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Due to pandemic, first appellate court hearing of Markiv case closed to public and most journalists

Due to pandemic, first appellate court hearing of Markiv case closed to public and most journalists
The first hearing in the case of Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv took place behind closed doors at the Milan Court of Appeals on Tuesday, September 30.

The court decided to hold the hearings behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. A limited number of media outlets were allowed into the building, but videos and photography were prohibited. Only the Italian channel RAI3 was allowed to record and share their videos with other their colleagues. Radio Radicale was allowed to record and distribute audio tapes. In addition to family and relatives, the appellate court hearing was attended by family and relatives, Yevhen Shkvyra, chief representative of the Consulate General of Ukraine in Milan, and Anna Pietukhova, independent observer from the International Centre for Human Rights in Strasbourg, who is charged with analyzing the court process together with Ukrainian and Russian human rights activists.

On July 12, 2019, Vitaliy Markiv was found guilty of complicity in the killing of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and Russian interpreter and human rights activist Andrei Mironov, and sentenced to 24 years by the Pavia court of first instance.

During the hearing, Markiv’s defence team presented three requests to the court: an investigation at the scene of the killing near Sloviansk, ballistic and sound tests, presentation of the Ukrainian-Italian documentary The Wrong Place as admissible evidence, and acceptance of conclusions by Italian experts and testimonies by new witnesses.

Markiv’s defence lawyers are also requesting the court to hear 20 new witnesses identified by the Ukrainian side during a recent investigation. Lawyer Donatella Rapetti added that the prosecution was “manipulating” the fact that Markiv had Italian citizenship, which allegedly justifies his presence in the Italian court… as he was the only “Italian citizen” on Mount Karachun among the hundred or so Ukrainian soldiers of the National Guard and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The prosecution, on the other hand, replied that the film is not admissible as evidence, that it is nothing more than a subjective evaluation of the tragic events. The lawyers added that it is impossible to conduct new tests and investigations at the scene of the killing as the landscape and surroundings in that area have changed in six years. The prosecution also confirmed its preceding statements.

Paolo Pieragostini, lawyer for the civil plaintiffs of the CesuraLab Journalist Association, explained to reporters:

“In fact, a documentary is not a valid document, so it cannot be admitted as evidence at this stage. This film is a technical assessment with explicit elements that are evaluated by the film crew, so it cannot be taken into account. The court has enough evidence. Nor is it indispensable to hear new witnesses, as we heard testimonies from enough eyewitnesses and experts during the trial. Furthermore, it’s not necessary to travel to Ukraine for yet another investigation, as we have videos and photos that allow us to recreate the course of events on that tragic day.”

In the next hearing on October 1, the court must decide whether to admit this additional evidence to the appeal and whether to conduct tests and investigations in Ukraine. Further hearings will depend on this decision.

On the morning of the hearing, Ukrainian and Italian activists rallied in support of Vitaliy Markiv. Italian politicians from the Radical Party, which has consistently demanded a fair trial, joined the activists before the Milan Court of Appeals.

The Markiv Case

  • Deputy platoon commander of the Ukrainian National Guard’s First Battalion, senior sergeant Vitaliy Markiv was arrested in Italy on June 30, 2017, and charged with complicity in the killing of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter and human rights activist Andrei Mironov during a mortar attack at Mount Karachun near then-occupied Sloviansk, Donetsk Oblast on May 24, 2014.
  • According to the Ukrainian investigation team, the two journalists were killed during heavy shelling by Russian mercenaries.
  • Ukrainian National Guard officials pointed out that in 2014 the Ukrainian battalion deployed on Mount Karachun was not armed with mortar systems.
  • On July 12, 2019, the Pavia court sentenced Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv to 24 years in prison. He must also pay compensation to Rocchelli’s family.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s Office to immediately address the issue of Markiv’s imprisonment and his return to Ukraine.
  • Markiv’s lawyers immediately filed an appeal against the verdict pronounced by the Pavia court. On November 20, 2019, defense attorneys representing the interests of Ukraine and authorized by the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine also filed a statement of appeal against the decision of the Pavia court.
  • The appeal hearing was scheduled in the Milan Court of Appeals in the spring of 2020.
  • On March 10, 2020, due to the spread of COVID-19, the Court of Appeals in Milan postponed the hearing of the case.
  • The Milan Court of Appeals began reviewing the case against Ukrainian soldier Vitaliy Markiv on September 29, 2020.
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