Vitalii Markiv. A few days ago, the name of the hero of the Russian-Ukrainian war became known all over Ukraine. Unfortunately, because of his imprisonment. Italian judicial system has sent our national guard behind the bars for almost a quarter of a century. Such cruel punishment had shocked even those who did not expect an acquittal. But can one expect anything else, if the case is covered in holes made by Kremlin’s hybrid factory?
The verdict surprised even the prosecutor
On July 12, a court jury in the city of Pavia, near Milan, found the soldier of the National Guard of Ukraine battalion named after Kulchytsky Vitalii Markiv guilty of the Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli’s murder in May 2014 under the Sloviansk. A 29-year-old Ukrainian was sentenced to 24 years in prison, although, the prosecution demanded a term of 7 years less. In general, given the mitigating circumstances, the prosecutor asked 16 years of imprisonment for Markiv, but he added another year for an assassination attempt of a French photographer, William Roguelon. The Frenchman was wounded in the result of the crossfire, during which Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian translator Andrei Mironov had died from mortar shelling.
Italian law enforcers arrested Vitalii Markiv on 30 June 2017 at the Bologna airport when he and his wife came on vacation to his mother, who lives in Italy. For two years, the national guard was detained in custody. At the final trial, he was supported by about a hundred representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora. Part of the delegation in embroidered shirts was not even let into the hall due to lack of seats.
“I attended all 18 meetings during the last year in Pavia together with many Ukrainians from different cities of Italy,” said Oles Horodetskyi, chairman of the Christian Society of Ukrainians in Italy. “Vitalii was ready for a number of scenarios, he realized how difficult was his situation when against him there was an entire state of Italy, together with the mass media. However, no one was ready for such a strict sentence, even the prosecutors were surprised. After all, the prosecutor requested a penalty of 17 years, taking into account the mitigating circumstances – young age, no criminal record, good behavior. But the court, unfortunately, added 7 more years. There was such silence in the courtroom… Nobody could believe it, it was a shock.”
Shocked Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Italian Republic Yevhen Perelyhin wrote on Facebook, “The decision announced by the head of the Pavian jury, destroyed all the image of European justice that I had, especially after 7 years of work in the European capital of the rule of law and human rights – Strasbourg. Only one fact – the Pavian prosecutors didn’t consider it appropriate and refused to go to the place of the so-called crime, although today it is a quiet peaceful area near Karachun Mountain. They used drawings (!!!) and photographs to formulate allegations and revive the picture of the so-called crime… The head of the court was not just confused or worried during the speech, she was swallowing the words and her voice trembled. All this indicates that at least for her the decision was unconvincing.”
One more trial for the commander?
Italian justice isn’t satisfied with only one victim. According to Yevhen Perelyhin, another decision of the Pavian court is to send to the Roman prosecutor’s office a petition by the prosecutor of the court of Pavia on the case against the direct superior of Vitalii Markiv during events near the Karachun Mountain in 2014, people’s deputy of Ukraine Bohdan Matkivskyi for complicity in the murder. By the way, Mr. Matkivskyi supported his brother in arms at a court hearing. He, as it was pointed out by the Ambassador, “in no way demonstrated anxiety or any nervousness because of such a senseless decision.” Bohdan Matkivskyi has confirmed to Opinion claims against him by the representatives of the Italian Judicial system:
“We expect a concrete, legal court decision, we want to receive a copy of it. Because when a verdict was issued, they didn’t have a motivational part in their hands. Therefore it casts doubt on the verdict itself, for how it can be possible to make a verdict without it? After receiving the official document we will plan our work with the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine, and the police. However, the appeal will be for sure, because we are completely dissatisfied with the decision. Moreover, we are talking about the precedent in the court of the city of Pavia, because this could not have happened if the trial was in Rome. Because the jury from Pavia knew Rocchelli as a famous journalist in the city, therefore, they were somewhat biased.”
The motivation of the sentence, according to which the Ukrainian was sentenced to long-term detention, must be made public within 90 days. After that, Markiv’s attorney will be able to appeal and it will be considered by the Appeal Court in Milan. As assured by lawyer Raffaele della Valle, there, they won’t listen to witnesses but will work only with the materials of the case. An appeal process may take several months, so the decision can only be expected in the spring of 2020.
“Unlike nonprofessional jury in a Pavian court, during a future appeal in Milan, the case will be considered by professional judges, which gives me hope for an unbiased legal decision,” Yevhen Perelyhin is convinced. I also believe in the professionalism of an attorney Raffaele della Valle – one of the best European lawyers (he got sick after seeing such humiliation of justice, God bless him).”
Before the trial, he was called a murderer
The court session in Pavia was covered nearly by all major Italian channels, during the announcement of the verdict, there were representatives of Kremlin’s international informational horn – Russia Today. Both the Italian and Russian mass media, in no small part, have contributed to representing the Ukrainian defender as a criminal.
