One Step Ahead

Recruiting poster in 1943 of Irakli Toidze for the movie “For the Motherland”

Soviet war time brought a unique artistic freedom to the Soviet film and cinema industry. During the war there were over 100 Soviet films produced and half of them had a plot surrounded around the war. The most interesting thing was how many films told the stories of the partisans. The role of women and stories of their lives flooded the box offices. The picture above is from one of the most “canonical movie of the war years came in 1943: Fridrikh Ermler’s She Defends the Motherland (Ona zashchishchaet rodinu, released in the U.S. as No Greater Love).” This movie along with many that had female leads during the war, represented women as self sacrificing, confident, calm and driven. In the movie She Defends the Motherland, Prasha Lukianov lost her husband in the war and her baby son by Germans invading her village. “Pasha quickly emerges from her nearly catatonic state to reassume her leadership role with the surviving villagers, forming a partisan band. As Comrade P., Pasha picks up an ax to lead her followers into hand-to-hand combat with the Germans.” Her leadership went far beyond just supporting her local village and its people. As a woman she accomplished the unthinkable, she kidnapped Germans, attacked convoys and became a nightmare for the occupying German armies in her village. This fictional story of Pasha shows a small representation of how the lives of women in the Soviet Union during WWII actually looked like.

A group of Soviet female snippers marching during their training for WWII

What some westerners might not understand or imagine is how involved Soviet women were, not just on the home front, but in the physical battle of the war. “Women were much more intimately involved in their country’s defense and frontline combat than the woman of any other combating society in World War II or the Great Patriotic War as it was called in the USSR.” Specifically, Soviet women fought the Germans in “direct combat roles that included bomber pilots, tankers, machine gunners, infanteers, and grenadiers.”

Not only did these women help on the battlefront and in the war physically they also helped to redefine and challenge social roles. Years prior to the war between 1907-1917, the fight for women’s rights increased tremendously. This movement was led by the League of Women’s Equal Rights, the largest feminist group during the time. Rights they fought for included “women’s education and social welfare, as well as equal rights, such as suffrage, inheritance, and passport restrictions.” In 1917 women were also given the right to vote which was a few years before women in America could. Russia throughout its history seemed a step a head of the western world when it came to the evolution of women’s roles in society, including women in film and on the big screen.


6 thoughts on “One Step Ahead

  1. As you said, it is interesting to see how much of a role Russian women played in the Red Army. Militarily, they were much more involved and at risk than the vast majority of women from other countries during the war, especially the women in the infantry, artillery, and armor branches of the army. It is something that is heavily contested in our military today. I also really liked your pictures, nice post.


  2. I thought you had a very interesting post, and I like how you addressed the role of women both on the home front and the battlefront. It seems backwards that while women were allowed and encouraged to fight in the war, but when they came home, they still did not have the same rights as men in Russia. Great post and great subject!


  3. I actually really loved this post because it was very different from all the other posts I have read. It provides a new and different perspective on the war that I think is very overlooked and underestimated by most people. I was unaware of how involved women were in this war and I also didn’t know that Soviet women were granted the right to vote before American women were. Very interesting post!


  4. This was an eye opening post and I like how you focused on a unique topic. I had no clue how involved Soviet women were in WWII. Usually direct combat, especially historically, was only for men to partake in and it was interesting to learn that Soviet women could participate in direct combat. It is surprising to me that Russia was more advanced in women’s right than the United States.


  5. This was a very interesting post. I know we here a lot about American women being involved in the war but I would have never thought about Russian women in the war. I feel like we also tend to think about Russia being farther behind when it comes to social progress during this time so this was very interesting to read about!


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