All four of the men, and many other Black Tulips, were members of a group known as the National Memory Union, which scoured World War II battlefields for the remains of unidentified soldiers. The actual number of soldiers killed from 1941-45 far surpassed the official statistics, and the National Memory Union volunteers were determined to return those left behind to their families, even if it was 70 years late.
Today, the Black Tulips’ mission is no longer historical. They search through the remnants of bombed out tanks, blown-apart armored personal carriers and blackened sunflower fields in eastern Ukraine, looking for their compatriots who, like them, probably never thought that they’d see such a brutal war fought in post-Soviet Ukraine.
“Sometimes you get to a battlefield, and you can’t believe it’s 2015,” said Serhei Tkalenko, 50, another one of Sholkovsky’s teammates. “It looks like more like something out of 1942. It’s shocking what we’ve seen out there.”