STORY: As Russian forces tightened their siege of Mariupol and missiles rained down, Mykhailo Puryshev drove into the city six times last month to evacuate its citizens, somehow surviving despite his red van being nearly destroyed.
The 36-year-old Ukrainian, who once ran a nightclub in the city, said he evacuated a total of more than 200 people.
"What I myself have seen, it's hard to put into words. All that was left was ash, buildings turned into cinders, like charcoal in a bonfire, like a burned-out bonfire.”
Russia last week claimed control over the ruins of the strategic port city, subject to some of the most intense attacks of the war.
Privately organized trips like Puryshev's have been a lifeline for starving civilians as repeated attempts to set up humanitarian corridors failed.
Ukraine says around 100,000 civilians are still stranded in Mariupol.
Puryshev published online videos of his trips that offered a rare glimpse into the city, where cell phones don’t work and information is scarce.
Once inside, he said he would try not to look at the corpses strewn on the ground or inside the charred remains of vehicles.
“For me to see a child would be unbearable. I wouldn't be able to take it."
He said his van, which his friends chipped in to buy especially for the evacuations, had its windshield, three side windows and a side door destroyed in a strike.
"The only injury I had was a glass shard in my side. But my coat saved me and I only got a scratch. God protected me of course. My van did as well."
Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a special operation to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.