But the Rudenkos' plans never came to fruition. Sometime on Aug. 13 or 14, 2014, the trombonist who never wanted to fight was killed in a tank battle against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
His body was found two months later by a group of civilian volunteers called the Black Tulips, who negotiate with the rebels to cross enemy lines to remove the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in combat.
“It looked like he probably crawled across the sunflower field after his tank was hit and died there,” said Leonid Sholkovsky, the Black Tulip volunteer who recovered Rudenko’s remains in October from a field in the tiny village of Nykyforove. “There wasn’t much left of him by the time we found him.”
Rudenko’s body was one of four picked up that day, all of them from a unit of the 30th Mechanized Brigade. According to the brigade’s survivors and the Black Tulips, pro-Russia rebels ambushed the unit’s tanks south of Snizhne, about 18 miles from the Russian border.
The soldiers killed were some of more than 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers who have died in the now year-long war between government forces and Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. In total, more than 6,100, mostly civilians, have lost their lives in the brutal war. Millions have had to leave their war-torn towns and destroyed villages.
Despite a cease-fire, fighting continues in the eastern regions with no end in sight. NATO and the Ukrainian government, both of whom accuse the Kremlin of supporting the rebels, warn that Russia is preparing for a summer offensive.
The Black Tulips know there will be more bodies to collect.
Before the war Sholkovsky was a mechanic from Kiev, who would likely never have met Rudenko, the trombone player living some 150 miles west of the capital.
Today, the mechanic is collecting the bodies of his fallen compatriots from the blackened battlefields of eastern Ukraine, and Rudenko is a war hero, buried a few miles from his family home after losing his life in a conflict he based his career on never having to fight in.