Ukrainian volunteers deliver bodies, and closure, to troops' families

By Herbert Villarraga

YAMPIL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Combing the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, a group of volunteers have made it their mission to search for the bodies of fallen soldiers and return them to their families.

Despite the daily horrors of their work, members of the "Black Tulip" organisation say they believe they are performing a good deed by giving relatives of missing troops a sense of closure.

"Their parents are waiting for them at home," said volunteer Artur Simeiko. "Then, they can be buried properly."

"They shouldn't lie in some forest, field, or on the street," he said.

Made up of around 100 volunteers, the group undertakes the at times dangerous task of locating and exhuming bodies of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers close to the front line.

Bodies are often found with the remains of explosive weapons, and some are booby-trapped, the group said. It declined to say how many bodies it had found.

Black Tulip member Oleksii Iukov, who lost an eye exhuming the remains of a World War Two-era soldier during a previous mission, said his group was determined to return each fallen Ukrainian.

Artillery boomed in the distance as he described digging up bodies, a feeling to which he said he had not become accustomed.

"Whenever you dig up a guy, you live through his nightmare and the horror he went through in his last moment, when he understood that this is the end, there's no way back," Iukov said.

"Together with him, you go through all of this again. This is very, very difficult."

(Reporting by Herbert Villarraga, Writing by Vanessa Romeo and Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)