Why A Ukrainian Soldier Is Charged With Killing An Italian Journalist
7 July, 2017
Photo: Volodymyr Gontar, UNIAN

The Italian media has already dubbed Ukrainian soldier, Vitaliy Markiv, a “killer.” He was arrested in Italy on 30 June, 2017. The Ukrainian national guardsman is suspected of murdering Italian photographer, Andrea Rocchelli, who died in 2014 near the city Slovyansk in the east of Ukraine.

Militants from the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” were occupying the city of Slovyansk at the time. The car, in which Rocchelli was travelling with his colleagues and translator, came under mortar fire. Rocchelli and his translator were killed and a French photographer was wounded.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office was “surprised” by Markiv’s arrest. In 2014, Markiv was serving in the Kulchytsky battalion, which was then part of the National Guard, Ukraine’s internal armed forces connected to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.The Prosecutor General’s Office also stated that they did not receive a single request or notification about his detention. However, they have promised to find out the circumstances of his arrest.

Vitaliy Markiv’s lawyer, Raffaele Della Valle, confirmed that the allegations against Markiv were based on the testimonies of two Italian journalists.

“It’s really quite small. The incident took place in war conditions, the situation was quite complicated. It is not that easy to determine who the culprit is – in fact, it’s not just a case of one person shooting and killing another. We need to hear evidence from the Ukrainian side, to understand what position the Ukrainian soldiers were in, who took the shot and where they were shooting. We need to conduct a thorough investigation, and in the near future we plan to contact the Ukrainian authorities.”

According to his lawyer, Markiv’s defence will be cooperating with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence in particular.

The war in Ukraine started in 2014, when Russian forces invaded Donbas and annexed Crimea. Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and about 24,000 injured in Ukraine, according to UN reports.

During Donbas military conflict nine journalists have been killed when covering military operations, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Andriy Parubiy has said, reports Interfax.

Hromadske spoke to Vitaliy Markiv’s colleagues, soldiers and lawyers from both sides to find out why he was arrested and why he is suspected of killing the Italian photographer.

What is the Ukrainian soldier, Vitaliy Markiv, accused of

Vitaliy Markiv’s colleagues have given Hromadske a loose translation of the indictment. It states that Markiv, being a “member of a group of autonomous and unorganised soldiers” carried out an act of a criminal nature, “deliberately provoking the death of the Italian citizen, Andrea Rocchelli, having fired the first few rounds of shots at him from his firearm, and then afterwards, whilst the victim was hiding in a ditch, trying to escape, fired around 20 mortar shots…”

The text also states that, in particular, Markiv is accused of deliberately killing the Italian journalist, his translator –a Russian named Andrei Mironov – and injuring their colleague, French photographer William Roguelon.

Photo credit: EPA

Another soldier who served with Markiv in the Kulchytsky battalion in 2014– and has asked to remain anonymous– said that at the time, Vitaliy Markiv was an ordinary private in the battalion. He became a deputy commander much later. According to Hromadske’s source, the accusation from the Italian side is based on lies, because, at that point, the Kulchytsky battalion was not a volunteer battalion or an illegal unit, but part of the National Guard.

“We were part of the National Guard. This was the only battalion that was formed at the time on the basis of the National Guard. We were reservists, we had certificates dated 14.03.2014, and we were sent to the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone.”

According to him, the Ukrainian soldiers could not have shot the car carrying the journalists, even by accident, because there were no mortars in the armoury at that time. This is also stated in an official statement from the National Guard. At the time, as the soldier states, they were surrounded at Karachun, a mountain near the city of Slovyansk. In terms of weapons, they had automatic rifles, grenades and grenade launchers, which could not have shot at the village of Oleksandrivka, which was controlled by militants in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, all the way from Karachun.

Photo credit: Yuriy Kasianov facebook page

“We blocked the road around Slovyansk and we were actually surrounded at Karachun, we could not have pushed forward. We didn’t even have any mortars, we had only come from the landfill in Pavlohrad [a city in the east of Ukraine–ed.]”.

Myroslav Hai, who also fought in the 1st battalion of the National Guard near Slovyansk, gave Hromadske the same version of the events:

“We only had light weapons, just automatic rifles, the National Guard was only given mortars in 2016. The distance from Karachun to Slovyansk is more than two kilometres, an AK simply could not reach there. The maximum distance they cover is 400 metres. The Armed Forces were shooting, but only in retaliation and when they could see where they were shooting”.

Ukraine’s version of events from Karachun in May 2014

After the death of the Italian photojournalist, Ukrainian law enforcement began their investigation, which the Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yevhen Yenin, told Hromadske is ongoing. The Italian investigators received documents from Ukraine that were collected during the investigation and testify to the fact that it is impossible to say for sure from which weapon and which angle the shells were fired from. Because of active combat and the movement of troops, no traces have been left of the incident. Yevhen Yenin says that it is unclear how the Italian prosecutor has established their suspect and why they think that it was Vitaliy Markiv.

