Ukrainian nightclub owner says he evacuated more than 200 people from Mariupol: ‘God protected me’

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A nightclub owner in Ukraine claims on Tuesday he helped evacuate more than 200 people from Mariupol in a war-worn red van, which he plans to turn into a “monument” after the end of the conflict with Russia.

Mykhailo Puryshev, 36, said he made six daring trips to rescue residents of his hometown in March before being told by a separatist soldier not to return or risk detention and punishment, according to Reuters.

“The bus came under shelling, a hit, mortar fire, rifle fire, to be honest, there are so many war marks on it,” Puryshev told Reuters.

Mykhailo Puryshev poses for selfies with people fleeing the Russian invasion, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, in this undated photo obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.
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Mykhailo Puryshev poses for selfies with people fleeing the Russian invasion, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, in this undated photo obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

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“The only injury I had was a shard of glass in my side,” he added. “But my coat saved me and I only got a scratch. God protected me of course. My bus took care of me.”

Puryshev, who ran a nightclub in Mariupol before the war, told Reuters that when he first returned to the city on March 8, it was like a “cloud of smoke, like a bonfire “.

“Last time I was there it was just ash with the black coal of the buildings,” he said.

Part of a destroyed tank and a burnt-out vehicle lie in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23.

Part of a destroyed tank and a burnt-out vehicle lie in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Saturday, April 23.

Puryshev claims he drove eight hours through Russian-occupied territory to reach Mariupol, dodging mud and dead bodies on the way, as well as being on alert for landmines.

He said he first had his nightclub staff set up a bomb shelter for around 200 people in his basement before rescuing them and others who had taken refuge there.

A convoy of pro-Russian troops moves along a road in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, April 21.

A convoy of pro-Russian troops moves along a road in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, April 21.
(Reuters/Chingis Kondarov)

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“The scariest moment was when it got quiet. Once it was quiet for eight hours. We thought: that’s it, it’s over,” Puryshev told Reuters. “When [the shelling] did it again, it was so awful the kids got wet.”

When the war ended, Puryshev said of the van: “We will make it a monument when we return to Mariupol.”

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