Protesters carry a portrait of Vitaliy Markiv during a rally in Kyiv, October 14, 2019. Photo: Serhii Nuzhnenko (Radio Liberty, RFE/RL)
Due to the spread of COVID-19 in northern Italy and the introduction of emergency measures, the Italian government has decided to suspend all judicial activity until March 31.
In addition, the Lombardy region and its regional centre Milan were declared a “quarantine zone” on March 8. All educational and cultural institutions, as well as entertainment centres have been closed. Many establishments have ceased operating, and people are urged to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel.
Donatella Rapetti, one of Markiv’s lawyers made the following statement:
“There’s not much to add at the moment… because in an appeal hearing, the court includes not only judges but jurors, that is, ordinary people, so all hearings must be postponed due to official restrictive measures.”
The defense filed an appeal in November 2019. At that time, the lawyers hoped that the appeal hearing would begin in the spring of 2020. Now, lawyer Rapetti says that it might happen in June, but it all depends on the pandemic situation.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus in Italy’s penitentiary facilities, the prisoners have been temporarily forbidden to receive visits from relatives and others, but can spend more time speaking with them on the phone. Vitaliy’s mother Oksana Maksymchuk says that she and Vitaliy’s wife can now talk to Vitaly eight times a week for ten minutes (before it was six times a week). Only food products and essential supplies are allowed.
“Our bags were taken away and inspected. They all wore masks and gloves. I waited two minutes for my bags to be controlled and then went back home. I can’t visit Vitaliy now. It’s forbidden.” says Oksana Maksymchuk, who visited the prison last week.
Vitaliy Markov, a 30-year-old senior sergeant in the National Guard of Ukraine, is serving his sentence in a prison near Milan after the court of first instance in Pavia sentenced him to 24 years in July 2019.
Vitaliy, who has dual citizenship (Ukrainian and Italian) has been in custody since his arrest in Bologna on June 30, 2017. He was accused of complicity in the killing of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov near then-occupied Sloviansk on May 24, 2014. French journalist William Roguelon was also injured in the crossfire between Russian-backed “DNR” forces and the Ukrainian army.
The Pavia court stated that the Italian journalist was killed in a targeted mortar attack launched by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and that National Guardsman Markiv monitored the movements of these civilians and relayed information to the Ukrainian command post on Mount Karachun.
The defense states that the foreign journalists came under the crossfire, so it is impossible to determine where the actual deadly shots came from (from the side of the Russian-backed “DNR” militants or the Armed Forces of Ukraine). The defense challenged the verdict and filed an appeal with the Milan Court of Appeal.
Kyiv strongly disagrees with the decision issued by the Pavia court and expects a fair and honest hearing in the Milan court of second instance.
The Italian government has maintained a certain distance, declaring that the Italian judiciary is both impartial and independent of all external pressure.