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Slain Ukrainian civilians found as Russians retreat from outskirts of Kupiansk

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At least 11 civilians met violent deaths on an exposed section of a road as defeated Russian forces retreated from the outskirts of the northeastern Ukrainian town of Kupiansk, AFP reporters saw.

The Ukrainian troops who found the group of destroyed civilian cars with dead and in some cases burned bodies, said they believed Russian troops had attacked a civilian convoy.

There was no way to independently confirm this. The bodies remain where they died in and around the six vehicles, and the road from the village of Kyrylivka in the Kharkiv region is still exposed to artillery fire.

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“The vehicles were moving all together as a civilian convoy. We can see that there is almost no distance between the vehicles,” said Filya, a Ukrainian soldier who guided AFP to the scene.

“And obviously they were attacked by gunfire because you can see the bullet holes... One car was set on fire and it’s impossible to recognize the people without an expert.”

Russia’s February invasion left its forces in command of a swath of northern and eastern Ukraine, but this month a lightning counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region has driven them back.

The Russians attempted to secure a new frontline on the Oskil river in the east of the region, but Ukrainian armor has now crossed the river and - while shelling is ongoing - the retreat continues.

Russian forces have been accused of brutalizing and murdering civilians in occupied areas several times during the seven-month-old war.

The road where the civilian bodies were found runs alongside a rail line on a low embankment exposed on both sides to fields and woods, in an area that was occupied by Russian forces until earlier this week.

A small van or minibus is completely burnt out, with the carbonized remains of four people within. At least one of these corpses is small enough to have been a child.

A cream-colored Lada car with its boot open is stopped ahead of the bus, with a middle-aged man in a hat and blue jeans lying dead in the road beside a plastic bag of luggage.

On the rear seat of a blue car, an elderly lady lies curled as if asleep, under a down jacket. In the front seat, the slain driver has a blanket across his knees, suggesting he had been parked.

In all, AFP reporters counted 11 bodies at the scene.

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