January 17-18, 1945

January 17th, 1945.

Got up, no breakfast, the top brass came. Went to the battalion. Went on the attack together with the infantry on the front lines. We moved forward and did not report to the rear, so our Katyusha and fiddler [morter] hit us – oh we were ground-up! The first time I experienced so much artillery fire. Experienced machine gun fire for the first time on July 19th with Solomatin on the Neman. And now? Today for me seemed like a month. Nearly vomited at all the body parts. Bandaged the wounded and moved forward. Three groups rushed a house, completed the objective, all good on the right side. But the push has changed our division, have taken the left side, but the work proved useless.


A Katyusha rocket launcher.

Easily entered the 371st rifle division. Must not go further. Fritz shelling with all kinds of weapons. 100 meters back in a ravine behind the house were the enemy self-propelled guns, fire from machine guns and shells. Fritz looked up out of the hatch and I shot from the house, and the rest of the day didn’t get a good target.

Frost, hunger. Went into a unit. The guys threw some filthy compliments at me. Filthy language everywhere. So tired. I went off on my own. Stumbled across some acquaintances, went to look for the regiment. Stumbled onto the division command post, got to spend the night. Cold, ate a little. In the house took trophies, an album with paper in which I want to rewrite everything. So heavy! I see that I get a few good benefits, as a sniper: perhaps there will be moments when I’m threatened with death. From our 2nd Battalion there are 6 left out of 78. I miss the girls, many of them have it worse.

January 18th, 1945.

For three hours now I’ve sat and cried. 12 at night. Who do I need? What good am I? Am I no help? My experience is not wanted. It looks like there are too many support troops, and I will not be called to help. I don’t know, what to do next? Often I hear dirty talk. For what do I deserve such useless torture? Everyone shouting raunchy, filthy language, nobody to talk to. Suddenly asked: “Is your name Shanina?” I didn’t answer. It turned out it was the best friend of Paval Blokhin, I knew him well. But now I didn’t recognize him. What a pleasant meeting. Head of reconnaissance for the 785th Rifle Regiment. He said: “I have been told that Shanina received the Order,” I confessed to Claudia all the bad comments I’ve heard. Yes, I really appreciated it; junior Lieutenant Nikolai was respectful of me.

January 24, 1945

Stress warning: Sexual assault.

January 24th, 1945.

For a long time I didn’t write anything. There was no time. Went to reconnaissance in regiment 785. Wonderful guys, well received, but started to get harassed by the head of the regiment, chasing me when I had done nothing, grabbing at me like he was in a brothel. I could not stand him, and left after only staying 2 days: it was impossible to live there anymore, the harassment intensified.

During those two days, all day there was no time to breathe. There were horrible fights. Full trenches of German infantry fortified and armed – defended tenaciously. Our trench passed by theirs and ended at an estate 150-200 meters away. Fritz fired whenever we passed by. It was a real meat-grinder. So many times we got troops on the self-propelled guns, 1 or 2 people at most, and the rest mowed down by enemy fire. I went into a self-propelled gun, but could not manage to fire, cannot look out of the hatch without being wounded or killed. I got low, crawled out and fired on the Fritz fleeing from the trench.

By the evening of the 22nd expelled all, occupied the estate, found the antitank ditch. I go on, the infantry is laying down, and is afraid to go further. Two Shtrafbat scouts were going ahead. I go with them, and as a result we three were the first to occupy the estate, and all of us went on the attack, and began driving at the heels of a retreating Fritz. I, like all, shot. As it turns out the neighbors to the left of the Shtrafbat are the 63rd RD. 63rd RD commanders saw me, shouted to the soldiers: “Here is this girl’s example, learn from it.” Left me alone, but I went to look for them. Running and screaming soldiers on the right: “Which division?” And hear a shout from behind the soldiers: “Halt.” And to the left out of the bushes stand up two Fritz with hands up, 4 meters from me.