“The Italian press has influenced the sentence a lot,” said Oles Horodetskyi. “Since the first day of arrest, despite the presumption of innocence and standards for the BBC, the Italian media named Vitalii a criminal and killer on the front pages and in the news. That is, the behavior that even lawyers condemned has lasted for two years. Because of our position and protests, this policy was not so obvious, but over the course of two years, in essence, they were repeating all the myths of Russian propaganda about the coup in Ukraine, fascists, hatred against journalists, violation of freedom of speech. To understand the depth of the bottom, you should know that even the website “Russian Spring” was the evidence on the case.”
Permanent media pressure was not chaotic, for one of the parties to the lawsuit was the National Federation of Italian Press (FNSI). The position of the structure that unites all journalists of the country has significantly influenced public opinion. In comments to their Ukrainian colleagues after Markiv’s verdict, its representatives cynically declared that the main thing is justice, and it has been served.
“Journalists from the union (FNSI – ed.), who filed a civil suit against Ukraine, in their articles, even before the very beginning of the case, they accused Vitalii Markiv, calling him a murderer,” Bohdan Matkivskyi confirmed. “They did not have the right to do so before the court verdict. Therefore, we emphasize that it is a precedent, which Russia always spoke about. Its official sources constantly say that Ukraine is not a state, its military formations are unofficial. It was on this basis that a decision was made. They needed a ground to stand on, and they will refer to this precedent in other courts loyal to the aggressor state. We will defend our position in all instances, including the European Court, if we do not get justice in Italy.”
Mr. Matkivskyi (Platoon Commander in 2014) noted that despite the suspicion and the verdict, neither the motive of the crime nor the tools had been found by the representatives of the Italian justice system.
“I allowed Vitalii Markiv (the only one who knew Italian in the platoon) to give an interview to Rocchelli,” the People’s Deputy continued. “They communicated directly without the translator Mironov because we thought that the Russian could distort the information. We had an interest in showing what was happening there. Because we understood what is information warfare, and there is a reason to show what’s going on in the international press. Therefore, not only they can’t find motives, but also the fact that the National Guard had no access to mortars. Especially Vitalii, because he was just a soldier.”
What do Italians do in the Donbas?
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered the Foreign Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office to take up the question of the return of Vitalii Markiv to the Motherland in an urgent manner. And to our diplomats in Italy – to be constantly in touch with the veteran.
However, according to Dmytro Snyehyriov, the co-chair of the civil initiative The Right Case, the impression is that Ukrainian diplomats are like ostriches hiding their heads in the sand, trying not to notice the “pure anti-Ukrainian bacchanalia”. In the article “Do the Italian Prosecutor’s Office and Russian Special Service have ties?” he showed a long chain of anti-Ukrainian cooperation of Kremlin with Italian politicians for a long time.
“At one time, I asked the SBU and the Prosecutor General’s Office to clarify whether the evidence of the DPR militia was in the case file, but I did not receive any response to my request from special law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Snyehyriov said. “And if there are materials, and the first report of the death of Rocchelli has appeared on the websites of the DPR, then this is a direct testimony of the strong ties between the Italian prosecutor’s office and “militants” of the self-proclaimed republics. For two years we have indulged anti-Ukrainian bacchanalia during court hearings. Anti-Ukrainian activity refers to the speeches of the Italian separatists from the Brothers of Italy and League of the North parties in 2017, just at the time Markiv was arrested and suspected of murder. Since 2017, I have repeatedly addressed the leadership of law-enforcement agencies, special services, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Right Case has lists of Italian citizens who either directly participated in hostilities on the side of “militants”, or without the consent of the official Kyiv were present in the occupied territories. No reaction. We should demand that the citizens of Italy be held accountable under Ukrainian law. This would ease the tension around the Markiv case.”
Dmytro Snyehyriov doesn’t understand why the attention is not paid to the fact that the Italian journalist Rocchelli and Russian translator Mironov were in the occupied territories of the Donbas without the permission of the Ukrainian authorities, thus violating our legislation on illegal crossing of the border. Therefore, the Ukrainian authorities, without knowing the location of the citizens of Italy and the Russian Federation, were not responsible for their lives. We have to insist on the criminal responsibility of the witnesses and the deceased.
“The issue is that the whole evidence base relies on the testimony of the French journalist Roguelon,” continued Mr. Snyehyriov. Why is Roguelon not charged with the Ukrainian secret services on the fact of being in the occupied territories without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities? Another issue is the support of “militants”, illegal armed groups. There is a number of criminal articles on which he must respond to Ukrainian justice. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the SBU show complete impotence in these matters. We should prosecute the Frenchman. Then there will be an adequate response. We have been demanding this since 2017.”
Individual politicians just get their PR from the case of Markiv. They, like the intelligence service, are not interested in the lists of Italian criminals. According to Dmytro Snyehyriov, the initiative to establish an indefinite picket in front of the Italian embassy with photographs and data of Italian mercenaries participating in an armed conflict in the East of Ukraine did not find support from authorities.
On July 12, after the verdict to Vitalii Markiv was made, activists held a protest rally in front of the Italian Consulate in Kyiv. As for today, on July 15, Ukrainians are planning to picket the Italian Consulate in New York.
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovskyi