Mykhailo Puryshev, a Ukrainian man who saved hundreds of civilians from the wrath of Russian forces over the last month, took six trips to the war-torn city Mariupol. The 36-year-old was accompanied by his red van and faced deadly shelling, gunfire and saw plentiful gruesome visuals.

Mykhailo often spotted corpses, injured civilians and animals while taking the eight-hour-long perilous drives to the crucial port city of Mariupol. Moscow had declared victory over Mariupol on April 21.

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Mykhailo had just one lifeline on these risky trips: his red coloured van, which seems to be as tough as him. “God protected me of course. My bus looked after me”, he said in a statement while recalling an injury he sustained on one of these trips.

The Ukrainian told Reuters in a statement that his red van was severely damaged on these trips, but thanks to his friends who paid for the vehicle, repairing it was not much of a task. He said he often repaired his van between trips.

In his privately organised trips, he recalled, the scariest phase was when everything went virtually silent. “Once, it was quiet for eight hours. We thought: that’s it, it’s over. When it did start again, it was so awful that the children wet themselves,” Mykhailo told Reuters.

The horrors of travel

In addition to driving around land mines, camps of Russian forces and various checkpoints, Mykhailo’s journey was also filled with disturbing visuals. While emphasising that spotting corpses had become a common sight after his first trip, he had to keep his eyes on the road, fearing that he would see the remains of a child.

People had been buried in the street near shopping centres, nightclubs and even on the grounds of a kindergarten, he told Reuters. Some bodies were rolled up in carpets and left on benches.

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How did it all start?

The Ukrainian man used to run a nightclub before his country was invaded by Russian forces on February 24, 2022. He originally set out to bring back his staff but was not surprised to see other civilians taking shelter there. 

He ended up bringing over 200 people to safety in his battered red van. He set up a bomb and rescue shelter in the basement of his old nightclub and gave refuge to the people he brought back.