Friends and Comrades

Alexandra Ekimova: Sasha married Vovka Emelyanov during an informal ceremony in the Katyusha unit in early January, 1945. Shortly thereafter, Vovka’s katyusha unit was reassigned to another part of the front and they were separated. He was given leave to see Sasha for International Women’s Day on March 8th, but arrived to find that Sasha had been killed on February 26th.

Sasha was normally paired with Kaleria Petrova, but Kalya was ill the morning of the 26th. Dusya Kekesheva took her place. Shortly after arriving at their trench, Sasha and Dusya were ambushed by a group of Nazis who cut their throats. Dusya was found in their trench and Sasha was found a short distance away – Kalya believed she had tried to escape.

Kalya and her friends brought the bodies back to their dugout and held a funeral the following day. Unlike so many other Soviet casualties, Sasha and Dusya were buried in coffins with full military honors.

Kaleria Petrova: Kalya was “mobilized” after she completed secondary school. She worked at an arms factory in Penza – her father and sister were already in the army. Work in the factory was dangerous and brutal – long hours, no days off, minimal rations. It was common for girls to pass out while running the machines. She worked for a year, and then ran away. Since she was technically part of the military while working in the factory, this qualified as desertion. Her father had served in the Tsar’s army during the Russian Civil War, and it was something of a miracle that he had not been killed during the purges. The family was still, however, under surveillance by the NKVD. To keep her daughter out of prison, Kalya’s mother got her accepted as a volunteer in the Red Army’s new sniper program.

Kalya’s first partner at the front was Masha Schvarts. Masha was killed by a Nazi sniper while returning to their dugout one winter’s day. Since no new partner was available, she was reassigned to the 1138th Infantry Regiment, where she met Roza and Sasha.

Kalya saw the East Prussian Offensive through to Konigsburg, after which she was reassigned to the Japanese front. There she worked as a telephone operator until the end of the war. She returned to Moscow, got a degree in hydrology, and spent the rest of her life as an academic. She died in 2014. Her memory proved “golden” until the end, and she was able to vividly recount life in the army.

Dusya Kekesheva: In February of 1945 she was pregnant and due to be reassigned off the front lines. She was killed before this could happen. She was 21.

Valya Lazarenko: Little is known about her life beyond what Roza wrote. She was born in 1925, and Kalya remembered that she was killed late in the war.

Vladimir Emelyanov: Vovka returned to his unit after learning of Sasha’s death. He was wounded in April, 1945, and died on the 5th. Kalya inherited his things.

Vinogradova, Lyuba. Avenging Angels. New York: MacLehose Press, 2017. [Citing interviews with Kalya Petrova]

Ipatova, N.V.; Istomin, A.A.; Mamonov, V.P. Brave Girl from Usti. Arkhangelsk: Usti Regional Museum, 2016. [in Russian]

Alexievich, Svetlana. The Unwomanly Face of War. New York: Random House, 2017.

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.