Thought to be killed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Irina Starikova, codename “Bagira” or “Bagheera” from the black panther in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, was captured by the Ukrainian army after her Russian comrades left her. The Russian forces apparently thought she was dead after she was wounded and left her behind. This is in keeping with wide spread reports and photographs of Russian forces abandoning their dead and wounded on the field. Given the wide spread supply shortages the Russian army, it is possible they leave their wounded behind because they are unable to care for them and believe Ukrainian forces will provide such care as in the case of Starikova.

The 41-year-old female Russian sniper reportedly had some 40 kills before being wounded, leaving her unable to fight anymore. However, these 40 kills were not just against Ukrainian soldiers but also civilians. The Ukrainian Armed Forces announced her capture through Facebook and released photos as proof.

“[They left me] knowing that I was injured and had the opportunity to pick me up… hoping that I would die,” said the Russian sniper.

According to a report by The Times, the Ukrainian forces found her wounded and subsequently took her to a hospital to be treated.

Bagira, who the Ukrainians have been actively hunting for since 2014, is from Serbia (sources differ as to where she is exactly from). She served under the separatist forces in Donetsk in 2014, which is why the Ukrainian government has been hunting her down.

The Russian sniper is reportedly a mom of two daughters, namely Valeria, who is 11, and Yulia, who is 9-years-old; however, we could not independently verify these names. A report also states that she is married to a soldier from Belarus named “Aleksandr Ogrenich” while another source claimed that she is already divorced from a man named “Alexander Fedotov.”

The Daily Mail reported that she was indeed married to the former “Aleksandr Ogrenich,” nicknamed “Gorynych,” which means “Slavic Dragon.” He was revealed to be a rebel commander running from authorities in Belarus as he was wanted for crimes such as theft and fraud. More so, he reportedly served in an intelligence unit in Donetsk in 2014 and claimed to have killed 100 Ukrainians. However, this number is not independently verified. If we take their kills together as a couple, it would mean that they have killed over 140 Ukrainians in total. They have reportedly been together since 2015. Despite her motherly background, the Ukrainians have blamed her for war crimes as she allegedly shot prisoners of war in 2014.

Not a lot is known about her background. It is shrouded in mystery as even her name “Irina Starikova” is disputed; other reports claim that her name was previously “Daniela Lazovic.” Radio Liberty Ukraine reported in 2018 that she was a former handball player who later got addicted to illegal drugs. After that, she allegedly headed a group of nuns but only used this as a cover for her to become a drug mule. However, there is no hard evidence to back these claims up. More so, The Daily Mail also refuted that she was a nun. As a result, her true background still remains unknown.

Irina "Bagira" Starikova, a female Russian sniper with over 40 kills photographed with a fellow soldier (Інформагентство АрміяInform). Source:
Irina “Bagira” Starikova, a female Russian sniper with over 40 kills photographed with a fellow soldier (Інформагентство АрміяInform | Facebook).

It is also unknown what the Ukrainian Armed Forces will do to her. The post announcing her capture said, “Anyone who kills peaceful people on our land will be waiting for an inevitable repayment.” They also added that “Zsu will take care of it” and posted the statement with a “wink face” emoji which may signify that they may have other plans for her.

This is not the first time Russia (or the Soviet Union) deployed female snipers to a warzone. Lt. Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, a Soviet sniper from the 54th Stenka Razin Rifle Regiment in 25th Rifle Division during World War II, is credited with 309 confirmed kills, which makes her the most successful female sniper in history. This achievement also earned her the moniker “Lady Death” as she fought alongside her comrades in the siege of Odesa and the siege of Sevastopol.

Soviet Sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko who is credited with 309 confirmed kills (Израиль Абрамович Озерский (1904 - 1971) (author not found out until 21st century), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons). Source:
Soviet Sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko who is credited with 309 confirmed kills (Израиль Абрамович Озерский (1904 – 1971) (author not found out until 21st century), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

While she was technically Russian, she was born in Kyiv in 1916, just a year before the Bolshevik Revolution began. As a teenager, she reportedly loved to shoot and developed into a very well-known amateur sharpshooter as she was awarded the Voroshilov Sharpshooter badge from the OSOAVIAKhIM shooting club.

She was only 24 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, to which she volunteered to fight. Pavlichenko was reportedly pushed to become a nurse, but she refused and pushed to be assigned to the army as a sniper – she was reportedly a part of 2,000 female snipers in the entire Red Army. Of the 2,000 snipers, only about 500 would survive the war. However, in 1942, she was hit in the face by shrapnel from a mortar, rendering her career in active combat to an end. She did become a Senior Researcher for the Soviet Navy and a historian afterward.

During Bagira’s time on the battlefield, the Ukrainians did have an answer for her. Famed French-Canadian sniper “Wali” was also reported to be in Ukraine as he answered Ukrainian President Zelensky’s call for international fighters. Wali is known as one of the world’s best and deadliest snipers, having served twice in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces from 2009 to 2011. He also went to fight in Iraq in 2015 on his own to fight ISIS. Rumors surfaced that he had been killed in Ukraine. However, he is very much alive and continues to operate in the area of Kyiv.