This is my favourite photo of Lily because it’s spontaneous. Usually photos of soldiers are stiff and posed, but you can really see the affection among these comrades, here. Lily has just returned to her regiment after a few weeks in Moscow, recovering from battle wounds. It’s spring of 1943.
Her commander, “Papa” (Nikolai) Baranov–Lieutenant Colonel–is showing off his newly acquired tan leather boots, wonderfully soft though impractical for rain. Lily’s closest male friends are in the photograph. They’re old-timers who’ve been in combat since the beginning of the war, survivors of a famous battle that must have inspired Lily while she was in training: seven Soviet pilots defeated a superior force of twenty-nine “invincible” Luftwaffe fighters and bombers.
Sasha (Alexander) Martynov is gesturing and laughing as if he wants the boots for himself. Leaning against the roof of the car, Alexei Solomatin seems more serious. He’s just been awarded a gold star as a Hero of The Soviet Union and is in love with Lily. But does she return his feelings? Finally back with her friends again, Lily is beaming with delight. There isn’t another photo of her with such a real smile. This unit, the 296th, later renamed 73rd Guards, is her home, and these men are her brothers.
[Photo from the Museum of Military Glory, High School No 1, Krasny Luch]