I met the divisional scouts, and they sheltered me, saying: “You will go with us.” And I was guided forward, to the west. They lost 14 people to Fritz, and we are already marching on. Fritz retreated without looking back, and then were suddenly ordered to return. We go by car, the column goes, to the town of Shlisselburg. Passed the town, we go on further. Here, the Germans ditched everything: cows and all, and fled into the woods. Shelled the village. Found Frau there. Guys carried them away on tractors and etc. [edited] Many Lithuanians. And the equipment we have, God – the whole army moves, I swear, and they don’t follow traffic rules.

Big iron bridge over a river. A beautiful road, good overlook on the meadows. Near the bridge downed trees – no time to make an abatis. Luxurious house, stone, elegant furnishings everywhere: piano, mirror, silk curtains, plush, lace, beautiful chairs and all the furniture. Scouts are not up to me, they are busy with work, and there is no place to sleep. Kicked out.

I was in the division. Vadim, son of the chief Colonel, a Lieutenant. Nothing to do, a mama’s boy and evil. Stuck close to me: “Give me a kiss” – he was drunk here. I was in the middle of changing my clothes. He walked in without permission and I wasn’t wearing any pants. Strong, though small. Twisted my arms around, threw me down on the couch, kissing me, and just then the Colonel walked in – his father. I have tears on my face, crying. “What’s going on?” I say: “Just because I’m a girl, does that mean everyone has to kiss me?” He yelled at his son, but after he had left Vadim said: “Understand, I don’t want German girls, they’re infected, and you’re a clean, pretty girl, who I still want to kiss.” I said: “You have so many wants, I have to be the one to give in?”

Again march at night, now dark, but soon dawn, sitting around the campfire and writing. So bad, when no bosses need me. Good, that nobody is giving orders, but still bad – no orders, what to do? I can’t seem to find contentment in my heart. I don’t need anyone.

Roza Shanina was killed in action on January 27th, 1945, at the age of 20. She was buried at the base of a pear tree on the bank of the Lava River.

Her brother Sergei was granted a new trial, but his conviction was not overturned. His original sentence of 10 years hard labor was changed to execution. He took his own life on February 3rd, 1945.

Roza’s friend Aleksandra “Sasha” Ekimova was killed in action on February 26th, 1945. Sasha’s husband, Vladimir “Vovika” Emelyanov, died on April 5th, 1945.

Pyotr Molchanov kept Roza’s diary in his Kiev apartment for 20 years, before allowing a heavily edited version to be published by the journal “Yunost” in 1965. The diary is currently held at the Arkhangelsk Regional Museum.


The death notification:

205th Medical-Sanitary Battalion

11 February, 1945

rec’d 1 March, 1945


Please notify Shanina, Anna Alexsandrova, resident in city of Arkhangelsk, 15 Leningrad Avenue,1 that her daughter2 Sn. Sergeant Shanina, Roza, in battle for the Socialist Motherland, in loyalty to the military oath, showing heroism and honor, was wounded and died from wounds on 28 January, 1945.

Buried with full military honors East Prussia Richau 3km south-east of Ilmsdorf village.


1 This is the address of the girls’ dormitory that Roza had lived in as a student. Roza’s boss at Kindergarten #2 ultimately sent a letter to Anna to let her know about Roza.

2 The options given under this line are “Husband, Son, Brother, Father.”

Roza’s Character

Roza had a bold, adventurous character – perhaps a bit of a chip on her shoulder. As her primary school teacher A. Makarin recalled: “Prickly, like a thorn bush. Always fighting back against the bullies. At play, always that same vice: like a barefoot whirlwind.”

It would, first, be somewhat incorrect to classify Roza’s childhood as hardscrabble or impoverished. Her father, Yegor, was an old Bolshevik, joining the party in 1917. He was a party organizer and director for several communes in the Ushti River area. By those measures, a successful and influential man. Second, despite the common assertion, it would probably be incorrect to say that Roza’s parents disapproved of her education. All three of her older brothers had gone to secondary school in the city. According to Roza’s younger brother Marat, their careers and education were a source of great pride for their father. It is clear, then, that he was hardly the sort of father who would forbid his daughter from going to school.

