Arrest of Ukrainian National Guard Soldier in Italy – Details of the Case of Andrea Rocchelli’s Murder

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Vitaly Markiv is suspected of participating in the death of the Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli in Donbass in 2014.

On June 30th at the airport of Bologna fifteen carabineers detained the native of the Ternopol region, deputy commander of the National Guard of Ukraine Vitaly Markiv, who arrived in Italy. He is suspected of participating in the death of the press photographer Andrea Rocchelli during the conflict in Donbass.

Markiv was arrested for six days according to the judgment of the Pavia court. The Prosecutor General’s Office, pro-government politicians, and representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Italy expressed their indignation at the incident.

“Strana” understood why the murder of the journalist is incriminated to the Ukrainian volunteer.

Mortar attack near Slavyansk

The events that are charged to the volunteer occurred at about five o’clock in the evening on May 24th, 2014, in the village of Andreevka near Slavyansk. At that time these settlements were controlled by forces of a group of “separatists” led by Igor Strelkov (the so-called “Minister of Defence of the DPR”), who units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fought against. In the afternoon in the zone of the conflict relative calm was observed, and at night – heavy fighting was conducted.

The Italian press photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian translator, the human rights activist Andrey Mironov (according to some information he also had an Italian passport) arrived at the epicenter of the clashes.

One of the most known pictures taken by Rocchelli during fights for Slavyansk. Children in the basement escape the attack.

They became the first members of the media who were killed during fighting in Donbass.

According to the announced version of events, Rocchelli and Mironov were killed after falling under a mortar attack.

In the Russian media at that time it was claimed that he was shelled by Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian sources blamed the attack on the “separatists”. Initially it was even declared that on May 24th near Andreevka the anti-terrorist operation forces didn’t open fire at all.

The government in Kiev continues to adhere to a similar point of view today. Separately emphasizing – the units of the anti-terrorist operation that worked in that area were not armed with mortars.

What colleagues of the dead and witnesses said three years ago

This version of events was called into question by the head of the Human rights Center “Memorial” Aleksandr Cherkasov three years ago. In comments to journalists, he said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces used mortars when they shelled the defences of “separatists” near Slavyansk.

“They shelled using 122 mm mortars — this is determined by the shrapnel,” said the human rights activist. According to him, Mironov and Rocchelli were killed near those places where objects of civil infrastructure seriously suffered from massive fire the day before (six houses were destroyed, shells landed on the building of the psychiatric hospital).

Cherkasov assumed that the mortar attack by the Ukrainian military could be conducted from concealed positions, and they could begin an attack without understanding who they were shooting at. “The car approached and mortars re-opened fire on this area from mortars,” he told journalists from “Radio Svoboda”.

From the living eyewitnesses of the event comments only came from a French journalist from the Wostok Press agency William Roguelon and a taxi driver, who were together with the Italian group. The latter also took out the wounded Roguelon from the battlefield. The shocked Frenchman said at the time that he isn’t sure what happened to the Italian and his translator.

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According to him, in their direction about 40 to 60 shells were fired, one of shells exploded directly in a ditch. He saw his colleagues lying on the ground. Directly under fire, Roguelon ran out to the representatives of “separatists” who appeared on the horizon after the beginning of the attack, who referred them to the hospital.

The circumstances of the deaths of Mironov and Rocchelli are also known according to the taxi driver. “They left the car and took cameras. Here automatic gunfire began and I immediately moved down into a ravine, and it stopped. They too hid in a ravine. A mortar attack began. When it ended, the translator was already dead, and the Italian crawled to me and only then died,” said the driver.

The family of the Italian correspondent accuses the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine of sabotage

An investigation into the death of the journalist was held by both Ukrainian and Italian law enforcement bodies. It’s details are known from devoted material in the La Repubblica newspaper on the third anniversary of Rocchelli’s death. The article contains many reproaches towards the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and a hint at the deliberate obstruction of an objective investigation.

“The Ukrainian authorities upon the termination of a long, but useless investigation spoke about the ‘side effect’ of war — in a word, about the accident, without disclosing any names and causes of the incident. Now… the investigation was resumed,” claim the authors of the material.

The Italian journalists claim that Rocchelli was killed after he took a number of photos of a train sat on tracks seized by the Ukrainian military. Allegedly the National Guardsmen didn’t like his presence, and they opened chaotic fire in response. Photos were found later on the camera of the killed Italian.

Rocchelli and Mironov were deliberately killed

The French journalist Roguelon, speaking about the events preceding the mortar attack, spoke about one interesting detail today. There is one more eyewitness of the death of the correspondent – a certain man who was also interested in the train sat on the tracks. According to one version of events, it could be somehow connected with forces of “separatists”.

