Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (1921-1943) was fittingly born on August 18, the Soviet Air Fleet Day or Aviation Day. She made her first solo flight at 15 and was training as a flight instructor by the age of 17.
In 1937, her father was accused of having committed crimes against the Communist Party and arrested. She never saw him again. Unlike her brother, Lydia refused to change her name.
When World War II began, Lidya had already trained 45 pilots at the Kirov Flying Club in Moscow. The USSR’s Airplane magazine praised her for having carried out a record number of training flights in a single day (over 8 hours in flight). Lydia wanted to join the war effort, but her appeal was rejected.
However, things changed when Marina Raskova was allowed to create female aviation regiments. Lydia joined her recruits. She was friendly and curious toward the others. She first refused to have her hair cut, but had to give up due to Marina’s insistence. Lydia was full of enthusiasm, she wrote her mother that she was “thirsting for battle”.
In September 1942, she and some of her female comrades were moved to an entirely male regiment. They stood their ground and quickly adapted. It was during this month that Lydia was deployed in battle for the first time. She shot down two enemy planes during the fight and thus became the first woman in the world to shoot down an enemy combat aircraft on her own.
Story has it that a renowned German ace she had shot down was captured, and asked to meet the person who defeated him. When he saw Lydia, he couldn’t believe it was first. Lydia, however, used hand movements to reconstruct their duel and he was forced to admit the truth. Impressed, he offered her his wristwatch, but she refused.
Nicknamed the “White rose of Stalingrad”, Lydia flew with a bouquet of flowers stuck on her dashboard. A white lily was painted on her plane. To become an ace, a pilot had to shoot down five aircrafts. Lydia shot down 11 enemy planes by herself within a year and added a “shared kill” to her performance. She was granted the status of “free hunter”, meaning that she could go searching for enemy aircraft or ground forces on her own initiative.
On March 22, 1943, she found herself outnumbered by the enemy two to one. She shot down a German plane, but was wounded in the leg. Lydia then found herself surrounded by six enemy planes. She flew straight in the middle of the German aircrafts and shot one of them. She managed to escape and to land, before fainting. This exploit turned her into a celebrity.
In July, she and six or five of her comrades found themselves fighting thirty six enemy planes. She shot a German bomber and a fighter, but was wounded in the shoulder and the leg and had to crash-land her plane. She refused to be hospitalized. The death of her best friend in battle didn’t stop her. A week later, she returned to combat.
She was flying her fourth mission on August 1, 1943, when she was ambushed by a superior number of enemies. One of her comrades saw her dive into the clouds to escape. This was the last time she was seen. Nobody could find her body or plane. Since she was declared “missing”, she couldn’t be granted to rank of “Hero of the Soviet Union”.
After the war, search for her body and plane were conducted and it was discovered that she had possibly been found and buried in the village of Dmitrievka in Ukraine. On May 5,1990 Mikhail Gorbachev finally made her a hero of the Soviet Union.
Lydia’s last letter to her mother said:
“I am completely absorbed in combat life. I can’t seem to think of anything but the fighting. I long . . . for a happy and peaceful life, after I’ve returned to you and told you about everything I had lived through and felt during the time when we were apart. Well, good-bye for now. Your Lily.”
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Sakaida Henry, Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-1945
Wayne Elizabeth, A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II
The fact that thousands of Jewish families across the United States are being forced to decide whether to send their children to their first day of school or observe their religious practices is just more proof that antisemitism is culturally Ingrained and that westerners never cared about diversity or considering religious and ethnic minorities. Having one of the most important school days on one of the most important Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah) is so tone deaf, especially with the increasing amount of antisemitism and violence against America’s Jewish community this year.
The socialist fraternal kiss is a special greeting that was used in the USSR and eastern european countries since the October Revolution of 1917. The greeting consists of a hug followed by three kisses on the cheeks. If the people greeting each other were close, it was common for the third kiss to be given on the mouth instead.
