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5 Facts About The Case of The Ukrainian Soldier Accused Of Killing An Italian Photographer
21 December, 2018

Another hearing on the case of Vitaliy Markiv (pictured) was held in a Pavia court in Italy, December 14, 2018. The former national guard stands accused of involvement in the assassination of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli in Donbass in 2014. Photo credit: Oles Gorodetsky

In 2014, Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian translator Andrei Mironov were killed during fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Russia-led separatists in Donbas.

Last year, Vitaliy Markiv, a dual citizen of Italy and Ukraine who was serving in the Ukrainian National Guard at the time, was detained and accused of involvement in Rocchelli’s death. This month, Markiv’s trial continued in the Italian city of Pavia. The last court session for the year took place on December 14, where key witnesses took the stand. These were the Italian journalists on whose testimonies the case against Markiv has been built on.
Markiv's defence insists on his innocence, calling the process absurd. The court, meanwhile, is also considering a civil suit of the Italian journalists’ association against the Ukrainian government. Hromadske gathered five key facts about Markiv’s trial.

1. The trial has been going on since July this year, while Markiv has been behind bars for a year and a half

Markiv’s trial officially began on July 6 this year. That day, another lawsuit - this one against Ukraine- was filed in the court of Pavia, Rocchelli’s birth city. The lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Italian Press, the Association of Journalists of Lombardy, and the association of photo reporters Cesura Lab, founded by Rocchelli.

Court hearing on the case of former national guard Vitaliy Markiv, Pavia, Italy, November 30, 2018. Photo credit: Oles Gorodetsky

This brought Markiv’s trial to a political level - the prosecution wants to not only hold Markiv responsible for Rocchelli’s death, but also the Ukrainian state. However, because the claim was processed incorrectly, they only really started examining the case in November.

READ MORE: What Is a Ukrainian Soldier Doing in Italian Jail?

So far there have been five court hearings, where the prosecution’s witnesses were heard. The next hearing has been scheduled for January 18 next year, where the prosecution’s witnesses will continue to testify. Afterwards, the defense witnesses, in particular those from Ukraine, will be heard. In 2019, eight court hearings have been scheduled, the last one has been scheduled for April 12.

Markiv was arrested at Bologna airport on June 30 last year. He has been behind bars since then because investigators have rejected a lawyer's request for his transfer to house arrest. During the pre-trial investigation, the charges against Markiv were changed from "intentional murder" to "involvement in the murder" of Rocchelli.

Vitaliy Markiv, during a court hearing in Pavia, Italy, November 30, 2018. Photo credit: Radio Liberty

He is accused of giving the Ukrainian army information about the presence of journalists, who died in mortar shelling, and being on Mount Karachun, from where the journalists where shelled according to witness testimony. Prosecutors are treating Rocchelli and Mironov’s deaths as murder. The defense rejects these allegations, insisting that the journalists were in a war zone without distinctive gear and were victims of a cross-fire. Markiv’s lawyer Raffaele Della Valle, one of Italy’s best, calls the accusation against Markiv absurd.

READ MORE: Exclusive: Lawyer of Ukrainian Soldier Accused of Killing Italian Journalist Speaks

Rocchelli and Mironov died as a result of mortar shelling at the foot of Mount Karachun, near the the city of Sloviansk in the Donetsk region on May 24, 2014. None of the journalists had bulletproof vests, signs saying "press" or accreditation from the Ukrainian authorities for the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) zone.

2. The prosecution's key witnesses did not provide direct evidence of Markiv's involvement

Witnesses of the prosecution – an Italian policeman who collected Rocchelli’s body, an Italian owner of a ceramic factory near Sloviansk called Zeus Ceramica, as well other key witnesses – have already testified during trial. William Roguelon, a French photographer who was injured in the shelling, is also a witness in the case, as are Italian journalists whose publications provided a basis for this case.

None of these witnesses were able to provide direct proof of Markiv’s guilt or that Rocchelli was killed by shelling from the Ukrainian army.

At the hearing on December 14, five Italian journalists who, in May 2014, were in the Donbas and are now the prosecution’s witnesses, made statements in court, Pavia, Italy. Photo credit: Oles Gorodetsky

At the December 14 hearing, journalist Ilaria Morani, whose article led to Markiv’s arrest, and her colleague Marcello Fauci, who knew Markiv, testified. They stated that after Rocchelli’s death, Fauci phoned Markiv to get information about the situation on the frontline. This conversation, which took place via speakerphone (its recording was not preserved), was subsequently cited by Morani in an article for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. There, the journalist quotes Markiv, without naming him, while presenting him as a "captain of the Ukrainian army" in the headline (in court, Morani stated that the headline was not written by her, but by editorial staff.) Markiv warns them of danger and against getting closer to Sloviansk. In the article, Morani quotes Markiv: "We don’t usually shoot in the direction of the city or at civilians, but when we see movement, we load the heavy artillery. This is what happened with the car of two journalists and an interpreter.” These words subsequently became the basis for Markiv’s arrest. Markiv says that he learned about Rocchelli’s death in a conversation with journalists and that he never said the Ukrainian army was shooting in his direction.

