This old picture has always stuck with me. It's obviously posed, with Roza Shanina (Senior Sgt.,184th Rifle Division, USSR) looking off into the distance with the hopeful gaze known well on countless Soviet propaganda posters. The pictures were all propaganda then, and not just in Russia. Everyone was at war.
Look closer, and the small details strike out, past the official vision of a triumphant, clean-faced young warrior. Her rifle is banged-up, scratched, the wood worn down white where the bolt's been pushed forward, again and again and again.
Her hands are dirty, calloused, and one sleeve falls back, a little tattered. The kindergarten teacher from Arkhangelsk had already killed 54 people -- and those just the ones her superiors confirmed. Mindful of her sudden value as a symbol, they ordered her to leave the front.
She replied that she would only return after the battle, and fought on, getting a rifle round through her shoulder. While she recovered, they plastered her with medals. Two for glory, one for valor. Two of her brothers had died in 1941, one vanished, never to be seen again. She went back to the war.
Roza Shanina was killed a few weeks later, near an old homestead. She was 21, maybe, but no one seems to know her birthday. The war ended that spring.