UARU
Pavian Justice: How Ukrainian Soldier Got 24 Years in Italy (REPORT)
14 July, 2019

On July 12, the court of Pavia (a city in the northern region of Lombardy in Italy) found Ukrainian national guard Vitaliy Markiv guilty of involvement in the murder of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and sentenced him to 24 years in prison.

Rocchelli, along with a Russian translator Andrei Mironov, died near Sloviansk in the Donbas in 2014. Markiv was on Mount Karachun at the time (he served in the National Guard in the Kulchytskyy battalion - ed.) According to the prosecution, he provided the Ukrainian military with information about the whereabouts of the journalists, who allegedly proceeded to fire at them from mortars. 

Markiv’s lawyer, Raffaele Della Valle calls the sentence “absurd” and plans to appeal it. 

Hromadske was present at the court hearing when Italy was sentencing not just Markiv, but also the state of Ukraine, which was a civil defendant at the trial, as a party liable for the actions of the accused.

Expectations vs. Reality

The Italian town of Pavia, located 30 km from Milan, looks sleepy on the morning of July 12. Only the kiosk where the front page of the local newspaper reads, "The Murder of Rocchelli: Sentencing Today" reminds of the fact that today there would be an end to the lawsuit. A lawsuit which caused a stir in Italy and Ukraine. 

In the city of 70 thousand inhabitants, the Rocchelli family is well-known. Their son Andrea, a photographer, died in the Donbas on May 24, 2014 - near Sloviansk, on the territory controlled by the Russian-backed militants. Three years later, in June 2017, the Italian police arrested the suspect in the murder of Rocchelli, former national guard Markiv, who has both Ukrainian and Italian citizenship. Since then, the Ukrainian has been behind bars.

Already an hour before the start of the decisive meeting, Ukrainians are beginning to gather outside the court building. Dressed in vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirts), many came here from different parts of Italy to support their compatriot. Some of them attended all of the hearings and were well aware of even the smallest details regarding the case. According to them, during the whole process, they had not heard a single piece of evidence that somehow links Markiv with the death of the Italian journalist Rocchelli.

Ukrainian delegation in the courtroom at the hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv, Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

Finally, journalists and visitors are allowed to enter the hall. Far from the cameras and the public, are both the defense and prosecution and Markiv himself. The Rocchelli family, the Federation of the Italian Press and the Association of Journalists of the Lombardy region, where the photographer comes from, are on the side of the prosecution. The union of journalists also filed a civil suit against the state of Ukraine and is demanding monetary compensation. The defense includes Markiv’s Italian lawyers, headed by the eminent Raffaele Della Valle (he was involved with the most high-profile Italian cases), as well as two other lawyers and a representative of the Ministry of Justice, who arrived from Kyiv to defend the interests of Ukraine.

Lawyer Raffaele Della Valle in the courtroom at the hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv, Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

There are about twenty journalists in the hall, mainly representatives of the Italian press, but there are also Russian TV channels. Ukrainians and Italians who support Markiv and his family are sitting in the seats on the right side, friends of the deceased and most Italian journalists - on the left. That is where the Russian propagandist Oksana Chelysheva is. She says she was late Mironov's girlfriend.

Court hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv (C), Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

In the front row sits the Ukrainian Ambassador to Italy, Yevhen Perelygin, and Markiv's mother Oksana Maksymchuk. Her face does not emanate even the slightest worry - even when the judge, after opening the meeting, invites her son to say the last word - her face remains emotionless. He utters literally two sentences: that he is an ordinary soldier and a patriot of Ukraine, then thanks those who came. The judges announce a break and go to the deliberation room to discuss the sentence.

Vitaliy Markiv's mother Oksana Maksymchuk at the court hearing on the National Guard soldier Markiv, Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

What Evidence?

The prosecution requested that Vitaliy Markiv gets 17 years in prison. The prosecutors are certain that Markiv gave the Ukrainian military the coordinates of a group of journalists who later died from mortar fire. According to the prosecution, Rocchelli did not become a victim of the crossfire, his murder was intentional. And this is despite the fact that the territory where the photographer died, was shelled from both sides. Rocchelli’s colleagues - who were also in Sloviansk at that time - as well as the Italian embassy in Ukraine warned him about the fact that it was extremely dangerous to go there. Moreover, none of the group of journalists - Rocchelli, Mironov and their French counterpart William Roguelon - had “press vests.”

Paolo Perucchini, president of the Lombardy Association of Journalists, tells Hromadske, “They simply wanted to 'remove' the journalists. Rocchelli was killed in a systematic and precise mortar attack; someone wanted to remove witnesses from that territory. The journalists who worked there were witnesses who could report what was actually happening. That’s the way it looks from our point of view.”

However, evidence in support of this vision was never presented in court. The process is based on the testimony of journalists. First, Ilaria Morani, the author of the article for the newspaper Corriere della Sera, where she quotes a telephone conversation with Markiv immediately after the death of Rocchelli. Later, it turned out that the article contained serious mistakes: the Ukrainian was called “captain”, although he was an ordinary soldier. In the conversation quoted in the article, Markiv allegedly admits that the Ukrainian army fired at Rocchelli. But at the trial, it was denied and no record of the conversation exists. Frenchman William Roguelon, the only survivor of the shelling, during which Rocchelli and Mironov were killed was a key witness. He claimed: Ukrainians shot at the journalists and his proof of this is that after the shelling, they met separatists, “It meant that [the separatists] didn’t shoot.” Throughout the trial personal opinions and assessments were heard more often than objective facts.