It is also clear, though, that Roza chose to leave her parents’ home on her own terms. She walked well over 200km to the nearest train station, arrived in Arkhangelsk with no money or possessions, arrived two months before the school term began, and before enrolling or passing entrance exams. Additionally, she received no financial support from home when the student living stipends were revoked after the outbreak of war. A coworker remembered Roza telling one of the students that her father had died in the war, which was not true. Perhaps tellingly, her diary makes just one mention of her father, in passing, on January 14th – “…her father, like mine, nearly kicked her out of the house.” Earlier in the same entry, she writes a summary of a letter to her mother, which is redacted in current publications. In part: “…I don’t remember why, I don’t blame […]…” Perhaps the redacted name was her father?

Once in Arkhangelsk, Roza threw herself into her studies and social life. She exhibited many of the qualities evident in her diary. Her friend at the time, A.G. Maleysheva, recalled that Roza had no patience for rude men, or men who offended her. She also remembered an occasion at 2 or 3AM when Roza, out well past curfew, had her friends make a rope out of bed sheets so that Roza could sneak back into the dorms.

The beginning of the war was clearly hard on Roza, however. Surely there was the shock of the Soviets’ early defeats – Nazis laying siege to Leningrad, reaching the suburbs of Moscow. All of her brothers except the youngest one were fighting. But there was also her own survival to consider. She began teaching the evening classes at Kindergarten #2 to make ends meet. Her boss, T.V. Kurochkina, remembered a tall, pretty girl with piercing blue eyes, wearing a paper dress at first, and later almost always the same gray flannel dress. She also remembered a girl who was lethargic and weighed-down. In one instance, she poked her head into Roza’s class around 7pm and found the children playing quietly. She discovered Roza in the classroom’s back office, asleep at a desk on a pile of books. Roza had been staying up nearly all night to finish her own school work and plan her kindergarten lessons. Kurochkina made sure Roza’s job at the kindergarten was permanent, and allowed her to eat with the students in the school cafeteria. Food was very expensive and heavily rationed outside the school.

In the months that followed, Kurochkina remembered that Roza cheered up – she pursued hobbies and began to buy a few things for herself. She volunteered at the hospital and read to the patients, read with the parents of her students, enjoyed board games. When the school held a fundraiser for the Red Army the parents in Roza’s group donated 1000 rubles, an enormous amount at the time.

When women became eligible for military service in March of ’42, Roza was too young to serve – just 17. Because of this, and perhaps because she had started to enjoy life in Arkhangelsk again, she did not enlist immediately. Instead, it seems she spent a year studying at the Arkhangelsk Pedagogical Institute, while still working at the kindergarten. She was hardly disconnected from the war effort, though. She volunteered for air raid duty at night, and carried water to help douse the flames from the bombings. By the summer of ’43, however, the call to serve was too strong. Kurochkina remembered that Roza made her promise not to argue, and not try to talk her out of it, and stared with eyes that could “throw sparks off steel.” Roza enlisted on June 22nd, 1943.

On her way to training in Moscow she stopped for a day in Shangaly, near her hometown on the Ushti river. She spent the day with her cousins. In the evening her mother came to visit. For a short time they talked on the porch, and then her mother left. She did not see her father. On the train to Moscow that night, Roza’s cousin Aleksander remembered Roza sitting quietly, looking out the window, and crying.

Roza graduated from sniper training in April, 1944. At a parade in Moscow she met up with her brothers Sergei and Pavel. Their brothers Mikhail and Fyoder had already been killed. After taking a few photos, they went their separate ways. Only Pavel would survive the war. Roza was asked to stay in the sniper training academy as an instructor, but she refused and requested to be sent to the front.

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.