Roza Shanina

This portrait of Roza Shanina that shows her in her uniforms and with her awards, was taken in January 1944

“Throughout my life at the front there has not been an instant when I have not longed to be in battle. I want to be where the fighting is fiercest. I want to be there with the soldiers.” These words were written by Roza Shanina, a female sniper serving in the Red Army.

Roza Shanina was born in April 1924 in Arkhangelsk Oblast. After one of her brothers fell during the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in December 1941, Shanina volunteered for military service.

Unlike in the Western Allied armies, women were allowed to serve in frontline units in the Soviet Union. Shanina applied to become a sniper and was allowed to enrol in the Central Women’s Sniper Training School in June 1943. Just under a year later, she joined the female sniper platoon within the 184th Rifle Division. That same month, she killed her first German soldier. At the end of May 1944, Shanina became the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to receive the Order of Glory 3rd class. At the time, she had scored over 20 kills. Shanina reported in her diary that she became increasingly indifferent to death, cold blooded and saw the meaning of her existence in her profession.

In June 1944, it was decided by the Soviet military to withdraw female snipers from the front. Shanina refused the order and continued to support the advancing Red Army together with other sisters-in-arms. She became a celebrity as propaganda pamphlets featured her deeds and was among the first female snipers to receive the Medal for Courage.

In January 1945, Shanina took part in the Red Army’s East Prussian Offensive. On 27 January, she was severely wounded by a shell fragment. She died of her wounds a day later at the age of 20. Her body was buried under a pear tree at the shore of the Lava river and later re-interred in the small town of Wehlau.