Yevdokiya Zavaliy was a Soviet nurse, soldier and marine commander who fought in World War 2.
Born in 1924, Zavaliy was raised in a small village in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine, where she worked on a farm. She was brutally exposed to the outbreak of World War 2 when enemy planes bombed her village and in the aftermath she treated injured soldiers by ripping up bed sheets from her home to make improvised bandages. The event left such an impression on her that she persuaded the commander of a cavalry regiment to take her with them to the front line, claiming to be 18 years old when she was in fact 16.
Zavaliy started serving with the regiment as a nurse, but during this time she learned to shoot rifles, pistols and machine guns. She also became directly involved in conflicts, taking a wound to the abdomen during the retreat at Khortytsia island and saved the life of a wounded officer by dragging him to safety. She was awarded the Order of the Red Star for her bravery, but this was only to be the first decoration she would receive.
One day an officer mistook Zavaliy for a man as she wore soldier's clothes and her head had been shaved to remove lice. The officer ordered her to join a group of soldiers headed to the front line. Zavaliy decided to go along with the mistake and two hours later she took part in a battle near Goryachy Kluch with the 6th Airborne Brigade. She continued to serve in numerous battles under her new male identity and following her capturing of a German officer in combat she was appointed to commander of a reconnaissance squad. When Soviet troops were starving near Mozdok in late 1942, Zavaliy mounted a daring night raid across a river to a German camp, where she stole ammunition and provisions before sailing away on a raft.
The following year Zavaliy was a sergeant serving in the Kuban region when her company was surrounded during a heavy firefight and the company commander was killed. Seeing her fellow soldiers faltering Zavaliy took command, shouting for the men to follow her and leading them in a furious counter-attack which broke the enemy and sent them into retreat. The battle left her seriously injured and during her treatment the doctors discovered that she was a woman. Zavaliy expected to be dismissed and return to nursing, however in light of her many achievements she was allowed to stay in the army and in October 1943 she was promoted to commander of a submachine gunner platoon.
While the men of her platoon were initially reluctant to follow the orders of a teenage girl, Zavaliy quickly won their respect. The platoon was repeatedly deployed to the forefront of the most intense fighting, where Zavaliy led her men in daring attacks on German lines, taking part in the defense of the Caucasus, the battle for Crimea and ultimately the Soviet expansion across Eastern Europe. She became so feared by German soldiers that they nicknamed her 'Frau Black Death'. Twice she was believed to have been killed in combat but both times she returned unscathed. In her military career she was wounded a total of 4 times and received approximately 40 medals of honour.
Zavaliy was eventually discharged from the army in 1947 and traveled to Kiev where she married and had 2 children. She spent much of her life working as the manager of a grocery store but also toured many cities and army bases where she was celebrated as a military hero. She died in Kiev in 2010.