The saga of a guy who saved hundreds in Ukraine with an old van

A guy with a crappy, decrepit old van snuck over 200 Ukarianians out of war-torn Mariupol. You have to consider how dangerous and heroic the act was while grieving over the senseless invasion campaign by neighboring Russia. In this isolated case, missiles were splattering down while Mykhailo Puryshev maneuvered his red van through Mariupol six times to evacuate Ukraine citizens.

How did his red van missions begin?

Mykhailo Puryshev red van
Mykhailo Puryshev with his red van | Reuters

Where did Puryshev come from? Before the terror rained upon Ukraine, he ran a nightclub. The whole effort started when he went to the nightclub to save his employees. When he got there, another 200 people were hiding in its basement. 

Engaging in the defensive efforts, he chose to save those Ukrainians with his bright red van, visible to anyone within range. Privately initiated rescue missions have proved valuable to human life. People have been starving while trying to find channels to escape out of Russian targeted cities. “When I first went with people in Mariupol, the city was like a cloud of smoke, like a bonfire,” Puryshev told Reuters. “The last time I went it was just ash with the black coal of buildings.

“The bus came under shelling, a strike, mortar, rifle fire. To be honest, there are so many marks of war on it.” Trips could take almost an entire day to make. And, of course, there also was the potential for Russian intelligence to spot the bright red van. After each trip, he needed to make repairs to the van before trying another attempt.

What was Puryshev’s biggest concern for those inside his van?

Mykhailo Puryshev red van
Mykhailo Puryshev with evacuees | Reuters

The Russians shelled the route Puryshev chose. And though land mines were a huge concern, Puryshev said his biggest challenge was not looking at the dead bodies lying in the streets and around cities. During the time he was trying to save Ukrainian citizens, Puryshev also converted the basement of the nightclub into a bomb shelter. 

“The scariest moment was when it would go quiet,” Puryshev said. “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.” Puryshev said that God had looked after him.

Is Puryshev still doing his missions?

Mykhailo Puryshev red van
Ukraine apartment building | Reuters

The escapes continued until the end of March. That’s when a separatist soldier told him not to come back. If he continued, he would be captured by the Russians. That could lead to much worse consequences than imagined.

“The only injury I had was a glass shard in my side,” he said. “But my coat saved me and I only got a scratch. God protected me of course. My bus looked after me.” He has plans for the vehicle after the war. “We’ll turn it into a monument when we return to Mariupol.”

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