After seeing Joe Rosenthal’s photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima, Stalin ordered the Ukrainian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei to take a similar photo that would symbolize the Soviet victory over Germany. Before flying to Berlin to capture the Nazi defeat, Yevgeni Khaldei asked a friend to create three hammer and sickle flags together from three tablecloths. Khaldei photographed the first flag being raised on a Nazi eagle at the Templehof airport, and the second flag being raised at the Brandenburg gate.
As for the third flag, he recruited three privates, Aleksei Kovalyev, Aleksei Goryachev and Abdulkhakim Ismailov, to hoist it atop the Reichstag on May 2nd — three days after the Soviets had captured the key seat of Nazi power. On April 30th 1945, a group of Soviet soldiers had previously raised a Soviet flag over Reichstag, but it had been brought down by German snipers before any record had been made.
On close examination, the censors noticed that one of the soldiers had a wristwatch on each arm, indicating he had been looting. Khaldei not only removed the watches from the photo, but also darkened the smoke in the background (right) to make his picture more dramatic. The resulting picture was published soon after in the magazine Ogonjok to achieved worldwide fame.
As for the flag-hoister, they didn’t achieve fame and glory they deserved. The state propaganda machine took over and the KGB quietly replaced them (Ismailov was from marginalized Dagestan) with more appropriate substitutes, with a new flag-hoister hailing from Georgia, like Stalin himself. The real participants were told to keep quiet, and the impostors were awarded medals by Stalin; they were even given a new “Victory” car each, although Khaldei relished in the fact that one of them had died just a few months later from drink-driving. Ismailov didn’t received his due credits until the Soviet Union collapsed and truth came out.