Yekaterina Zelenko

Yekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko (September 14, 1916 – September 12, 1941) was a Soviet Ukrainian war pilot. She remains the only woman ever known to have performed an aerial ramming after she rammed her Su-2 downwards into a German Messerschmitt Bf-109 on 12 September 1941 after being confronted by a group of seven Bf-109s while out of ammunition. She was not awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union until 1990 because the town where the remains of the two planes fell was taken over by the Axis before her death was reported to the military, leaving the ramming unknown to Soviet authorities until after the war.

Ekaterina Zelenko Infographic
Ekaterina Zelenko Infographic

Early life

Zelenko attended seven school classes in Kursk. With her mother’s move to Voronezh, Yekaterina entered the Voronezh Secondary Flying School. In October 1933 she graduated from the Voronezh Flying Club and was sent to the 3rd Orenburg Military Flying Academy named after Kliment Voroshilov. In December 1934 she graduated with honours and was posted to Kharkiv on assignment to the 19th Light Bomber Brigade. Before fighting in World War II Zelenko was the only female combat pilot in the Soviet-Finnish War.

In World War II

On the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union Zelenko was taking part in the retraining of the leading personnel of seven flying regiments in use of the Sukhoi Su-2. Following the German invasion, Zelenko made forty flights (also at night) and participated in twelve air combats with enemy fighters.

On September 12, 1941, Zelenko’s Su-2 was attacked by seven Bf-109s. After Zelenko ran out of ammunition, she launched a top-down air ramming which tore a Messerschmitt Bf-109 in two as the propeller of her plane hit the German aircraft’s tail. The Su-2 she was piloting exploded, and Zelenko was pulled out of the cockpit. The air combat was observed by local residents who identified her body. After the ramming she was posthumously nominated for the title Hero of the Soviet Union but was only awarded an Order of Lenin instead. She was not made a Hero of the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev belatedly awarded her the title on 5 May 1990. Her husband Pavel Ignatenko died in aerial combat two years later.

Awards and recognition


  • Hero of the Soviet Union (posthumously in 1990)
  • Two Orders of Lenin (both posthumously; first 1941, second 1990)
  • Order of the Red Banner (1940)

Memorials and recognitions:

  • The minor planet 1900 Katyusha was named in her honor.
  • Her portrait appeared on a Soviet envelope in 1983 before she was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, as well as on a 2014 postage stamp of the Russian Federation.
  • There are streets bearing her name as well as various monuments and statues in her honor throughout Russia and Ukraine.


  • “Sukhoi Company (JSC)”. Retrieved 2007-10-19.
  • Rytov, A.G. “Rytsari pyatogo okeana” (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-10-19.
  • Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (1900) Katyusha. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 152. ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  • Wikipedia


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