Court hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv, Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

In the closing speech, Markiv’s defendant Della Valle, one by one, dismissed each argument of the prosecution. The lawyer noted that Morani’s article could not be trusted, that Markiv was a private soldier, and therefore, carried out the orders, and did not give them out. In addition, the National Guard (to which Markiv's battalion was a subordinate) had no mortars at their disposal, the weapons that killed Rocchelli. On top of that, the Ukrainian was about 1,700 meters from the scene of the incident, on the other side of Karachun Mountain, and therefore he could not see or identify journalists who did not have any “press” identification marks. According to the defense, there is no clear evidence that the Ukrainian army shot, but there is a reason to believe that the separatists fired as they were at a distance of 500 meters and within a few minutes they descended into the ditch where the wounded journalists were.

Court hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv, Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

At 2 p.m. the courtroom in Pavia has filled again. Judge Annamaria Gatto begins to read the verdict, which was taken by the jury. Her voice trembles: “In the name of the Italian people, the court of Assize in Pavia, in accordance with articles 553 and 555 of the Criminal Code, recognizes Vitaliy Markiv guilty of the alleged crimes and sentences him to 24 years in prison.” There is a silence that lasts, it seems, forever. On the faces of many of those present in the courtroom, there is shock and pain, others convey relief.

Markiv wipes sweat from his forehead. The judge closes the meeting, the handcuffed Ukrainian is removed from the hall. He shouts to those present “Glory to Ukraine!” People in embroidered shirts respond with “Glory to the Heroes!” At the same time, from the left side of the hall a shout is heard in Russian, but with an accent: “Bandit!” Someone among Ukrainian women shouts to Markiv: “We love you!”. A few minutes later, an armored police car takes Markiv to the place where his sentence is being served.

Markiv’s mother, her eyes red from tears, says calmly: “As Vitaliy said, we will fight. Pavia showed how the courts function here. It doesn’t matter, we will show that there are other, fairer judges. And we will defend him.

Court hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv (C), Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

Among the present Ukrainians is Stefania Schmitz, who studied with Markiv in a school in the Ternopil region. She sits with Markiv’s family, her parents were friends both in Ukraine and after moving to Italy. “I do not believe that Vitaliy could have killed a civilian, never in his life. He is very kind. But very strong in spirit. I never thought he would leave everything behind: his work in Italy, life here. When he had everything here, and nothing in Ukraine, he went to defend his country. Few people would do this, one in a million,” says Schmitz.

Shocked by the verdict, the Ukrainian ambassador to Italy, Yevhen Perelygin, commented, "This is absurd, but this is just my personal opinion ... As an ambassador, I can say that the government will prepare its position once we receive a written court decision." The ambassador did not say whether this was a political decision.

Markiv’s lawyer Della Valle, whom we meet in the corridors of the court, is disappointed and angry. “I have not seen such a crazy verdict in 56 years of my law career. Never. This is just a shame. I want to leave this country! ” Della Valle is indignant. He intends to appeal the verdict because he is sure that this case is absolutely groundless. For a distinguished lawyer, this is also a personal defeat. “You study this case, you make an effort, you prove that the prosecution's version is impossible, and then the accused gets 24 years! Even without the extenuating circumstances...” Later, Della Valle will tell reporters that he considers this verdict "political".

Ukrainian Ambassador to Italy Yevhen Perelygin (R) at the court hearing on the National Guard soldier Vitaliy Markiv (C), Pavia, Italy, July 12, 2019
Photo: Oleksiy Nikulin /
Hromadske

The fact that the court did not take into account the mitigating factors, in particular, that Markiv had no previous convictions, also surprised the prosecutor Andrea Zanoncelli. In his final speech, he demanded 17 years in prison for the Ukrainian, taking into account the extenuating circumstances. Why the jury decided that Markiv deserves almost the maximum term remains a mystery.

Rocchelli's parents refuse to comment to Hromadske, but Italian media says: “This sentence is important for us, for all journalists who risk their lives. We thank the prosecutors for their work.” The president of the Association of Journalists of Lombardy is also of the same opinion. After the court’s decision, the association, the Federation of the Italian Press, the group of photographers of Cesura Lab founded by Rocchelli and the relatives of the deceased will receive monetary compensation from the state of Ukraine.

However, the end of the Markiv case has not yet been reached. Lawyer Della Valle plans to file an appeal after the Pavia court publishes the reasoning of the verdict - he has 90 days to do this. Until November 12, Markiv’s defense has time to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal of Milan. Consideration of the appeal in Italy is quite fast, so the decision, according to the lawyer, can be expected in the spring of 2020. In the meantime, Markiv remains in prison, the Italian and Russian media write about the victory of justice, and the Ukrainians in Italy are preparing for protests.

/Written by Olga Tokariuk with the support of Russian Language News Exchange