She Defends the Motherland


“For the Motherland!” Ikrali Toidze (1943)

During Russia’s Great Patriotic War, films about the war effort dominated Russia’s film industry. With the majority of film production safely moved to Kazakhstan, the studios began to release war films to rally the Soviet people, and many of these focused on the partisan war effort. The role of women in the partisan war effort was particularly popular, the most famous being “She Defends the Motherland” by Fridrikh Ermler.

“She Defends the Motherland” focuses on Pasha Lukyanova, or Comrade P. Pasha learns that her husband was killed in the war, and her young child is shot before her eyes by a German soldier and run over by a tank while the Germans invaded her village. Pasha responds by organizing the villagers into a guerilla force, ambushing German units, blowing up convoys, and burning down German outposts. She even avenges her child’s death, using a tank to run over the German who killed her son.

Though Comrade P is made into a warrior by the deaths of her husband and her child, her rhetoric is still nationalistic. In this iconic scene, Comrade P reacts to hearing the (fake) news that Moscow has been destroyed with disbelief, saying:

Our people could never give up what is dearest and most kindred to them. I know it, I see it. Our people collected themselves and drove them off and didn’t let them pass. They couldn’t let them pass. Moscow is ours. But you started mourning like women. Shame on you!

Comrade P’s story interested me because it reminded me of Fuller’s statements that “the greatest credit for the victory in the war surely belongs to the Soviet population itself” (Freeze 390).  The partisans played an important role in antagonizing the Germans, making it difficult for them to keep Russia’s vast expanses of land under control. Comrade P showed that conscious decisions made by individuals can have huge impacts on the world, and her story showed the role that civilians can play in disrupting the German invasion.

I also found her use the of phrase “mourning like women” to be interesting, considering some of our past posts about Soviet masculinity. To me, this shows that Comrade P was not about advancing women toward equality in the Soviet Union, but rather it was about the role that women can play in the war while their husbands are off fighting.

For more about the role of women in the war effort, see the stories of Mariya Oktyabrskaya and the night witches.

red star


  1. Hey Chris, I really enjoyed your discussion of the gender roles in Russia during the war and how every facet of the Soviet population was mobilized to ensure victory! Further, when reading about the film industry’s contribution of propaganda to motivate the populace, I was reminded of a similar phenomenon in America where you can discern who is America’s enemy at a particular snapshot in time by watching its war films and seeing who is depicted as the adversary, and it sounds to me like the same was true for the Soviet Union during the 1940s.


    1. Chris Turner · · Reply

      I agree. Looking at the fighting scenes in this movie reminded me of “Red Dawn,” in which a group of teenagers helps stop a Soviet invasion of the US.


  2. Parker Leep · · Reply

    Great post! I think I’ve seen this movie before in another class. The partisan war was just as brutal as the regular fighting on the Eastern Front and your post goes to show how far the Soviet people were willing to fight for their survival.


  3. Jimmy Meehan · · Reply

    This reminds me of another Soviet propaganda film I saw earlier this year. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was made some time after the war. It followed a similar story but it was about a man whose fiance was captured by the Germans and he becomes a national hero in the army. It is interesting to see how the Soviets portrayed the war in their films. Great job on analyzing this part of Russian film history.


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