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Italian podcast & report on Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv ignore basic facts & evidence

Italian podcast & report on Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv ignore basic facts & evidence
May 24 marks the tragic sixth anniversary of the death of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov near then-occupied Sloviansk in Eastern Ukraine. On July 12, 2019, the court in Pavia, Italy sentenced Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv to 24 years in prison for alleged complicity in the killing of Italian photo reporter Andrea Rocchelli in the Donbas on May 24, 2014.

In November 2019, Markiv’s defense team challenged the verdict and filed an appeal with the Milan Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, due to the spread of COVID-19 in northern Italy and the introduction of emergency measures, the Italian government decided to suspend all judicial activity until further notice.

On May 15, 2020, one of the most popular publications in Italy Il Venerdi di Repubblica published an article and podcast by journalist Mario Calabresi about the life and death of Andy Rocchelli, directly underlining Vitaliy Markiv’s alleged participation in this tragic incident.

Cover of Il Venerdi di Repubblica

In his article – Vita et Morte di un Fotografo (see p.19-23) and podcast – La Volpe Scapigliata Andy Rocchelli , Calabresi repeats  several worn-out clichés about Ukraine: the “civil war”, the “paramilitary groups” of the National Guard of Ukraine, Ukraine’s “revolt against Moscow” (referring to the Maidan uprising, where, in fact, Ukrainians rose against Yanukovych and his corrupt government), members of the “National Socialist Party in Ukraine”, the “ultranationalists”(podcast interview with Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti), or the “Ukrainian fascists in embroidered shirts” who came to support Markiv during the trial in Pavia (referring to the numerous Ukrainian and Italian supporters who attended the trial or acted as witnesses). Olha Tokariuk, head of the Foreign Desk at Hromadske. ua, points to a new element that Calabresi has introduced in the Markiv/Rocchelli narrative.

“When I read the article, the first thing that struck me was that the author [Mario Calabresi] had recreated Andy Rocchelli’s entire life story, and had also interviewed his parents, girl-friend and the lawyers who sided with the family in court. Of course, that’s very touching; it’s a deeply emotional story fostering strong feelings of empathy… and that’s fine, I think. On the other hand, the Italian journalist completely ignored the Ukrainian side, and only casually mentioned the defense lawyer’s arguments in court.

In the interests of honest journalism, my question is quite straightforward. Why didn’t Calabresi speak directly with Markiv’s family in Italy, with his lawyers and with representatives of the Ukrainian community in Italy? In fact, Calabresi’s empathy and compassion are aimed at one single audience – his Italian readers. As to Ukraine, Ukrainians and Vitaliy Markiv, they are all foreign elements, so it’s not even worth listening to them!”

Eleonora Mongelli of the Italian Federation for Human Rights writes that it is indeed important to remind the public of these tragic deaths and the impending trial, but basic facts and evidence should also be reported, and the truth should be respected. On May 15, she addressed an open letter to Aligi Pontani, Director of Il Venerdi di Repubblica, pointing to several errors committed by the Italian journalist in his controversial article.

“It is extremely alarming to see such errors repeated in an important national magazine, which boasts thousands of readers. More specifically, leaving aside the tendentious affirmations about Vitaliy Markiv, according to our Constitution, every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but this article reads as if “justice” has already been served in this case. In fact, the report contains numerous errors about the actual role of the accused and the historical-political context [Euromaidan in Ukraine, Russian-Ukrainian war], during which these tragic events took place.”

In his podcast – La Volpe Scapigliata Andy Rocchelli, Marco Calabresi reports that Markiv was “sacrificed” by Ukraine, as no real investigation was carried out by Ukrainian investigators, and no other Ukrainian soldiers, who were stationed on Mount Karachun near Russian-occupied Sloviansk at that time and allegedly ordered Markiv to kill the Italian journalist, were put under arrest. Calabresi hints that Markiv knew these men, but did not name them in court, which could have got him a lighter sentence. He argues that Markiv is simply a “scapegoat”, and accuses Ukraine of failing to properly investigate the case and protect its citizen.

According to Calabresi and the prosecution, the turning point came when Ukrainian soldiers and witnesses testified in Markiv’s favour. The witnesses allegedly contradicted each other, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s statements that Markiv was a hero for Ukrainians did not play in Markiv’s favour, and was categorically rejected by the Italians.

Calabresi reminds listeners that the Italian judiciary is seeking to bring to justice other Ukrainian servicemen who were deployed on Mount Karachun in May 2014. The first in their line of fire is Bohdan Matkivsky, platoon commander of the First Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine, who testified in the Italian court and was escorted out of Italy by Ukrainian diplomats after Markiv was sentenced. In fact, it seems that Italy intends to put on trial all the Ukrainian servicemen who were stationed on Mount Karachun at that time.

To everyone’s surprise, Calabresi makes another outrageous assertion, namely drawing parallels between Syria and Ukraine and talking about young people who “are radicalized online”, thus putting Vitaliy Markiv in the same league as foreign militants fighting for ISIS.

On May 14, another Italian newspaper – Articolo21 – announced the publication of Calabresi’s podcast, calling the Donbas war a “fight between Ukrainian nationalists and pro-Russian separatists”.  They also refer to Vitaliy Markiv as “an Italian-Ukrainian mercenary”.

Italian journalist and filmmaker Cristiano Tinazzi, together with colleagues Olha Tokariuk, Danilo Elia and Ruben Lagattolla, are currently working on a documentary about Vitaliy Markiv – The Wrong Place. They have published a video message in response to Calabresi’s article and podcast.

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