There are many contradictions in the testimony of Italian journalists. Fauci and Morani provided different dates and locations of Markiv’s phone call. There was also a discrepancy with languages used during the conversation. Fauci asserts that the conversation took place in Italian, Morani - in English and Italian. Fauci says that he doesn’t remember the content of the conversation and couldn’t confirm that Markiv had mentioned Rocchelli’s death. Fauci also said that, in the fall of 2014, he met with Markiv in Kyiv, who gifted him a bulletproof vest.

"If he suspected Markiv of Rocchelli’s death, would he have met with him and accepted his gifts?" asks Oles Gorodetsky, one of the leaders of the Ukrainian community in Italy, who was present at all court hearings. He believes the journalists’ testimonies played in favor of the defense, not the prosecution.

"They contradicted themselves, citing different call times, different language and different locations of the conversation. Journalists are uncertain about the content of the conversation. Therefore, it is unlikely that this can be considered proof of Markiv’s involvement,” he said.

3. There are doubts about the reliability of Roguelon’s testimony

Roguelon is the only eyewitness and survivor following the mortar shelling that killed Rocchelli and Mironov, but he could not provide evidence of Markiv’s involvement. At a court hearing on November 30, he stated that he had not seen who had shot in their direction, but suspected that it was the Ukrainian army. However, he said he had not seen any Ukrainian soldiers. He defended his position by the fact that, after the shelling, he encountered separatists, who let him escape. At the same time, Roguelon said he noticed that while the three of them were hiding in the ditch, the area was shelled by assault rifles, which were also used to shoot at the car which he used to flee. This territory at the time was under militant control.

The evidence presented by Roguelon is questionable for a number of reasons. First, he has repeatedly changed his account- in 2014, he stated that he did not know who shot at them. In 2016, he said that this could be the Ukrainian army, which is what he told the court in Pavia. Secondly, Roguelon stated in court that he had "excellent relations" with pro-Russian militants. Thirdly, colleagues who worked with Roguelon in May 2014 spoke about his disorientation and unprofessionalism.

Olya Morvan, a Ukrainian photographer who worked with Roguelon at the time at the Wostok Press agency, told Hromadske: “He knew absolutely nothing about Ukraine, and did not want to listen to anything. As soon as he arrived, he went to the Sloviansk, which was occupied at the time ... (On the day of Rocchelli’s death - Ed.) Roguelon called me somewhere around five or six o'clock in the evening, begging me to quickly send a car to. .. he didn’t know where. He said that his driver was in surgery (after being wounded in the abdomen), while he had a thigh wound but could walk, and that doctors had already patched him up. I asked what happened to the others. He said he didn’t know. When I asked if he had checked their pulse, he said that no, he saw a lot of blood and ran. Our boss has forbidden him to speak with the press.”

Morvan recalls Roguelon telling her then – they were being shot at from every direction, there was an exchange of fire, because they were in the most dangerous place, between two positions. "No one in their right mind would have gone there," she added.

​​French photographer Paul Gogo, also a colleague of Roguelon, said he behaved very arrogantly, despite the fact that, according to him, he only made one report before going to Ukraine - from Syria. That day, May 24, 2014, colleagues warned Roguelon against getting closer to Sloviansk. Journalists knew that, at the time, that was the hottest point, said Gogo. However, Roguelon, who came to Ukraine unfamiliar with the situation and knowing neither Russian nor English, decided to go.

Prosecutor’s witness Marcello Fauci in the court of Pavia on December 14, 2018. Photo credit: Natalya Kudryk/Radio Liberty

"After several days of filming in Donetsk, Roguelon said that he was bored and wanted to go to the front, to Sloviansk. We all tried to persuade him that this is a bad idea, and that none of us are going to go there now,” Gogo said.

“I remember he wanted to take photos in the trenches, with the soldiers, where they were shooting. In the morning, he left our hostel and told me: "I'll call if something happens." I went to work in a restaurant in Donetsk. In the evening, he called me in a panic, frightened, saying "they are all dead, I might die too”. I tried to reassure him. I asked, where are you? With whom? What is their nationality? What happened? He could not answer where he was. He said that he was with his Italian colleague, who had been killed. He was in panic and quickly hung up ... In a few hours I saw Roguelon on a Russian propaganda channel. He was hospitalized, wounded, and saying that he was shot at by the Ukrainian army.”

