Alik (Aleksey) Mardakhaiev was born in 1918 in Derbent, Dagestan, into a family of Mountain Jews. He completed a seven-year school and intended to study at a university. In 1937, he was drafted into the Red Army, and sometime later was sent to a school for border guards in Makhachkala. There, Mardakhaiev decided to devote his life to the military. After graduating from the school, he stayed there as a teacher.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German war broke out, and Senior Lieutenant Mardakhaiev was drafted into the tank corps. He began his active service at the Southwestern Front (in Ukraine). On November 19, 1941, having been appointed deputy commander of a tank company, he was transferred to the defense of Moscow. In a battle that took place on that very day, the crew of the tank commanded by Alik Mardakhaiev destroyed three enemy tanks and set a fourth one on fire. Thus, the crew of Senior Lieutenant Mardakhaiev was one of the first to prove in the field that the German Tiger tanks were inferior to the Soviet T-34s in a frontal assault. At a distance of approximately 800-900 meters, the Tiger's shell was unable to penetrate the reinforced frontal armor of a T-34, while the gun of Alik Mardakhayev's tank pierced the armor of three German tanks and destroyed them.
Six days later, on November 25, another battle took place, and his vehicle destroyed two anti-tank guns. However, Mardakhaiev's tank caught fire. In this desperate situation, Alik drove his burning vehicle into the enemy headquarters, leveling it. According to some eyewitness accounts, at the last moment Mardakhaiev, engulfed in flames, opened the hatch and, standing atop the tank like a living torch, shot at the Nazis with his personal weapon.
Mardakhaiev was posthumously nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but was awarded the Order of Lenin instead. This was hardly surprising given the conditions in 1941: with the Red Army mostly in retreat, the authorities were reluctant to hand out any military awards.