Nicknamed the "unseen terror of East Prussia," Roza Shanina was one of the most skilled Soviet snipers during World War II. From a young age, Shanina didn’t care much for the docile life that was common for women during that time. At just 14, she ran away from home, walking 120 miles all alone before she reached a train station. There, she boarded a train to the city of Arkhangelsk and enrolled in the city’s college. She quickly fell in love with the city, under the lights and amidst the hustle and bustle. But she knew she was destined for more.
In 1941, Shanina’s 19-year-old brother was killed in combat during the siege of Leningrad. It was then that she decided to enroll in the military herself to serve her country. As it was atypical for women to serve in the military, she had to ask for special permission from the military commissariat. And in 1943, Shanina successfully enrolled in the army and joined the Central Female Sniper Academy. She excelled in her training at the academy, graduating with top honors. In April of 1944, she was appointed commander of an all-female sniper platoon. In June, she volunteered to be sent to the front line. Her request was actually refused. Not to be deterred, she went anyway.
During the war, Shanina kept a detailed diary of her experiences on the battlefield—despite the Soviet military banning this act. This diary concealed her most close-kept secrets, personal feelings, and innermost thoughts on the war. With entries from her first kill to later ones, detailing how she was hardened by battle, her diary revealed that she felt she had found her true purpose and calling in life.
She had a steady hand, comparable to the most talented men on the frontlines. Shanina rarely missed a shot and often made doublets, meaning she could hit two targets with two rounds fired in quick succession. During her first year on the war front, Shanina became the first servicewoman of the 3rd Belorussian Front to be awarded the Order of Glory. This award was given to soldiers of the Red Army who displayed glorious feats of bravery, courage, and fearlessness in the face of the enemy.
In January 1945, Shanina penned what would be one of her last diary entries, writing that German fire had intensified and she believed she might be killed soon. In the same entry, she wrote that she had no fear of death and thought her supporters and fans gave her too much credit. Humble, even on the verge of death, she wrote, “What I’ve actually done? No more than I have to as a Soviet person, having stood up to defend the motherland.” On January 17th, Shanina was fatally injured while shielding an artillery officer. When two Russian officers discovered her body, she was slumped over the officer, hands still gripping her rifle. She was 20 years old.
Shanina was one of the deadliest Soviet women snipers of all time, credited with 59 kills. But she was also a prolific writer, and her diary entries showcased her profound insight and determination. Brave and talented, Shanina gave up everything to fight back against the Nazis invading her country. Her story, along with countless other courageous fighters who risked their lives for the better of their people, continues to inspire and echo to this day.