Volunteers in Russia’s western regions gather every spring to search for the remains of soldiers killed in World War II. More than 20 million Soviet soldiers and civilians died during World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. 

Groups of volunteers equipped with metal detectors scour the forests outside St. Petersburg  for human remains, where some of the bloodiest battles of the 20th century took place. And where the earth is littered with Russia's wartime past. One volunteer finds an artillery shell. Another volunteer finds a boot. Incredible. It's astonishing the amount of debris from the war that's being dug up by the volunteers outside of St. Petersburg.

Obviously, it's not just artifacts like the boot and shrapnel and weaponry, but also human remains. It's a real challenge for the people to dig out the tens of thousands of soldiers who died in battles and try to give them proper burials.

Already one group of volunteers has pieced together an entire skeleton. The remains of dozens more soldiers, they say, have been identified and their relatives informed.

A native of Siberia, Kostyayev had volunteered to fight the invading Nazi forces at the age of 38. Dmitry Yuryev, a St. Petersburg museum worker who has been searching for the remains of Soviet soldiers since the 1990s, said his group found Kostyayev and was able to identify him because his dog tag remained intact.

The volunteer search movement is active in many Russian regions that saw fighting during the war. The searchers live in tents for weeks at a time while excavating former battlefields.

Soviet troops fought for Sinyavino Heights from 1941 to 1944, trying to break the siege of Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was called at the time. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed in the area alone.

Hundreds of people came to a World War II battleground outside St. Petersburg this week to bury the remains of 964 Soviet soldiers recovered by volunteer search teams.

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