Women in War and Resistance:
Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers
By Kazimiera J. (Jean) Cottam, PhD
Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers
Women in War and
Selected Biographies
By Kazimiera J. Cottam.
Nepean, ON:
New Military Publishing, 1998,
xxvii, 451pp. Illustrations
$29.95 CAN / $24.95 US Paper
ISBN 0-9682702-2-0

About one million women served in the Soviet Armed Forces during WWII, yet their significant contribution to victory in that war has, so far, received insufficient attention. Publications in English have been limited to Soviet airwomen and are based on recent interviews with a handful of survivors. Unfortunately, most of these publications contain errors of fact and in some cases trivialize and sensationalize the subject.

This collection includes one hundred brief biographies of WWII Soviet female air force, infantry and navy personnel, as well as women partisans and leaders of urban resistance, recipients of the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union (HSU) and the Order of Glory I Class. As indicated in this collection, in the ground forces women distinguished themselves as medical personnel, political officers, tank crew members, machine gunners and snipers.

Among decorated women snipers whose biographies appear in the book was Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Invited by Eleanor Roosevelt to tour the United States, she was the first Soviet citizen to be received at the White House and visited Canada, too; a Winchester rifle with an optical sight, now on display at the Central Museum of the Armed Forces in Moscow, was presented to her in Toronto. Also included in the book were biographies of four participants in the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), including the incomparable Rozaliya Zemlyachka, deputy Prime Minister during WWII, and Raisa Azarkh, senior medical officer, who met Dr. Normal Bethune, a famous Canadian (who died tragically in China in 1939) while they both served in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War. The text cited below is excerpted from the biography of Nina Sosnina, the 19-year-old leader of Malin underground in Ukraine:

"The Sosnins provided a convenient safe house, a Resistance Headquarters as it were, located close to the town's radio station and accessible by means of gardens and orchards, without alerting anyone likely to report the visitors to the authorities....

"Paying a visit to a Slovak logistical unit participating in the invasion of the USSR, to determine Slovak soldiers' attitudes toward the German army, Sosnina met Lieutenant Jan Antala, a Slovak officer, who happened to be her father's patient. Antala provided Sosnina with information about the stationing of German units and rail transport. The Slovaks, considered unreliable in combat, were guarding German military installations and lines of communication. With access to weapon stores near Malin, they managed to supply rifles, ammunition and explosives to nearby partisans and helped to blow up a German locomotive and two loaded flatcars near Teterev. After the sabotage, the Slovaks were transferred to Korosten'.  While saying good-bye, Antala informed Sosnina that in June his company would be sent back to Slovakia. They were never to meet again.

"...One of Sosnina's acquaintances was Captain Andrey Petrovich, a Ukrainian serving in the Hungarian army. Himself commander of a punitive detachment, he kept warning her about German punitive plans; she passed these warnings to the affected partisans. Instead of surprising the partisans, the enemy would walk into a trap.

"Sosnina transformed the Malin organization into a true home front for the partisans, with all kinds supplies reaching them via secret channels.  The urban underground and partisans operated according to a common plan, supplementing each other or acting jointly. In addition Sosnina even communicated with soldiers of the anti-Soviet Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army, in an attempt to persuade the rank and file to go over to the partisans.

"There was a plan to capture the Malin Garrison on 1 September and subsequently the attacking partisans and members of the Resistance were to escape to the woods. Partisan Commissar G.S. Petrenko saw Sosnina for the last time toward the end of August. He offered her the appointment of Komsomol Organizer in his unit; here, she would have been safer than in Malin, where arrests were again taking place. However, she insisted that she was dutybound to stay in Malin in order to keep supplying partisans with weapons and intelligence, and to take part in the planned attack on the Malin Garrison. She never talked about death. The stress she was under was apparent only in her letters to Jan Antala. (Copies of these letters and an album with Sosnina's poems were to be returned by Antala to Sosnina's brother Valentin twenty-five years later, after Antala had read an article about himself, written by Valentin, which was published in Bratislava.)"

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