Imagine a woman so feared by her enemies that she was known as “Lady Death.” It was said that she loomed over the enemy like a demonic angel, but in reality, she was neither.

This Hero of the Soviet Union (her nation’s highest top award for valor in combat) stood only 5′ 1″ (155 cm), yet she towered above her peers with her performance on the battlefield. By the age of 25, Lyudmila Pavlichenko was already the most successful female sniper in history, with 309 confirmed kills. She had been wounded in battle four times, the last time when shrapnel from a mortar round struck her face. Bleeding profusely, she continued to fight until her superiors pulled her out of the field.

The German Army knew of her well. At first, they tried to bribe her to win her over to their side. They would announce over the radio and loudspeakers messages like:

“Lyudmila Pavlichenko, come over to us. We will give you plenty of chocolate and make you a German officer.”

The battle-hardened Soviet officer was having nothing of that. Gradually, realizing the offers of chocolates and a German commission didn’t appeal to her, the enemy turned to threats. One message stated, “If we catch you, we will tear you into 309 pieces and scatter them to the winds!”

Unshaken, she commented that she was happy to hear that the enemy accurately knew her record.

The Beginning

Her life started in 1916 in Belaya Tserkov (Bila Tserkva), a sizeable Ukrainian city south of Kyiv. Yes, she was a proud Ukrainian.

She had described herself as a tomboy, always competitive, especially with the boys. Young Lyudmila, or Luda, as she was called, enjoyed proving that girls could be at least as good, if not better, than boys. At the age of 14, she and her family had relocated to Kyiv. It was there that she enrolled in sharpshooter classes and earned her Voroshilov Sharpshooter Badge. This was a kind of civil award and accompanying marksmanship certificate.