Ukraine’s forces pushed forward their counteroffensive against Russian troops in the Kharkiv region on Friday, as more evidence emerged of violence against civilians in formerly occupied territory.
Just to the east of the village of Kyrylivka in the Kharkiv region, on an exposed section of road close to the front line, lay the bodies of a group of at least 11 civilians gunned down in cars and a minibus.
The Ukrainian troops who have recently recaptured the area told AFP the six-vehicle convoy had been attacked by the retreating Russians, who had occupied Kyrylivka until earlier this week.
There was no way to independently confirm this version of events, and reporters were only able to remain on the scene for a short time before artillery fire began to erupt on the still active front line.
On Wednesday, an official from the Kremlin proxy administration in the neighbouring region of Lugansk had accused Kyiv’s forces of firing on a civilian convoy in the area, allegedly killing 30 people.
The area where the attack took place, a road through farmland east of the Kharkiv region industrial town of Kupyansk, was recaptured in the last week and there have been heavy exchanges of fire.
“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 recognise the people without an expert,” he said.
Ukrainian troops recaptured Kupyansk – a rail hub once used by the Russians to supply their troops – and a crossing point on the Oskil river in early September after a lightning counteroffensive.
But villages like Kyrylivka on the east bank of the Oskil were not secured until four or five days ago, and the slaughtered civilian convoy was close to an area where both sides had fought.
Russian forces have often been accused of murdering civilians in occupied areas during the seven-month-old war, and on Friday a Russian strike killed 25 civilians in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
But when Ukrainian forces recaptured eastern Kupiansk they shot up civilian model cars daubed with the Russian occupier’s “Z” symbol and driven by uniformed men, leaving now bloated bodies by the roadside.