Maria Bochkareva was a Russian soldier who fought in World War I and the founder of the Women’s Battalion of Death.
A peasant girl from Novgorod, Bochkareva suffered two abusive romantic relationships until the beginning of the World War 1 when she left her partner to join the army. While initially rejected she made a personal petition to Tsar Nicholas II who granted her request.
Bochkareva endured ridicule and sexual harassment within her regiment, but also won many of her fellow soldier’s respect. In her first battle, following an ill-fated attack by her unit, Bochkareva crept out into No Man’s Land and dragged over 50 wounded men to safety before she was herself wounded in the leg. Bochkareva participated in at least 100 more excursions into No Man’s Land over the course of the war, during which she was wounded twice more and decorated three times for bravery.
After the Tsar’s abdication in 1917, she petitioned the Minister of War for permission to create an all-female shock battalion. After a month of intensive training the Battalion of Death, numbering 300 women, was deployed to the Russian Western Front. The Battalion performed admirably in battle near Smorgon, taking three German trenches. However it was later disbanded due to male hostility amid the crumbling war effort.
Bochkareva’s political opposition to the Bolsheviks put her life in danger following the October Revolution and she was forced to flee to the US. There she met with President Woodrow Wilson, who was reportedly moved to tears by her pleas that he intervene in Russia. She returned to Russia in August 1918 in hopes of raising a peasant army to fight the Bolsheviks, but this ultimately failed. She was later captured by the Bolsheviks, stripped of her uniform and executed by firing squad in 1920.
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