Sniper Marie Ljalková
The fighting at Sokolov was not only the first appearance of a Czechoslovak military unit in the Soviet Union, but also the first ever appearance of women in the ranks of the Czechoslovak army. army. One of them was the successful sniper Marie Ljalkova.
Despite the fact that Colonel v. v. Marie Ljalkova-Lastovecká is inseparably connected with our environment, the Polish Ukrainian of Orthodox faith originally had nothing to do with Czechoslovakia. She was born on 3 December 1920 in the village of Horodenka (Stanisławów province) as Marie Petrushchakova. Her parents soon died and the girl trained as a shop assistant.
In the autumn of 1939, Michal Ljalko, who came from Subcarpathian Rus, began to woo Marie, whom she eventually married. Thanks to this, she was later able to obtain Czechoslovak citizenship and join the unit. In 1941, the Ljalkos were evacuated to Kazakhstan as Czechoslovak citizens, where they both started working in a collective farm. Michal worked as a repairman and Marie trained as a tractor driver.
A sniper instead of a nurse.
When news arrived at the kolkhoz in early 1942 that a Czechoslovak military unit was being built in Buzuluk, Michal Ljalko decided to join. Before that, however, he promised his wife that he would try to arrange for her to come to him. A little later, Marie received an invitation telegram and was drafted in Buzuluk on 3 June 1942. She was enrolled in a course for nurses, which she did not complete.
She was much more successful in the compulsory training shootings: ‚In Buzuluk I was just doing my training as a medic and then I was assigned as a wounded picker to the 2nd Company. Svoboda liked to tell us: ʻYou have to learn how to handle a weapon well even as a wounded picker, so that you can defend yourself and the wounded.ʻ Well, we took his words to heart and competed against each other in shooting and corps and dismemberment. Thatʼs actually how I first got my hands on a sniper rifle with a scope … The battalion was doing some shooting one day.
A soldier who was ahead of me complained that the rifle was poorly loaded and carried badly. I shot the same rifle three times down the middle and the soldier was punished because he hadn’t learned to shoot. When Jarosh saw my shooting, he raised his hand and called towards Svoboda: ʻLook, Lieutenant Colonel, we have a sniper!ʻ And thatʼs how I got the rifle I wanted and got into the sniper course.“ Marie Lastovecka finished the course with a very good grade.
She went to the front near Kharkov as part of the 2nd Company of the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Field Battalion. She was assigned as a sniper-observer to the headquarters of the 2nd Company, which was located in the village of Artuchovka.
Marie built an observation post on the roof and through the optics of her modern SVT-40 self-loading rifle, she observed the village of Sokolovo across the Mza River. Her recollection of the Sokolov battle is as follows: „I called down to Kudlice (the company commander) right away. He climbed up behind me and looked through the binoculars. He said to me: ‚Ljalkova, the battle for Sokolovo is starting. ʻThatʼs the tanks.ʼ Then the village was on fire, it was on fire and you could hear the firing … The next day in the evening Kudlič said we were going to counterattack … We made a swarm and jumped across the frozen river. Suddenly the fire started on us … We lay down on the ground under fire … The Germans must have been a short distance from me, because I heard „Feuer!ʻ Then the projectiles started to rattle against my helmet … Then I fired several shots in that direction and the German machine gun fell silent … Maybe I shot someone, I really donʼt know … I lay there on the ice for a long time, I didnʼt know where my people were. I couldn’t get up, my fufajka got soaked with water and froze to the river. I listened to the cries of the wounded for a long time, but I couldn’t help them. Suddenly, two figures approached me. I thought they were Germans – I didn’t want to fall into their hands! I wanted to shoot myself. And as I tried to point the rifle at myself, I heard their voices. They were from us! And I called out, „Boys, it’s me, Ljalkova!“
She was nominated for the Order of the Red Star for her bravery. The proposal says: „A sniper from the 2nd Company, on 9 March during the attack on Sokolovo, she was the only female sniper to advance in the first line of the company, she pushed the men forward with her brave behaviour, she was among the first to enter the settlement, where she took part in the fight for a fortified house, killing five enemy automatics. Designed for the Order of the Red Beast.“
Although Marie Lastovetskaya later stated in an interview that she was not aware that she had disabled any Germans, her cold-blooded actions were awarded both the Soviet Order of the Red Star and the 1939 Czechoslovak War Cross. She was also promoted to a lance corporal.
Sokolovo, however, was her first and last function as a sniper. It was decided that these positions would no longer be filled by women. However, her superiors were aware of Maria Ljalkova’s shooting qualities. Although she worked as an orderly and driver, she continued to fire the new sniper rifles. She later followed her husband Michal into the tank units.
In the fighting near Kiev, she was assigned as a medic and driver to a tank battalion of the 1st Czechoslovak Independent Brigade. As an ambulance driver she transported the wounded from the battle. After the formation of the tank brigade, she joined the medical battalion as a nurse and driver. At Dukla she was wounded during the bombing and carried a piece of shrapnel in her head until her death. With the tank brigade she went through the battles of Kežmarok, Liptovský Mikuláš and Ostrava. The end of the war found her at the rank of second lieutenant.
After the war, he and Michal Ljalek separated. He went back to Podkarpatska Rus and Marie stayed in Prague. She completed a two-year medical course for military nurses at the Central Military Hospital in Prague-Střešovice and worked as a nurse until 1953. At that time she was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant and was granted a full disability pension. Later she worked for 30 years as a tour guide in Čedok.
„Maruška“ Lastovecká (she married twice more after the war) enjoyed attending various talks where she reminisced about her wartime activities. According to everyone who had the good fortune to know her, she was a pleasant woman full of vigour who could tell an engaging story.
Marie Lastovecka was the recipient of a number of Soviet and Czechoslovak decorations. We can mention, for example, the Soviet Order of the Red Star (1943), the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939 (1943) or the Sokolov Memorial Medal (1948). On 28 October 2011, the President of the Republic awarded her the Order of the White Lion of the Military Group. Unfortunately, she did not enjoy it for long. She died on 7 November 2011 at the age of 91.