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- She had worked in an arsenal factory while she was going to school. It was there that she took some civilian sniper classes (which apparently were a thing in Soviet Russia), joined their military training clubs, and became quite the expert marksman, winning herself the Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge. She was also into skydiving, flying small planes, sprinting, and pole vaulting. Woman of many talents! ↩
- In one of her speeches, she claimed that, instead of her presenting her awards, she was instructed to shoot and kill two Romanian spies standing on a nearby hill – which she did. Given the accounts she gave of how difficult it was for her to kill someone, I consider this to be an apocryphal story. Much of her tale may be inflated (she was used as Russian military propaganda, after all), so take specific details with a pinch of salt, but the core of it appears to be true. ↩
- This portrayal is slightly inaccurate, and mashes two events together. She was spurred to fight by seeing a young soldier killed right next to her. That soldier was not, from the sound of it, her spotter. Her first sniping attempts came later. Moreover, prior to this, she’d been deployed in a volunteer “destroyer” squad, to take out German paratroopers, prior to her career as a sniper. ↩
- She would usually arrive to her spots at 3 am, and stay in place for 18 hours or more at a time, subsisting on dry bread and water. She would lie perfectly still, letting her bodily functions happen as they would, until she got her shot. She aimed primarily for officers, messengers, dogs, and dog handlers (as the dogs were used to sniff out snipers). ↩
- This duel — one of many — actually took place in a cemetery! The longest duel she engaged in apparently lasted three days. ↩
- By this point in the war, her name was even being used in wartime propaganda among the Soviets themselves. When civilians would complain about their lot, the authorities would trot out her picture and say, “If this beautiful young woman can endure, then how can we who are not at the front complain about food rationing and other hardships?” ↩
- Very little is concretely known of her husband, Sergeant-Major Leonid Kitsenko. She mentioned that she worked in a pair with him at some point — snipers worked in pairs, swapping off shooting and spotting functions — but Lyudmila seemingly often functioned solo, especially as she grew better at her job. She was not with him when he died at Sevastopol. I am unsure that she ever saw his body. Kitsenko is mentioned in passing by a few sources as a sniper and as her husband. I was unable to find much beyond that on him. No pictures exist, and she rarely spoke of him. Lyudmila never wanted to seem weak. Her colleagues did say that she got significantly angrier after his death, though, and promised to hit over 300 kills quickly — a promise she carried through on. ↩
- To be fair, she actually did this throughout the war. She would also aim for the second person in line, so nobody would want to be in that position, causing confusion in the ranks. ↩
- This number is, of course, disputed. On one side, plenty of folk question every claim the Russian military made, and assume it was much lower. On the other side, there’s plenty of people claiming her kill count was much higher, as they only counted kills that were witnessed by at least one other person, and she often worked alone. For comparison, Vasily Zaytsev, one of Russia’s most famous other WW2 snipers, only claimed 225 kills. ↩
- The portrayal of things here is slightly ahistorical. She was injured pretty severely from the mortar blasts, yes, but the decision to extricate her from battle was made at Sevastopol, not months thereafter. Moreover, she did not spend her time convalescing, as the picture indicates — she instead was training a school of snipers. She had eighty students, who ended up getting 2000 kills between them. For why I portrayed her story like this, consult the art notes. ↩
- She became quite famous all around the States. Woody Guthrie wrote a song called “Miss Pavlichenko.” about her ability to kill Nazis. At one gathering, Charlie Chaplin kissed her fingers one by one and said “it’s quite remarkable that this small, delicate hand killed Nazis by the hundreds.” ↩
- The stories they wrote were outrageous fluff. The New York Times wrote that “wore no lip rouge, or makeup of any kind… there isn’t much style of her olive-green uniform.” Another outlet, suggesting she was overweight, wrote that she “attacked her five-course New England breakfast yesterday. American food, she thinks, is O.K.” ↩
- Again, the text here is accurate, but the pictures are more artistic interpretation (consult the art notes as to why). Lyudmila was part of a small delegation of Russian students, although she was the standout. There is no direct evidence that Eleanor mentored her — she would have had to do so through an interpreter. ↩
- I don’t make much a point of it here, but she also criticized the US for its racism and misogynism. “Now I am looked upon a little as a curiosity, a subject for newspaper headlines, for anecdotes. In the Soviet Union, I am looked upon as a citizen, as a fighter, as a soldier for my country.” On another occasion, “Our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war.” She urged American women to rise up and win even footing with their male counterparts. ↩
- We know that Lyudmila, like Mariya Oktyabrskaya, got the vaunted Hero of Soviet Union award, the highest honor awarded in the Soviet military. She was 1 out of only 92 women; the rest were received posthumously. Additionally, she was one of only 500 snipers to survive — the other 1500 all died. The average lifespan for a sniper was 3 weeks. She was also featured on postage stamps and heralded in the press for some time, although that gradually died down.
