Roza Shanina was born on April 3rd, 1924 on a collective farm in the Bogdanovskoy commune, Arkhangelsk Oblast, the Soviet Union.
Shanina’s mother, Anna, was a kolkhoz milkmaid and her father, Yegor, had been a logger, but fought in the army during WWI and was badly wounded in the knee. He joined the Bolsheviks while still recovering in a Moscow hospital. When the dust settled after the revolution, Yegor was made a party organizer and director of the Bogdanovskoy commune. The commune collapsed sometime in the early-mid ’30s, and the family resettled in the village of Yedma. Yegor and Anna had five sons and two daughters, and also adopted three orphans.
The public school in Yedma provided Roza with her first four years of school. Getting the next three required moving to the town of Bereznik, 12km away. There, Roza lived with with her aunt Agnes and worked after school in the kolkhoz pigsty.
In 1938, at the age of fourteen, Roza expressed her desire to attend secondary school and study literature. When her parents refused, she ran away. Roza walked over 200km through the taiga forests before reaching a train station in the village of Konosha and traveling to Arkhangelsk. There she lived with her brother Fyoder, before eventually winning entry into the city secondary school. This provided her with a dorm room and a stipend for other living expenses.
Roza as a student in Arkhangelsk.
On June 22nd, 1941, Nazi forces invaded the entire western border of the Soviet Union, opening an 1,800-mile-long front. The Soviet economy was devastated. Free secondary education was discontinued, and the living stipends were revoked. By September, Roza had taken a job at Kindergarten No. 2 in order to pay her tuition. She took classes during the day and taught in the evenings, graduating with honers the following spring. When the Nazis began bombing Arkhangelsk, the only port through which the Soviets could receive supplies from the West, she volunteered for air raid duty on the roof of the kindergarten.
Roza’s brother Mikhail died during the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in December, 1941. Ultimately, three of her brothers would die in the war. She began tracking down military officers on the school campus, asking permission to serve, and was refused – women were not yet eligible for military service. By the following March, that had changed. The country had sustained devastating loses over the winter. Soviet military leaders believed women’s higher levels of body fat would make them more resistant to cold weather and hunger, and that child birth gave them a naturally high pain tolerance. Their nature as care-givers would make them excellent medics, and their patient temperament would make them good snipers.
Roza enrolled first in the Vsevobuch basic training program, then in the Central Female Sniper Academy. Shanina graduated with honors in April, 1944, and was made a commander in the 184th Rifle Division’s female sniper platoon on the 3rd Belorussian Front. She had just turned 20.
A class photo for the Sniper Academy, 12/24/1943.
In October, 1944, Roza began keeping a diary of her life in the army. This was strictly forbidden and, as such, it is one of only a handful in existence.