It started with a Russian artillery shell knocking the house down on them.
“We were buried under the rubble in the basement. My son, my wife, my mother,” Aleksey told Sky News.
“I used a crowbar to break through a brick wall. It was a miracle we got out.”
Aleksey and his family were hiding in a dark cellar on the outskirts of Mariupol when Russian shells destroyed the house that stood above them, trapping them below.
They had moved there from their apartment in the Cheryomushki district of Mariupol hoping that it would be safer from the fighting. They were wrong.
Freezing, wearing only underwear and whatever else they could grab hold of, the family broke free and hopped into their Soviet-era sedan. Shells landed all around them as they ran in pitch black.
It was the start of the war. They headed for the Primorskiy district of the city, where they thought they were safe.
The next day, Aleksey, a former underwater engineer who now repairs cars for a living, returned to his neighborhood and found scenes of utter devastation.
Buildings were on fire. Wounded civilians wandered around, dazed.
“These poor people: wounded, desperate, walking along the road,” he said.
“I am a human being, I am a man. I understood that I had to save them.
He had gone there looking for warm clothes. But these are people he brought back.
These few foreigners were the first of the 180 civilians Aleksey would later rescue from Mariupol.
At first, he took them from the beleaguered parts of the city to safer areas.
But as the fighting spread, he began to help people leave town altogether.
Mariupol has been devastated by Russian bombardment since the early days of the war, with those trapped inside with little or no access to food and water.
Some 5,000 people were believed to have been killed, according to the city council. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have fled.
And it’s ordinary civilians like Aleksey who are some people’s only hope of rescue.
He first took those he had rescued near the Primorskiy district station, where he and his family had taken refuge.
But when the airstrikes started raining down on the city center, Aleksey realized that no place in Mariupol was safe.
“I saw a stream of cars coming out of town and I said to my family, let’s get in the car, leave everything behind and get out of town,” he said.
The family bundled up in their car and raced down Primorskiy Boulevard, the relentless sound of shells around them as they weaved through the debris.
“An explosion suddenly occurred in front of us. We bypassed a bomb crater. We kept driving. I saw people who had stopped and were begging for help,” he said.
“Even though our car was practically full, we picked up these people.”
Approaching the outskirts of town, they joined a convoy heading towards a road they had been told was a humanitarian corridor.
Suddenly they heard the thunderous crackle of Grad missiles falling on the ground beside them.
They don’t know where or who the missiles came from – but some of the convoy members were hit.
“We got arrested. We were shocked and didn’t know what to do,” he said.
“I had 15 to 20 seconds to decide if we were going to get through these explosions or go back to town.
“I thought, either we die here or we die there. And I said, let’s move on. And we escaped from this hell.”
Five of the cars in the convoy, including Aleksey’s, drove to a village where many others who had escaped Mariupol had taken refuge. Some of the convoy cars never arrived.
It was when he reached this village that Aleksey made another choice.
“I remember the words of a great human being, Winston Churchill: ‘War is when innocent people die for the interests of others,'” he said.
“And I remember my grandfather’s words, ‘It’s better to die than to live your whole life in fear.’
“I have decided that under these shells, under these Grad missiles, alive or dead, I will continue to rescue our innocents.”
In the village there was a boarding house where the children were cared for by parents, family friends and volunteers.
But some parents were still stuck in Mariupol. They had sent their children to safety without them and there was not enough room in the cars for them all to go together.
“Many relatives have asked me to go there and pick up their parents and other people from specific addresses,” Aleksey said.
“I filled the car with food and drove to addresses not knowing if the building would be intact or destroyed.
“If the building was intact, I would run out into the back yard and scream. I did it fast, before the shells fell on me, and the people who rushed in response to my calls, I did. put in the car and brought them back.
“I’ve changed the wheels on the car five times now. They’ve been sliced by shrapnel, glass. Nine people walk into this living room. Can you imagine that?
Word quickly spread that Aleksey could help people leave Mariupol and he started getting calls from desperate relatives across Ukraine and even Poland and Germany.
People began giving him money to help them, which he used to buy fuel and repair damage to his car from shrapnel and debris.
Aleksey and his family now live with relatives in another town.
While internet connection and phone signal allow him to better coordinate his rescues, he now drives eight hours through 26 Russian checkpoints to get to those he is helping.
And he still goes to Mariupol as often as he can, filling his car with food, water and other vital supplies to take with him.
Helen, Aleksey’s wife, says she worries about him every time he comes back to help people.
“But perhaps it was her courage and her do-or-die attitude that our family managed to survive and get out of this nightmare.” she told Sky News.
“And now he continues to help the same ordinary families like ours escape this hell.” she says.
But the city is becoming more and more difficult to access. Aleksey slept in his car for two days waiting for the road to town to open on his last trip. In the end, he had to turn back.
He did, however, manage to deliver supplies to those sheltering in the village outside the city.
There is a fairy tale that the Slavic peoples of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus read to their children.
This is the story of Papy Mazay, the tale in which an old hunter saves a herd of hares trapped by rising waters and takes them to safety on his rowing boat.
“After bringing many children and their parents to a safe place, I learned that they started jokingly calling me Grandpa Mazay,” he said.
“They say, ‘As long as Grandpa Mazay’s car is running, we’ll stay alive.'”
A car enthusiast, it’s clear that Aleksey sees his car as the true hero of this story.
He smiled proudly as he gestured towards him in the videos he sent to Sky News.
“She’s my war bride,” he said.
“All these rescues are possible thanks to this vehicle.
“I think when the war is over, I’ll buy the best air freshener for my car, I’ll wax it everywhere.
“I’m going to put it in the garage and say, take it easy, honey. You’ve saved so many children.”