Additionally, she got her history degree, and served as a historian in the Navy Central Staff. She never talked about the war much throughout the rest of her life. About the most she said about her attitude towards her wartime actions was, “If you are going along a road with your child and you see a snake, what do you do?” ↩
- She died in 1974 of natural causes, survived by one child of her second marriage. There’s a street named after her in Sevastopol, near where her first husband, Leonid Kitsenko, died. ↩
This entry posed an artistic conundrum.
You see, it’s basically two stories. One of Lyudmila’s time in the war, and one of her time in the US, and later reconnection with Eleanor Roosevelt. When I first put the two back-to-back, they didn’t mesh well at all. In one, you had Lyudmila as bloodthirsty killer, in the other, you had a middle-aged woman tearfully reuniting with her old friend. They didn’t even seem to be the same person – the shift was too abrupt. There was information missing on how she went from hellbent on killing Nazis to crying in her bedroom. From an artistic standpoint, to make it a cohesive story, there needed to be a throughline tying it together.
The throughline I chose was loss and recovery. Seeing mentions here and there that she struggled with shell shock, I made that a bigger deal than she ever would have, and played up her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt larger than the historical documentation supports. That’s not something I did lightly – I am uncomfortable whittling the edges off of strong women, and Lyudmila was a very difficult, hard-edged human being. I tried to preserve that, especially in showing her defying Eleanor Roosevelt’s handler in her apartment. But there is no doubt that this is a softer Lyudmila than likely existed. I wanted to be very upfront about that. The historical Lyudmila Pavlichenko trained snipers instead of convalescing in bed. She forcefully talked of the Nazis raping women and children, and burning her comrades alive. She was no joke. But I hope you’ll allow some artistic interpretation here.
Otherwise, as regards the art, there’s a lot going on with color:
- Red here symbolizes the violent death of the body. Note on the last page of her in the war, the blood splatter is placed to make it look like her heart gave out on her.
- Dark green represents the slower death of the soul. I tried to make it seem that she was putting on a reaper’s cloak every time she got into her camo gear. (notably, Kitsenko is removing it from her head)
- White represents numbness and the passage of time.
- Saturated yellows represent hope. This color first shows up on her wedding ring with Kitsenko, and is quite prevalent with Eleanor Roosevelt (although I don’t think Roosevelt historically wore much yellow).
- I did goof on this slightly though — I was unaware that in Ukrainian (and, I think, broader eastern European?) culture, wedding rings are generally worn on the right hand instead of the left. My bad!
And lastly, to those screaming, why doesn’t she have a movie? Well, she does.
It came out in 2015. The English title is Battle For Sevastopol, and you can find a Russian-language trailer right here . And it’s on Amazon Prime in the US right now!
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Next Time on Rejected Princesses
This ancient princess – a favorite of Polyaenus – didn’t sit around when she was dumped and imprisoned. Instead she escaped, raised an army, and took back her life.