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A collection of never-before-seen artifacts belonging to top Soviet snipers in World War II will be showcased at Moscow’s Victory Museum on April 23 in a new exhibit called “Snipers of Stalingrad.”

The exhibit consists of 30 items related to famed snipers, including their personal belongings, documents and awards.

It comes at a time when World War II artifacts and documents are being donated to Russian museums at an unprecedentedly high rate, with 1,625 historic artifacts reported donated to the Victory Museum in Moscow in 2020.

Vasily Zaitsev (left) with his Mosin–Nagant M1891/30 accompanied by other Soviet snipers during the Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942. Zaitsev’s rifle is equipped with a 3.87×30 PE(M) telescopic sight. Both items will feature in the new sniper exhibit. / Public domain

A highlight among the items featured in the sniper exhibit is the rifle used by the legendary Vasily Zaitsev, complete with telescopic sight.

Zaitsev, born in 1915 to a peasant family in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, developed keen shooting skills while hunting deer and small game during his youth. During World War II, he served in the 1047th Rifle Regiment. His extraordinary ability with a rifle attracted the notice of superiors, who quickly pulled him from regular combat duties and gave him a special role as a sniper.

Zaitsev is credited with killing more than 200 enemy soldiers during the Battle of Stalingrad. He is also widely believed to have won one of World War II’s most famous sniper duels, although some historians debate the details and accuracy of this account.

During the war on the Eastern Front, the Germans often sent in their own snipers to eliminate Soviet snipers who posed a particular threat. This resulted in harrowing duels between master shooters. The German sniper who targeted Zaitsev has been named as a Major Koenig or alternatively as a Waffen-SS Colonel Heinz Thorwald, but the identity of this man has never been verified.

Regardless of the debate, Zaitsev proved undeniably successful at outwitting dangerous opponents and won a series of sniper duels while fighting at Stalingrad. He is credited with killing 11 enemy snipers between October 10 and December 17, 1942.

An injury to his shooting eye put Zaitsev out of action as a battlefield sniper in January 1943. Although a surgeon saved his eyesight, Zaitsev did not return to combat. He instead became a sniper instructor, training 28 pupils and writing two sniper manuals. He survived the war and worked at a factory in Kiev. He died on December 15, 1991. Zaitsev was portrayed by actor Jude Law in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 2001 film Enemy at the Gates.

The exhibit is timed to coincide with Sniper Day, commemorated in Russia on April 26, and will last until May 15.  MH