In 1941, Lyudmila Pavlichenko is a student who has just passed the entrance exams for a prestigious university; to celebrate, she goes to a shooting range with her friends including a female classmate named Masha. In a twist of events, her almost perfect shooting results at the range eventually result in the Red Army contacting her to enter a sharpshooting program. A Jewish doctor named Boris attempts to court her, but she rejects him and leaves to fight on the Eastern Front following the German invasion.
Eventually Lyudmila is partnered with a grizzled veteran sniper named Makarov, with whom she falls in love. He doesn’t return her affections, however, and explains that he lost his family when the Germans invaded. She is also reunited with Masha, who is now a nurse engaged with a young pilot. While defending the city of Odessa, she is injured and Makarov drags her to safety to a local hospital, where Boris has volunteered as a military doctor. After awakening, Lyudmila manages to get Boris to sign her papers so that she can return to the front lines, but finds out that Makarov has died in battle and the Soviets are retreating to Sevastopol.
Once back on the front, Lyudmila is paired with a male sniper named Leonid. She begins to wound enemy soldiers to watch them suffer, to her new partner’s horror. Despite a rough start to the relationship, the two eventually develop a close romance. Masha, now a nurse on the frontline, invites them to her wedding, but then reveals the death of her fiance. This development leads Lyudmila to tell Leonid privately that she wants a son.