In autumn of 1941 when the Soviet Union was at war with Fascist Germany, Alexandra Roschupkina, 28, from the Uzbek capital of Tashkent came to a military registration and enlistment office and demanded that she must be sent to the front as a volunteer. But officers said that with her profession of a tractor driver the young woman would be of a better use at the home front. But Alexandra would not give up and invented a trick. She cut off all of her hair, put on men’s clothes and came to another military registration and enlistment office located in a neighboring town. She assumed a male variant of her name, Alexander Roschupkin and said her identity card was lost. Officers had no opportunity to have identification of Alexander and took on trust what he said about himself. That was how the brave girl turned into a young man and came to the front.
In a week, Alexander was taken to an office of military studies in the Moscow Region together with many other recruits. Soon, officers said that the recruits would be taught to become tankmen and added that those who dreaded could quit. Alexandra said that several guys quitted but she stayed even though was scared to death. She decided it would be a great deed to fight fascists in a tank.
Brother-soldiers became friends with Alexander; officers also liked the cadet as the skills of a tractor driver helped the brave girl master tank driving. A doctor who examined recruits was the only who knew that Alexander was a woman. When the doctor examined Alexander, he was surprised to learn the recruit was a female, then his astonishment grew into indignation and the doctor meant to inform senior officers of the incident. However, the brave female soldier managed to persuade the doctor to keep the secret. Alexander said that he must defend the native land and would at any price get to the front. The doctor was amazed to meet a new Jeanne of Arc and promised he would keep Alexander’s real sex secret.
When the military studies were about the end, the cadets were caught encircled by fascists and had to secretly make their way to the settlements where the Soviet army was stationed. At that, they could not go in the daytime and crawled on hands and knees at night. Their clothes were ragged; faces, hands and boots were covered with a thick layer of soil. Today Alexandra confesses that even though she pretended being a male, she still felt ill at ease because of the terrible looks. Indeed, a woman is always a woman even when dressed in men’s clothes. In a week after the cadets reached the Soviet Army, Alexander was sent to the front.
This sounds incredible but Alexander’s secret was never revealed within the three years when the female soldier was at the front. None of Alexander’s brother-soldiers guessed that he was a woman. Indeed, the woman always cut her hair too short, her figure resembled that of a boy. Alexander never bathed or went to the bath-house together with other soldiers and explained he was ashamed to take his clothes off in other people’s presence. Other soldiers found it strange that the young soldier was so shy but always respected Alexander’s wish to bathe alone.
Alexander’s sex came to light quite accidentally in February 1945 when his regiment came across German troops and Alexander’s tank was put out of action. His brother-soldier Viktor Pozharsky saved Alexander from death. The man pulled Alexander out of a burning tank and saw that his hip was wounded. Viktor decided to immediately take off Alexander’s pants to bandage the wound and stop the bleeding. Later the rescuer confessed that he nearly fainted when saw that Alexander was a woman. Soon, hospital attendants came to the accident site and took the soldier to the hospital.
It made no sense any longer to keep pretending that Alexander was a male, and a huge scandal broke out in the regiment. Soon, the high command learnt about the incident. The scandal was suppressed thanks to General Vasily Chuikov who spoke in support of the brave woman and ordered to impose no penalties upon her. It was decided that Alexander’s sex must be corrected from male to female in the soldier’s documents.
Shortly after the incident the war was over for Alexandra. She had to stay at the hospital for two months after the wounding and a contusion. Then the long - awaited Victory Day came.
When the war ended, Alexandra Roschupkina worked as a driver; then she entered a polytechnic institute and got a diploma of an engineer. The woman was married but unfortunately could not have babies because of the war wounding. Now Alexandra Roschupkina is 93; she lives alone, and kind neighbors who respect the woman’s heroic deeds during WWII help her about the house.
In Russia, Nadezhda Durova was the first woman officer. In 1806, the daughter of a hussar captain dressed in men’s clothes and passed herself off as a landlord’s son Alexander Durov. Together with the Cossacks she escaped to the city of Grodno where she joined the uhlan regiment. The woman hussar took part in the war against France in 1807, and Emperor Alexander I conferred an officer rank to her. During the 1812 war, Nadezhda Durova was an orderly for Commander Kutuzov.
Translated by Maria Gousseva
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