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Bounty Hunters: Dangerous Women of Soviet Intelligence
Bounty Hunters: Dangerous Women of Soviet Intelligence

They hunted former Tsarist generals, recruited high-ranking Nazis and stole US and UK nuclear secrets.

1. Nadezhda Plevitskaya


She was one of the most beloved singers of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II. The audience has always greeted the performer of romances and Russian folk songs Nadezhda Plevitskaya with a stormy and long standing ovation.

After the 1917 revolution, Plevitskaya found herself in exile. In 1930, together with her husband, General Nikolai Skoblin, she was recruited by Soviet intelligence. For seven years, the couple actively helped the special services of the USSR to fight against the anti-Bolshevik White émigré organization, the Russian General Military Union (ROVS). In particular, thanks to them, 17 agents who had been thrown into the Soviet Union to carry out terrorist acts were neutralized.

In 1937, Plevitskaya took part in the abduction operation in Paris and the export to the USSR of one of the main leaders of the ROVS, General Yevgeny Miller, for which she was soon arrested by the French police and sentenced to 20 years of hard labor. Nadezhda Vasilievna died in prison two years later on October 1, 1940.

2. Elena Ferrari


Olga Revzina, better known by her pseudonym Elena Ferrari, successfully combined service in Soviet intelligence with literary activity. Her poems were published in the USSR and Italy, and prose tales were praised by the prominent writer Maxim Gorky.

In the 1920s, Ferrari created intelligence networks in Germany and recruited military engineers in Italy, but her most significant operation was her participation in the assassination of Baron Peter Wrangel. After the defeat of the White movement during the Civil War, one of its most important leaders and the main enemy of the Bolsheviks ended up with the remnants of his Russian army in Turkey. On October 15, 1921, the Italian steamer "Adria", sailing from Soviet Russia, rammed Wrangel's yacht "Lucullus", anchored in the port of Istanbul. The military leader, as it turned out, was at that time on the shore, but his personal belongings, documentation and the army's treasury went to the bottom.

Returning once again to the USSR, Elena Ferrari died in the course of the "great terror". Charged with counter-revolution and espionage, she was shot on July 16, 1938. In 1957 she was rehabilitated posthumously.

3. Elizaveta Zarubina


She was a real bounty hunter. In Soviet intelligence, there were few recruiters of the same level as Elizaveta Zarubina. “Charming and sociable, she easily established friendly relations in the widest circles. An elegant woman with features of classical beauty, refined nature, she attracted people like a magnet. Liza was one of the most highly qualified recruiters of agents,”scout Pavel Sudoplatov wrote about her.

Over the years of work in various countries of Europe and the United States, Elizaveta Yulievna, together with her husband, intelligence agent Vasily Zarubin, recruited hundreds of agents. They oversaw Gestapo employee Willie Lehmann, one of the most important Soviet informants in the Third Reich. The agent network created by the Zarubins in Germany continued to function partially even after the defeat of Nazism.

Elizaveta Zarubina was the first Soviet intelligence officer to obtain information about the beginning of the development of an atomic bomb in the United States. Having befriended the wife of the head of the Manhattan Project, Robert Oppenheimer, Catherine, she helped to attract left-wing physicists and mathematicians to the secret program. They, in turn, passed on valuable information to Moscow.

4. Melita Norwood


Thanks to the Soviet agent Hola, Stalin knew more about Britain's nuclear program than some of the country's cabinet ministers. For almost 35 years, Melita Norwood copied secret documents for the USSR concerning the creation of nuclear weapons by the British.

The convinced communist Norwood got access to this kind of information when she got a job as a secretary in the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association (BNFMRA), involved in the nuclear program. Mi5 counterintelligence several times had suspicions about Melita, but there was no evidence of her espionage activities.

Hol's agent was not discovered until 1992, when Norwood, who was retired, was already eighty years old. The government decided not to carry out the arrest and leave the "red grandmother" (as the press dubbed her) alone. “I didn’t do it for the sake of money, but for the sake of protecting the new system, which at a great cost ensured that ordinary people had food and an opportunity for a decent life, good education and health care,” Melita told reporters at the time.

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