After the liberation of Cherson, the Dnipro became the new front - and right in the middle was Potemkin Island, where dozens of people are still hanging out in their dachas. Without electricity, without water and under constant fire. Ukrainian construction worker Oleksiy is committed to rescuing them.
It's snowing in Kherson, the water of the Dnipro is icy. Nevertheless, Oleksiy Kovbasyuk starts the engine of his old boat and races across the river. The trip to Potemkin Island is short but life-threatening. Kovbasyuk takes the risk to save the people stuck on the island. In November, Russian troops withdrew from Kherson in southern Ukraine to the opposite bank of the Dnipro. From there artillery and snipers shelled the Ukrainian side, the river became the new front.
Kovbasyuk worries about the people who are staying in their summer houses on the Dnipro Islands, cut off from supplies and traffic. "Some haven't left their dacha since Cherson was liberated. They need bread," says the 47-year-old. In order to help them, Kowbasyuk puts his own life in danger. "My boat already has two bullet holes. That happened right after the Russian soldiers fled to the other side," he reports on the way to Potemkin Island.
The island, eight kilometers long and four kilometers wide, lies downstream from Cherson. Before the war it was an oasis of calm, now it is constantly being shelled. Of the several hundred dachas, only a handful are still inhabited. Those who want to stay can get food from Kowbasyuk, while the construction worker takes the others to the Ukrainian-controlled riverbank to safety.
After 40 minutes of driving through the freezing wind, Kowbasyuk docks and meets the pensioner Oleksandr Sokolyk. "Oleksiy, brother! I'm so glad to see you," calls the 64-year-old and hugs Kovbasyuk. "The situation in Cherson seems to be better now. We haven't had electricity here for a week," says Sokolyk, who also brings islanders to the mainland. "And every night we are under fire. The shells fly over us from left to right, from right to left."
Wearing an elegant lilac hat and winter coat, Olga Schpinjowa is ready to leave the island to live with her sister in Cherson. She has packed two small bags, her dog Toscha is also coming with her. "It will be better there than in a building without water, heating or electricity," she says, recounting how her house was hit. "I was lucky that I was with my daughter at the time. That saved my life."
The authorities had announced that they would bring the islanders to safety with a ferry between December 3rd and 5th. But the promise was not kept. "We can't organize regular transport on the river, the occupiers won't allow us to do that," says the region's governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych. "Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee people's safety during the crossing."
Returning to Kherson with three passengers on board, a missile hits right in front of Sokolyk's boat. "I have no idea where it came from," he says, still in shock.