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Markiv case: Italian political party asks for European Commission observers at appeal hearings

Markiv case: Italian political party asks for European Commission observers at appeal hearings
Secretary of the Italian party Più Europa (+Europe), Benedetto Della Vedova, recently sent a letter about the Markiv case to the President of the newly created European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders. It concerns the trial of first instance in Pavia, Italy, which sentenced Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv (who also has Italian citizenship) to 24 years for alleged complicity in the killing of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov on May 24, 2014 near Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast.

The sentence was pronounced after a long trial, which Markiv’s lawyer, Raffaele Della Valle, who was also one of Enzo Tortora’s lawyer in the famous court case on organized crime in Naples in 1983, was shocked by the verdict, asserting that he had never seen or heard such things in 52 years of legal practice.

In his letter, Della Vedova recounts the contradictions and absurdities of the sentence and the trial, which failed to actually prove neither Markiv’s complicity nor the responsibility of the Ukrainian soldiers, and was pronounced without any crime scene investigation. Thus, in light of such weak evidence, the Secretary of +Europe, Benedetto Della Vedova, asks President von der Leyen and Commissioner Reinders to ensure the presence of observers from the European Commission in the upcoming court of appeals. The translation of the full text of his letter below:

Madame President Ursula von der Leyen,
Commissioner for Justice Didier Reinders,

We appeal to you, Madam President and Commissioner for Justice Reinders, regarding the surprising and unprecedented sentenced – to say the least – pronounced by the Pavia jury in the case against Vitaliy Markiv, a citizen of Ukraine and Italy.

Vitaliy Markov was sentenced by a court of first instance to 24 years for complicity in the alleged killing of photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his interpreter, political activist and Putin opponent, Andrei Mironov, and for injuries sustained by French journalist William Roguelon.

The atmosphere during the Pavia trial was seething with anti-Ukrainian sentiment; “logical” reconstructions were presented based on rumours and prejudice, and the investigators never considered it necessary to travel to the crime scene.

Vitaliy Markov was the perfect scapegoat. He is an immigrant. In fact, he was lucky to receive Italian citizenship because he grew up in our country with his family. The Italian media immediately branded him as a “Ukrainian Nazi” and a “banderite”, stereotypes of Ukrainian patriots that have been disseminated for decades by Soviet propaganda and are still perceived as such by some Italian leftists, as well as by populists from Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord and the Five Star Movements founded by Gianroberto Casaleggio and Beppe Grillo.

In 2014, Vitaliy Markov took an active part in the Revolution of Dignity (Euromaidan). Thanks to his knowledge of the Italian language and his availability, he became a valuable contact person for many Italian journalists, who were following this historic event. After the invasion of the Donbas by Russian troops and their local collaborators, Vitaliy joined the ranks of the National Guard of Ukraine and was deployed to a fixed defensive position on the front lines – a television antenna on Mount Karachun near the town of Sloviansk.

Among the more than 140 Ukrainian soldiers and National Guardsmen who were defending this position, Vitaliy was the only serviceman who had dual Italian-Ukrainian citizenship. A few years later, when he visited his mother, who lives in Italy, he was arrested and then tried in Pavia.

In the trial, the main piece of “evidence” is an interview published by Corriere della Sera on May 25, 2014, the day after Rocchelli and Mironov were killed. It is presented as a sort of confession, but, in fact, it relates Markiv’s conversation with two journalists who give different versions of this same conversation. In addition, one of the two journalists, who was a friend of Markiv’s, continued to talk and meet with Markiv after this double killing, and even asked Markiv to get him a bulletproof vest.

The fact that there were so many inconsistencies and absurdities during the trial and that the sentence was pronounced with no acknowledgment of mitigating circumstances are truly shocking, even as I present them in this brief summary.

Like his National Guard comrades-in-arms, Markiv carried an AK47, which has a maximum effective range of 400 metres, and can travel up to 800 metres. The Ukrainian soldiers were deployed at a distance of 1,700 metres from where Mironov and Rocchelli were killed.

It is almost impossible to distinguish a person from this distance, much less to identify him as a soldier or a civilian, and then proceed to kill him intentionally. And yet, this is precisely what the Pavia jury considers the motive to be for this killing.

The bullet holes on the vehicle used by the journalists show that the gunfire came from the bottom of the hill. The Ukrainian soldiers were stationed on top of the hill, where the television antenna stood, while the Russian-backed forces were stationed on a nearby plain below. Therefore, the Ukrainians could not have opened fire from the foot of the hill.

Investigators never investigated the complicity of the Russian and pro-Russian sides in this tragedy, although the area was under their control at that time.

The motivation statement also states that “the Ukrainians are responsible for further attacks carried out in a similar manner against other journalists”, referring to an OSCE document that says the opposite, namely that these attacks on journalists were perpetrated by pro-Russian forces in the Donbas and Crimea.

During the trial, there was no clear evidence of Vitaliy Markiv’s guilt or the guilt of the Ukrainian military. In addition, the court did not attach any value to Andrei Mironov’s recorded statement just before he died, when he talks about a video recorded by photographer Roguelon, who survived the shooting, namely “about gunfight, crossfire, about someone who’s shooting nearby, about a mortar somewhere nearby”.

The court rejected a request by Markiv’s defense team to review the scene on Mount Karachun, because “too much time has passed, and because the conflict is still ongoing”. In fact, combat in and around Sloviansk ended more than five years ago and, in any case, the distance between the hill and the place of death has not changed, despite the passage of time.

The document presented by the prosecutor at the hearing on March 15, 2019, which turned out to be false, was not excluded from court material. This document is a photomontage published by the notorious Russian propaganda site “Русская Весна » (Russian Spring) in order to discredit Ukrainian witnesses.

A professional Ukrainian-Italian translator was not provided during the investigations and court hearings, which led to gross translation errors.

Last but not least, in defining the context of the Donbas conflict, the motivation statement speaks of “an ongoing civil war where Ukrainian rebels seized a neighbouring mountain” and that “the events happened on May 24, 2014 … after the declaration of Ukraine’s independence”, confusing the Maidan demonstrations with Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991.

These are just some of the inconsistencies that characterize this shocking trial. The hypotheses that Rocchelli and Mironov were in the centre of open hostilities between Ukrainian forces and separatist militants, and that pro-Russian separatists had opened fire on the journalists were never taken into account. During his closing statement, the prosecutor qualified their death as an “intentional killing” committed by a “Ukrainian perpetrator”.

As we do not believe that the atmosphere that so impacted the Pavia trial will change, we fear that the appeal trial will be a repetition of the Pavia scenario, that is, the court of appeal will uphold Vitaliy Markiv’s conviction rather than recognizing his innocence, his non-complicity in the killings, and rather than acknowledging that others were responsible for the deaths of Andrei Mironov and Andrea Rocchelli.

We believe that, at the risk of seeing a repeated injustice, top-level officials of the European Union should not remain indifferent. In view of these motives, we request that you, Madam President and you, Commissioner Reynders, take action to keep the appeal process under your control by ensuring the presence of European Commission observers at all the hearings.

In this occasion, we would like to extend our warmest greetings and sincerely hope that our request will receive favourable consideration.

Benedetto Della Vedova

(Secretary +Europe)

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