“It was not possible to establish a single, definite person from either side. These territories were returned to Ukrainian control after a few months, therefore it was impossible to conduct a comprehensive investigation in the aftermath of the incident. The Ukrainian Security Services are still investigating in the Donetsk region. They have questioned Rocchelli’s driver and conducted trasological examinations [determining the circumstances of someone’s death following an explosion - ed.]”.

According to the Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor General, the Italian investigation is based on the testimony of the French photojournalist who was in the car with Rocchelli and claims to have seen where the shot came from, “which is very dubious, because someone in that situation could have been mistaken, and they are not an expert in this field.”

Ukrainian media reported the shooting the day after the Italian journalist died, on 25 May 2014. In reference to the volunteers, they stated that the Ukrainian soldiers did not use mortars.

The main witness in the case of Andrea Rocchelli’s death is the French journalist, Willian Roguelon, who testified to the Italian authorities over the course of 10 hours. In May 2014, in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, he claimed that on the evening of 24 May 2014, the journalists, translator Andrei Mironov and their driver were hit by mortar fire. They left the car and took shelter in a ditch. 40-60 mortars fell. One of them exploded directly in the ditch. Roguelon received wounds to his legs.

Photographer Olya Morvan, who was in contact with the French journalist, told Hromadske that Willian Roguelon called her on 25 May 2014 from the hospital and said that she should “call Rocchelli quickly.”

Hromadske tried to contact the French journalist and witness to the shooting and death of Andrea Rocchelli, however, William Roguelon has not yet been in touch.

The Italian Version of Events

The Italian media has blamed Ukrainian law-enforcement for the “unsatisfactory results of the investigation,” and the fact that Ukraine regards Rocchelli’s death as “collateral damage in the war, for which no one is taking direct responsibility.”

The Prosecutor’s office in Pavia, the Italian photojournalist’s hometown, is working with Rocchelli’s family. Their lawyer, Alessandra Ballerini stated: “The Ukrainian investigation has not revealed anything, the local court was only able to confirm that it was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.” At the insistence of Rocchelli’s family and their lawyer, the Italian Prosecutor’s Office opened a new case in May 2017.

The Prosecutor’s Office in Pavia, which is leading the case, think that Rocchelli’s murder was not an accident but a “premeditated act.”

The Italian TV channel, Rai1, broadcast a segment which included a quote from Markiv, in which he said that the Ukrainian soldiers allegedly “shot at them all in a row.”

But in fact, the quote was taken out of context. Markiv said this to the Ukrainian TV channel, STB, regarding the events on Maidan a month before Rocchelli’s death.

The Italian-language editorial team at the fact-checking site StopFake has written about some of the ways in which the Italian media have manipulated the facts.

According to information from the same Italian media company, in the report on Markiv’s arrest, it says that one of the reasons for his detention were the testimonies of two Italian journalists, Ilaria Morani and Marcello Fauci. In their article for the Milan-based newspaper, Corriere della Sera, they cite Markiv, from a phone conversation they had with him a day after Rocchelli’s death:

“This is not the place for jokes, you shouldn’t come near. We usually do not shoot in the direction of towns or civilians, but as soon as we see movement we charge the heavy artillery. This is what happened with the car of the two journalists and their translator. We shot there from a distance of one and half kilometres."

Rafaelle Della Valle, Markiv’s lawyer, stated that he was outraged by the reaction of the Italian media, which called his client a “killer” before the trial had begun.

“They are jackals, not journalists,” Della Valle stated, “I hope that the atmosphere created by the press does not influence the judge’s decision. However, there is no doubt that the reaction of the media has gone beyond any limits. We are talking about a completely uncertain situation in an area where conflict is taking place, but the media is already shouting about the culprit. You can’t judge a person on television, there are relevant bodies for that”.

Why Vitaliy Markiv?

Vitaliy Markiv is an italian citizen. The Prosecutor’s Office found out about this from the arrest warrant that was given to the Ukrainian military during the detention.

Markiv’s colleagues think that his arrest is either a mistake, or due to his public appearance in Ukraine – Markiv went on live television and gave an interview. Originally from the Ternopil region of Western Ukraine, he moved to Italy to live with his mother who lives and works in Italy. When the Euromaidan protests began he returned to Ukraine.

Photo credit: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN

In an interview with Russian publication Novaya Gazeta, Andrea Rocchelli’s father, Reno, spoke about the known details of the investigation and hinted that Markiv knew a lot:

“Everything I know has come from the Italian police. In Italy, the investigation contacted me. Right now, I can confirm that this person, Vitaliy Markiv, knows a great deal, the investigation is currently working with him. Markiv has a lot of family in Italy, he was arrested here. It is known that he served in the Ukrainian army as a volunteer. We all understand that he was not the only one that took part in the shelling. I have no way of contacting anyone in Ukraine about this issue, I don’t have the official status connected to what happened there. All I can say is what the Italian investigation has carried out. And I tend to trust them more as the independent party, than if it had been conducted by one of the sides involved in the military conflict”.

Hromadske intends to follow the case of the Ukrainian soldier detained in Italy, Vitaly Markiv, and will also try and contact his lawyer and family.

/by Anna Tokhmakchi, Igor Burdyga, Nastya Stanko, Olga Tokariuk

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko