The title ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ was the USSR’s highest award for heroism. It was instituted in 1934, and from 1939 the recipient was also awarded a Gold Star medal. Nearly 13,000 ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ awards were made before collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, of which 90% were for heroism during the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (Second World War). The award was frequently issued posthumously, and could be received more than once. It was awarded both for battlefield heroism and military leadership.
The title Hero of the Soviet Union brought enormous social prestige. For ordinary Soviet citizens, it also came with significant tangible benefits, including lower tax rates, priority access to housing, a pension and cheap travel. Anyone who received the award twice had a statue of them erected in their town of birth.
Joseph Stalin, Marshal Konev, Marshal Vasilevsky and 98 other received the award twice. The only people to receive three Hero of the Soviet Union Gold Stars were Marshal Semyon Budyonny and the fighter pilots Ivan Kozhedub (Allied ‘ace of aces’) and Aleksandr Pokryshkin. Two men received the award four times – Marshal Georgi Zhukov, and in the 1960s, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev (although Brezhnev received one as a 60th birthday present, which made him the butt of many snide jokes).