Belarusian journalist Dmitry Galka also doubts Roguelon’s objectivity. He got to know the photographer at the Red Cat Hostel in Donetsk in May 2014, where journalists from all over the world stayed. "His understanding of the environment was such, that he told me: ‘Dima, there is nothing interesting here, maybe it's worth going to Dnipro, I heard there are blockades. To Dnipro... from Donetsk! In the spring of 2014. There are blockades! The whole hostel was shaking with laughter.”

Galka says that Roguelon, without knowing the language or understanding the situation, would constantly put the other journalists he was with in danger, for example, by openly photographing military equipment.

"After one the the buses was checked on a separatist roadblock, where the drunk driver grazed the passengers with a barrel of a rifle and grenade, letting some dirty jokes about Bandera slip, Roguelon said: ‘It seems to me, the separatists are very endearing people ... no, seriously?’ And at some point he pinned a St. George ribbon to himself. And could not understand what was with ‘wrong’ with this. This is a gift, he had said, a souvenir," recalls Galka.

In his opinion, Roguelon used his injury in Sloviansk as a career jump. "He squeezed out everything he could: interviews, invitations, exhibitions. In France, he received compensation as a civilian victim injured in his professional duties in a lawsuit against the Guarantee Fund. According to Galka, "he simply enjoys the situation, says whatever benefits him. Or what the occupiers of Sloviansk convinced him of." He doubts whether it is possible to trust Roguelon’s testimony about what had happened in Sloviansk.

READ MORE: Why A Ukrainian Soldier Is Charged With Killing An Italian Journalist

4. Markiv and his lawyers remain optimistic. The Ukrainian diaspora in Italy actively supports Markiv

Markiv’s attorneys are optimistic about the course of the trial. After the questioning of Roguelon, Donatella Rapetti, one of Markiv’s lawyers, stated that she was pleased with this hearing. "The witness just confirmed what he said earlier during the interrogation. He can not clearly answer who was shooting, but he suspects that these were Ukrainian soldiers - although he did not see them himself during the attack. Generally, there were no surprises in these testimonies, we expected this,” she told Ukrainian activists in the courtroom. According to her, Markiv is being positive despite a year and a half behind bars: "Vitaliy listens very carefully, he is constantly nearby and clarifies things, explains certain aspects. He keeps calm.”

Markiv’s hearings are open, which means everyone can follow the process. Accredited journalists are also present and video recording is allowed. For every hearing, dozens of Ukrainians come from all corners of Italy to support Markiv. Ukrainians wear embroidery, but the judges have asked not to bring national flags and posters with slogans. Markiv himself wears an embroidered shirt. He greets the Ukrainian "support group" with the words "glory to Ukraine". His mother, Oksana Maksymchuk, who has been living in Italy for many years, attends the hearings.

READ MORE: Italy Tries Ukrainian Soldier for Complicity in Photographer’s Death

5. Markiv’s case is also taking place outside the courtroom

While witnesses are being heard in the courtroom, Markiv's case in Italy continues to be used in an anti-Ukrainian campaign. On December 5 in Milan, a roundtable was held on "The Case of Rocchelli and the State of Human Rights and Freedom of Speech in Ukraine." It was attended by Vice-President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Italian Parliament and chairman of the Italian delegation to the OSCE, MP from the Lega party Paolo Grimoldi, Mironov’s brother Alexander and Oksana Chelysheva, who is now investigating the situation, among others.  

One of Vitaliy Markiv’s lawyers -  Donatella Rapetti (center) near the court building. Photo credit: Oles Gorodetsky

At a press conference following the event, Grimoldi called on the Ukrainian authorities to "respond to the assassination of Rocchelli."

"As a representative of the Italian delegation to the OSCE, I will do everything to find the truth in the Rocchelli case and use all the institutional elements available to me in order to restore justice. I will do this in Kyiv, where I will meet with the OSCE delegation to monitor the presidential elections. I hope that after the elections in Ukraine, a government will come to power that puts the issue of justice and the search for truth first, even if it concerns an Italian citizen,” said Grimoldi. His party has pro-Russian views and calls for the lifting of sanctions against Moscow.

At the event, there were accusations that Ukraine had not carried out a proper investigation into the circumstances of Rocchelli’s death. In response to this, authorities in Kyiv earlier stated that an investigation while the trail was hot was impossible because the outskirts of Sloviansk were under the control of pro-Russian militants for months after the tragedy. Following Markiv’s arrest in 2017, Ukraine offered to set up a joint investigation team to look into the circumstances of Rocchelli’s death. However, the Italian side did not respond to this proposal. An examination of the area under Sloviansk was conducted only by Markiv’s lawyer. The investigators and prosecutors did not consider it necessary to visit the scene in Ukraine.