Ukrainian rescuers have been venturing into Russian-held areas despite shelling as they search for residents stranded by massive flooding from a destroyed dam.

"We continue to save our people. And this includes getting people from occupied territories," a military press officer, Sergiy Sergeyev, told AFP.

"We know that there are Russian soldiers sitting on the roofs with no one to save them, but our priority is our people," he added.

The Dnipro River in southern Ukraine has formed the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces since Moscow's troops pulled out of the city of Kherson in November.

Despite Russia's retreat, the city has remained within reach of Moscow's weaponry, constantly threatening residents.

Shelling has slowed as the flood has made mortars unusable, Sergeyev said, but "evacuations sometimes take place under rocket fire".

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The water has reached an average of 5.6 metres (18 feet) high, according to Ukrainian estimates, with 600 square kilometres of the Kherson region flooded.

"(The water) is two floors high, you can only survive on the roof," said Laura Musiyan, an employee from the Kherson meteorological agency.

Russian authorities reported five dead, while there was at least one death on the Ukrainian side.

- 'How can we live on?' -

Musiyan, waist-deep in the water that she was measuring, said its rise seemed to be slowing.

"If this trend continues, this will mean good news for people," she said.

Everyone at a rescue centre in Kherson was wondering when the water would stop coming in, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

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Ukrainian officials estimated they would need to wait for at least another three days.

In the meantime, people gathered at the water's edge, some hoping to see their rescued pets.

"My cat has been in the apartment for three days without food, she must be dying," said Elena, 59, covering her face with her hands as she sobbed.

One of the people rescued, 65-year-old Tatyana Olmechenko, had to crawl through a broken window to reach the boat that came to rescue her after two days.

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Stepping on land, she asked volunteers to check her pressure and feed her cat Klyusha.

"My apartment in Kherson was destroyed by shelling last year -- I moved to another flat and it was flooded," she told AFP.

"How can we live on?"

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