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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – A group of Russian volunteers searching a river bank outside St. Petersburg found the remains of five Soviet soldiers who had died while defending the city during World War II. There was little left but bones, but among the remains was one corroded dog tag, with a small piece of paper containing the soldier's identification information still rolled up inside.
The volunteers were able to restore the fragile paper note and then track down the relatives of the fallen soldier, Ivan Shagichev, so they could learn where he died and see him properly buried at last.
"I cry and cry," said his daughter, Tamara Zhukova. "I don't know how to explain it. I never saw my father, but it is so important that he was found and I'll have a place to come to speak to him."
Her father had already left for the front when she was born on Sept. 1, 1941, and he was killed two months later.
Volunteer search groups have become increasingly popular in Russia in recent years, drawing in people of various ages and professions who spend their weekends and vacations digging for remains on former battlefields.
Their work attracts new attention ahead of Victory Day on May 9, when Russia celebrates the 1945 defeat of the Nazis and honors those who fought and died for their country.
The searchers have now recovered and buried the remains of thousands of Red Army soldiers, often placing several together in the same crimson casket. Few, however, have had the intact dog tags that make identification possible.
Many of the searches have focused on the former battlefield of Nevsky Pyatachok, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of St. Petersburg. As many as 200,000 Soviet soldiers were killed here between September 1941 and May 1943 in fighting to break the Nazi siege of the city, which was then called Leningrad.
After a burial ceremony last fall for 400 soldiers, including Zhukova's father, a team of searchers took her to the place along the bank of the Neva River where they had found his remains. Zhukova sat down at the spot and tried to imagine what her father had seen in the final moments of his life. Nearby, members of another search team continued to dig.
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