What Happened to Anya Nesterova and Lyuba Tanailova

In late November, 1944, while fighting in Lithuania, a few girls from Roza’s platoon were stationed at a lookout post with some other soldiers. It was a very foggy morning, making any sharpshooting or observation impossible. The girls passed the time in conversation. A Nazi reconnaissance group managed to get to their trench through the fog and grabbed four girls: Anya, Lyuba, Dusya Kekesheva, and Dusya Shambarova. As the Nazis took them away, Anya and Lyuba shouted back to their trench to open fire – her comrades did not, as they feared hitting them. Then one of the Nazis stepped on a mine – Kekesheva was able to get free and run back to the trench. Shambarova was hit by shrapnel and fell to the ground, playing dead until the Nazis were out of sight. She had surgery to remove the shrapnel, but never recovered and died shortly after the war.

Anya and Lyuba were featured in a Nazi propaganda leaflet dropped on the Soviets in December, 1944, but the rest of the story would not be known until much later. After interrogation, the two were taken to a Nazi concentration camp. Anya died a short while later, but Lyuba survived until the Americans liberated the camp in 1945. However, she was not yet free. The Soviet army considered surrender or capture tantamount to treason; clearly, surviving Nazi captivity meant that one had collaborated willingly with their captors. Lyuba was transferred from the concentration camp to a Soviet prison camp. After serving her sentence, she was sent to internal exile in Kazakhstan. When the political climate finally relaxed in the 1960s, she was allowed to return to work at her childhood collective farm in Chelyabinsk.1

One of the innumerable tragedies of WWII, and of course every war, is that those who fought often must continue fighting after the war is over. The Soviet demands on their troops produced acts exceptional heroism, and near superhuman feats of endurance and survival. These demands, often unreachable ideals, also punished the innocent, and produced what several historians have termed “double-victims.” Understanding this is key to understanding the sacrifices made by so many.

1 Vinogradova, Lyuba. Avenging Angels. New York: MacLehose Press, 2017. p181-185. Vinogradova cites her interview with Kalya Petrova, who recalled the story from the front and had reconnected with Tanailova at a veteran’s reunion in 1970.

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