Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv with defense lawyers. Photo: Nataliya Kudryk (Radio Svoboda.org (RFE/RL)
The court of appeals will consider the appeal against the conviction of the Ukrainian soldier. 31-year-old Vitaliy Markiv is charged with complicity in the murder of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov, who were killed in May, 2014 in the fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian mercenaries near then-occupied Sloviansk. Vitaliy has been behind bars in Italy since his arrest at Bologna airport on June 30, 2017. Last summer, the Pavia jury sentenced him to 24 years for complicity in the murders of Andrea Rocchelli and Andrei Mironov.
Markiv’s defense lawyers state that they have provided new evidence to the court of appeals, namely the conclusions of the journalistic investigation included in the documentary film The Wrong Place (Не в тому місці, не в той час) devoted entirely to exploring new and different angles the Rocchelli-Markiv case.
Several tests were conducted by a team of dedicated journalists from Italy and Ukraine – Cristiano Tinazzi, Olga Tokariuk, Danilo Elia and Ruben Lagattolla: one concerns a visual inspection from Mount Karachun (where the Ukrainian troops were deployed) to the site of the shooting/killing near a ceramic factory; the other is a forensic ballistics test to determine the range of fire from different weapons. Italian ballistics experts, who were called in to carry out the tests, confirmed that it was not possible for soldier Vitaliy Markiv, who was armed with a simple AK-74 rifle on Mount Karachun, to distinguish human figures near the ceramic factory, and subsequently fire and hit them at a distance of almost 1800 metres.
The defense lawyers are asking the court to include the tests used in the film, as well as certain scenes from the film, hear new witnesses who participated in the film (including various experts), and if necessary, hear the testimony of documentary filmmaker Cristiano Tinazzi.
The defense is again asking the court to investigate the scene of the tragic event near then-occupied Sloviansk. However, if the Milan Court of Appeals includes the film showing the detailed map of the area, such an investigation may not be necessary, Markiv’s defense lawyers say.
Additional evidence has also been provided by lawyers from Ukraine. Their material is based on the results of the investigation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In particular, they point to the importance of sound tests, which show that the shelling was launched by the Russian-backed militants, and not by the Ukrainian soldiers deployed on Mount Karachun, as claimed by the Pavia judges.
Conclusions reached in the official investigation conducted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs:
- Markiv could not have shot and killed the journalists, as he was armed with a light assault rifle. The autopsies carried out on the bodies of the journalists showed that they had died from injuries caused by mine fragments. The Ukrainian unit stationed on Mount Karachun (near Sloviansk) at that time, did not have such weapons.
- The distance between Markiv’s position and the place of the killing is exactly 1.76 km. According to the results of the tests, it was impossible for Vitaliy to hit the journalists with the weapon that he was using.
- It was impossible for Markiv to see Rocchelli and Mironov’s exact location from his position on Mount Karachun.
- According to eyewitnesses, the shelling was launched not from Mount Karachun, but from the positions of the Russian mercenaries, that is from a distance of 140-150 metres. This is evidenced by the results of investigative tests conducted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The defense team hopes that the new evidence will help the Milan Court of Appeals to acquit Vitaliy Markiv. It is for the judge to decide whether this new evidence will be allowed in the Milan hearing.
According to court procedure, five court hearings will be scheduled at the Milan Court of Appeals. The first, on September 29, will include some organizational issues, a report by a court official on the general state of affairs of the Rocchelli-Markiv case, and a report by the Prosecutor General. During the second hearing, on October 1, the victims and civil plaintiffs will give their testimonies. Subsequently, a day will be set for the defense. The final hearings will focus on hearing new witnesses, if any, arguments presented by the parties and the announcement of the verdict.