Ukraine's Black Tulip Burial Team

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The story of the Black Tulips has almost unknown outside Ukraine. This group of volunteers search the battlefields around Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, to find and bury the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in battle. Since the territory is under control of separatists, Kiev's forces cannot access the area, and the sad and hard job is left to a small group of men, under the severe control of militiamen.


  1. voiceover
    (00:00:02) We meet the Black Tulips at the village of Starobesheve, 35 kilometres south of Donetsk. This land is under separatists’ control. Andrey Bizhko is the field team leader, Cargo 200 the code for body bags transport, their goal search Ukrainian soldiers killed in action.
  2. soundbite (Russian)
    Andrej Bizhko, Black Tulips Field Leader: (00:00:23) Today we'll go to Krasnoselsk. We’ll search the area to look for remains on the battlefield.
  3. voiceover
    (00:00:37) At the end of August, these fields have seen the fiercest battle between Kiev’s regular forces and separatists’ militia of the Donetsk Peoples Republic. The battle of Ilovaisk was the worst one since the beginning of the war, causing heavy losses among the Ukrainian army. Separatists regained full control of the territory. Kiev authorities are not able to bury their soldiers killed in action. That’s why the association Narodnaja Pamiat’ launched the Black Tulip mission.
  4. voiceover
    (00:01:01) Andrey and his men search every single square metre of the fields around Ilovaisk, Starobesheve and Metalist. Corpses have been emerging from this soil every day for weeks, and they are still. The Black Tulips search through the remains of the battle, food rations, unexploded grenades, helmets. The two militiamen who guard the operation are getting nervous. We must leave the area and go to search another place.
  5. voiceover
    (00:01:51) We arrive at Chervonosilske, a few kilometres south of Ilovaisk. Here, among these small wooden houses, dozen of Ukrainian soldiers from the Donbass battalion have been killed in an ambush. In a small gorge in the fields, the soldiers have been caught under heavy fire from separatists’ artillery positions and tanks on the heights. Survivors said it was a slaughter.
  6. soundbite (Russian)
    Black Tulip Team Member, : (00:02:17) A splinter hit this helmet. You see, the hole.
  7. voiceover
    (00:02:44) One of the two militiamen brings the insignia of the Oplot battalion. His battalion took part of the battle. He throws on the grass an handful of fluorescent armband, the ones used by the Ukrainian army to make their soldiers recognize each other. He says he found them on the hill, a bit further. The feeling we are not welcome is more tangible. The mission is abruptly aborted, and Andrey cannot do anything. They rule, this is their land. We must come back to Donetsk, but the fields around Ilovaisk are still blood-soaked.
  8. voiceover
    (00:02:28) The Black Tulips task is a tough one. A task that should be done by the warring parties but that seems forgotten by them. A painful task for Ukrainian volunteers to be done under the emotionless control of Donetsk Republic’s rebels.