in the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow.