These photos are beautiful, but truth is many of these women had terrible lives after the war. Many were killed, and the ones who lived quite often returned home maimed or disabled from wounds and amputations of limbs. Some returned in good physical condition but with mental issues (post traumatic stress disorder, which was not yet recognized by science.) Men were not interested in marrying these women they fought with on the front. Many of the women remained single and lived in poverty the rest of their lives. The Russian government did not recognize them for their war efforts until recently.
Quotes from the book “The Unwomanly Face of War.” Russian ex-soldiers comment on the women who fought beside them in WW2:
I’d go on a scouting mission with such a woman, but I wouldn’t marry her…No…We’re used to thinking of women as mothers and brides. The beautiful lady*, finally. War is a man’s business. What, don’t you have enough men to write about?
I met many pretty girls at the front, but we didn’t look at them as women. Though, in my view, they were wonderful girls. But they were our friends, who dragged us off the battlefield. Who saved us, took care of us. I was hauled off wounded twice. How could I have bad feelings about them? But could you marry your brother? We called them little sisters.
The war ended, and they all turned out to be terribly defenseless… Take my wife, an intelligent woman, but she has bad feelings about girls who were in the war. She thinks they went to the war to find husbands, that they all had love affairs there. Though, in fact, since we’re having a sincere conversation, they were mostly honest girls. Pure. But after the war… After all the dirt, and lice, and death…We wanted something beautiful. Bright. Beautiful women … I had a friend, at the front there was a wonderful girl, as I now understand, who loved him. A nurse. But he didn’t marry her; he was demobilized and found another, prettier one. And he’s unhappy with his wife. Now he remembers the other one, his wartime love; she would have been a good companion to him. But after the front he left her. Because for four years he had seen her only in old boots and a man’s padded jacket … We wanted to forget the war. And we forgot our girls, too…
*In 1904 the Russian symbolist Alexander Blok (1880-1921) published a collection of poems entitled “Verses About the Beautiful Lady,” expressing his spiritual-erotic vision of the eternal feminine.