The shops and cinema auditoriums were packed with families enjoying the school holidays when the fire took hold.
Among them were Igor Vostrikov's; his wife, sister and three children, aged two, five and seven were there.
They suffocated inside a cinema, unable to escape because the doors were locked, he says.
At least 64 people, including 41 children, died when the Winter Cherry leisure centre in the Siberian city of Kemerovo went up in flames on Sunday.
Speaking at a protest in the city centre on Tuesday, Mr Vostrikov told how his wife phoned him, short of breath, as smoke filled the room.
"There was no panic - she was saying goodbye."
"I have nothing more to lose," he said. "All my family died... There's nothing left for me to live now".
Time after time, relatives have described how their loved ones used mobile phones to plead for help or say farewell.
"I cannot escape," 12-year-old Vika Pochankina, who was in the cinema with her classmates, told her aunt Evgeniya Oganisyan on the phone, Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reports.
"Tell mum that I loved her. Tell everybody that I loved them," she said. It is unclear if the girl survived.
"My daughter kept calling me," Mr Lillevyali said.
"I only shouted to her that she should try to get out of the hall, but I couldn't do anything. There was only fire in front of me."
Sergei Moskalenko, 11, survived the inferno after his father pushed the boy from the window, writes the Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Eyewitnesses filmed a horrific video of the boy falling on the asphalt.
He was taken to hospital with serious injuries - but has now regained consciousness.
The boy's parents and four-year-old sister died.
"I think he remembers everything. After regaining consciousness in the morning, he burst into tears after he saw his grandmother," Sergei's aunt is quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Maria Moroz, 13, was among dozens of children stuck in the leisure complex.
"We're burning. It's probably goodbye," she wrote in an online post, before her account went silent.
The fifth grade student is one of 38 people still missing, according to the list (in Russian) published by the local authority in Kemerovo.
Reports in Russian media say that all her classmates could have died in Sunday's blaze.
Officials have blamed "criminal negligence" for the blaze, amid reports that fire alarms were switched off and exits were blocked in the complex.
Russia's investigative committee has refused to publish names of the victims until a later date.
But one of the first to be identified in Russian media was Tatyana Darsalia, a 37-year-old teacher.
Her teenage daughter, Eleanora, appeared to pay tribute to her mother in a post on Russian social media site VKontakte (VK), calling her a hero for allowing children to escape the building before her.
Also said to be among the dead were Anton Mukhin, 28, and his five-year-old son Ratibor.
Memorial ceremonies are being organised for those known to have died.
But dozens of other families are anxiously awaiting news amid fears the death toll could be higher than officially reported.