The russian custom of greeting people with three kisses on the cheeks precedes the founding of the Soviet Union by centuries, going back to ritual traditions of the Orthodox Church in the beginnings of the Czardom in Russia. The greeting, then, was an allusionto the Holy Trinity. The custom was retaken by the russian worker’s movement at the end of the 19th century, in contrast to the custom imposed by the Czarist regime, where subjects and subordinates had the obligation of kissing the hands of the nobility and aristocracy. By putting the greeters on equal footing, the worker’s greeting became a symbol of equality, fraternity, and solidarity, being incorporated in the etiquette of the bolshevik revolutionaries and being used as an expression of unity amongst the working class.
After the October Revolution, the ritualization of the gesture was consolidated, turning it into a protocol greeting between members of the soviet government—even if the adhesion wasn’t entirely consensual, at first. The symbolic gesture of comradery and socialist solidarity was exported to other countries through the Communist International, becoming especially popular in East Europe. Being more reserved, the socialists of Asian countries adopted a modified version, exchanging the three kisses for three hugs. Cuba, on the other hand, adopted the custom of the three kisses on the cheeks, but did not adopt the kiss on the mouth, due to the amorous implications that a kiss on the mouth had in the western world. The greeting was also adopted by other socialist leaders in the Third World and by autonomy movements aligned with the socialist ideal, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and the African National Congress.
In the Soviet Union, the intensity of the fraternal greeting served as an indicator of the degree of alignment and commitment between leaders. The omission of the greeting used to mean that the relationships with another country where shaken—a notable example being the absence of hugs, kisses, or even the word “comrade” on diplomatic meetings with the chinese after the Sino-Soviet Split. Leonid Brezhnev was by far the greatest adept of the fraternal kiss, starring in a series of anecdotes about the habit—including a well-known story in which Fidel Castro, in his visit to the Soviet Union in 1974, disembarked the plane already smoking a cigar, as to prevent any “excessive intimacy” from the soviet leader.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent “westernization” of the russian culture, the habit was abandoned, although it still persists to this day between older citizens and more isolated populations in Russia.
Joseph Stalin greeting the pilot Vasily Molokov in 1936.
“Our army is an army for the liberation of the workers“. Soviet poster from 1939.
A Czech woman greets a soviet soldier after the liberation of Prague, on May 5th, 1945.
Soldiers of the Red Army kiss each other after the declaration of victory over Nazi Germany, in 1945.
A soviet and romanian rowers kiss each other during a sports competition in 1953.
Swimmer Maria Havrish kissing her rival, Elena Kovalenko, who had just defeated her in a competition in the Spartakiad of The Peoples of The USSR, in 1956.
Leonid Brezhnev and other officers greeting soviet cosmonauts returning from a space mission.
Leonid Brezhnev greeting the USamerican choreographer Annie Hallman, member of a US delegation visiting the Soviet Union in 1973.
Leonid Brezhnev greeting East German leader Erich Honecker during the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic. Berlin, October 4th, 1979.
Soviet swimmers Alexander Sidorenko and Sergey Fesenko kissing after winning, respectively, the gold and silver medals during the Olympic Games in Moscow, 1980.
Ushangi Davitashvili kisses the bust of Joseph Stalin in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, on December of 2012.
“Fraternity“, sculpture by Karel Pokorný made in 1947, representing a Czech soldier kissing a Soviet soldier, in the Air Force Museum of Moscow.
Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko performing her eponymous vault for the first time in Moscow, 1982. In this vault, she does a roundoff onto the springboard and a back handspring onto the horse– this entry is known as the Yurchenko. Here she finishes the vault with a back tuck with full turn, but Yurchenko debuted three different salto variations during this year, including the layout and the layout full.
In 2021, Simone Biles became the first woman to perform the Yurchenko-entry vault with a salto in the piked position, with two full rotations.