Ukraine forces recapture key road outside east Ukraine city
Kyiv has recaptured some territory from Russian soldiers. (FADEL SENNA AFP)

Ukrainian forces have pushed back Russian troops from a highway outside the country's second-largest city of Kharkiv, and were clearing away the burnt-out wreckage of cars, AFP journalists reported Wednesday.

The gains by Kyiv's forces come after Moscow said it would focus its military efforts on capturing the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, whose border is just south of Kharkiv.

AFP journalists about four kilometres (three miles) east of Kharkiv saw abandoned civilian vehicles riddled with bullet holes strewn across multiple lanes of the highway and the corpses of Russian soldiers on an embankment next to the road.

"The road was under fire from Russian forces who killed civilians. We pushed them back about 10 kilometres further north," a commander in the 92nd brigade of the Ukrainian army told AFP on the scene.

"The road is now open, it is liberated," he said, adding that the area is currently being de-mined and municipal services have begun working.

The road was quiet Wednesday morning and machinery was working to clear the road of abandoned and destroyed vehicles. A resident of a nearby settlement came to recover his bullet riddled car, AFP journalists said.

The road links Kharkiv to the smaller town of Chuguiv -- with a pre-war population of around 30,000 people -- about 50 kilometres southeast.

Both settlements have been under heavy Russian bombardment since Moscow's forces entered Ukraine late last month.

"There are bodies of Russians strewn everywhere. The fighting was really tough, sometimes we were just 10 metres apart," a Ukraine intelligence officer on the ground told AFP.

The fight "lasted three days, under Russian military bombardments and airstrikes", he said.

"The Russian soldiers were exhausted, starving youths. They were looting houses all over the area. There were around 120 here and we took about 40 prisoner," he added.

The remains of five Russian soldiers were lying nearby on a hill. Passports and identity documents recovered suggested they were aged 19-23.

It was not immediately clear how many Russian soldiers had died in the fighting and Ukrainian officers at the scene did not have a precise figure.

The village of Mala Rogan was recaptured over the weekend, but it took nearly three days to fully clear the area, with Ukrainian troops going from house to house to look for Russian soldiers who had taken refuge in cellars.

On Wednesday, an ambulance was collecting dead bodies in bags.

One of the corpses was dressed in civilian clothing over khaki pants.

"They had been here for weeks, they dressed like locals to better infiltrate our lines," said a Ukrainian policeman, who did not give his last name.

In the partly destroyed village, residents emerged from their houses to sweep up debris and begin repairs.

Elderly ladies, wearing traditional flower headscarves, came to collect oranges, biscuits and other food distributed by the army.

They told an AFP reporter that Russian soldiers had taken around 30 residents hostage on the first floor of the local school.

The women also stated that some of the captured women had been raped.

It was not immediately possible to verify those claims.

An old man in a fur hat, whose home had been occupied by Russian soldiers for days, stood shouting into the air.

"Give me a Kalashnikov and I'll kill a Russian!" he called out.