By Anthony Deutsch and Anna Voitenko
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian families waited in bitter cold on Sunday for their loved ones to cross from the Russian-held bank of the Dnipro River to Kherson, a city that since Ukraine recaptured it from Russian forces last month has been under heavy shelling.
Military officials in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson on Saturday warned fighting in the area could intensify and said they would temporarily lift a ban on crossings to help the evacuation of citizens on the Russian-occupied territory on the east bank.
Under the three-day amnesty which began on Saturday, Ukrainians living in villages across the river can traverse the Dnipro during daylight hours and to a designated point.
But as the amnesty’s second day neared its end, there had not been a single crossing. Around 20 people waited gloomily with a group of soldiers and an ambulance at Kherson’s river port, to the constant sound of shelling nearby.
Olena, 40, who would only give her first name and declined to give her surname to protect the identity of her family, said she was waiting for her 10-year-old daughter.
Olena had travelled to Germany for work just days before Russia invaded Ukraine in February and had been unable to see her daughter since.
“I haven’t seen my daughter in nine months,” said Olena anxiously.
“I wish I could go and pick them up,” she said.
‘SCARY, VERY SCARY’
Civilians who want to make use of the amnesty, which ends at nightfall on Monday, are required to show proof of Ukrainian citizenship and use their own boats.
Anastasiia, who also only gave her first name, said she was at the port because she hoped to cross the river the other way, into Russian-held territory where her relatives are.
“Yesterday I saw a message about the evacuation, but it turned out there were no boats and I had to get there myself. How could I do this? What to do? I don’t know what to do,” she said.
“I’m afraid I will die here alone and no one will know about it. It’s scary, very scary.”
Russian forces have intensified artillery attacks on the Kherson region since withdrawing from the western bank of the Dnipro. Dozens have died in attacks in the region, Ukrainian officials say.
Anastasiia said houses in her street had been destroyed by Russian rockets in recent days.
“The situation there is not better, there are those (Russian fascists) but, I say, at least we’ll die together.”
Mykola, 73, said his daughter happened to be on the east bank of the river when Kherson was liberated and got stuck alone in Russian-held territory. “Now she cannot come back.”
“She wants to go home. Her daughter and husband are all in Kherson. She has to get back somehow.
(Editing by Tom Balmforth and Raissa Kasolowsky)