“Rocchelli told me that the train was necessary to impede the entrance of tanks. Then we saw on the street a man in plain clothes, who told us to leave because there is military personnel here. Mironov answered: ‘okay’, and we in single file went back to the car,” remembers the Frenchman. According to him, after their withdrawal from positions of the Ukrainian military, fire was opened at them from behind. And then they deliberately tried to destroy them. His verbatim words specify that the shelling could have been conducted by Ukrainian regular units.

“We jumped into a deep ditch, with us there was that person in plain clothes who warned us about the presence of military personnel. From there we again tried to reach the car. Having reached the place where it stood, we waited 2-3 minutes until the soldiers ceased to shoot. At that moment shots from a mortar began. One shell landed on the car, and we understood that they aimed at it,” said Roguelon.

According to him, one shot demolished a tree, another shell fell near them. The next blow from the shell that landed between the taxi driver, Rocchelli, and Mironov proved to be fatal to the journalists.

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The destiny of the mysterious person in plain clothes today remains unclear. According to some information, he was also killed.

Versions of the circumstances of the journalist’s death

According to the official statements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the journalists were shelled by Strelkov’s men, and not by units of the National Guard.

According to the deputy head of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine Evgeny Enin, Ukrainian intelligence points to Rocchelli and Mironov being killed by shelling from the “pro-Russian armed groups”.

“In this investigation the State Office of the Public Prosecutor actively cooperates with Italian colleagues, and reports the results of the interrogations of witnesses and the results of examinations… At the same time, the investigation didn’t manage to establish any particular person from this or that party who could cause injuries incompatible with life,” he stated.

I.e., the government in Kiev claims that the Italian press photographer was killed during the fighting that started on May 24th between “separatists” and the Ukrainian army. This is also stated in one of the answers that came to Italy from Ukraine and concerns the autopsy of the journalist.

These results didn’t suit the victims.

Roguelon’s testimony and the persistence of the family of the killed Rocchelli led to the fact that the law enforcement bodies of Milan begun a re-investigation to establish all the circumstances of the death of the journalist near Slavyansk. The lawyer of the journalist Alessandro Ballerini is sure that the Italian investigation was deliberately misled by their Ukrainian colleagues for three years.

Also a third version of events that led to the death of the journalists is put forward. According to it, the Ukrainian Armed Forces forged a number of pieces of evidence in the case and forced one of the witnesses to change their testimony.

“Ukraine sent us useless testimonies, the taxi driver lies, contradicts himself. Now we prepare a new demand about carrying out a re-investigation to study the listings of some phone calls, carry out new ballistic expertize, and to receive testimonies of other witnesses,” writes the La Repubblica newspaper quoting Ballerini.

The lawyer qualifies the death of the Italian journalist as “deliberate murder” by the Ukrainian military personnel. A week ago the lawyer reported that the investigators of Milan made considerable progress in establishing all the circumstances of Rocchelli’s death.

How an “Italian” appeared in the case

The lawyer didn’t name to journalists the names of potential suspects. Nevertheless, it is known – since last year in the focus of the attention of the Italian law enforcement bodies there is Vitaly Markiv.

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In December, 2016, the warrant for his arrest was issued. Markiv himself arrived in the Apennines in the last day of June and wanted to visit his mother.

Vitaly Markiv

Together with her and his sister the young man already in 2003 moved to Europe for permanent residence. Here he graduated from a technical college, and in parallel – received an Italian passport. Markiv worked as a DJ and a bodybuilding coach in his new Motherland.

In December, 2013, he supported Euromaidan and on this wave he decided to return to Ukraine in the middle of the standoff in Kiev. Subsequently, Markiv registered as a volunteer in a National Guard battalion that now bears the name of the General Kulchitsky.

Markiv on the air on the Espreso TV channel

Since May 2nd, 2014, as a part of a group of military personnel, Vitaly for 43 days was at positions on the mountain Karachun near Slavyansk.

He carried the call sign “Italian”, and on a social network he used the nickname Marcus.

A photo of Vitaly Markiv taken by him in the anti-terrorist operation zone.

According to the official statement of National Guard, at the moment Markiv in the rank of staff sergeant continues service in the ranks of Kulchitsky’s battalion at the post of a deputy squad commander. He went to his relatives in Italy, having gone on holiday.

The “hand of the Kremlin” was searched for in the scandal, while dual citizenship was found

His arrest was criticised by the public authorities in Ukraine. The deputy Public Prosecutor Enin demanded from the Italian side to provide proof of Markiv’s guilt, or to immediately release him.

The parliamentarian, close to the Interior Minister, from “People’s Front” Anton Gerashchenko called the arrest Markiv “illegal”. And, as per traditional for himself, he saw the “hand of the Kremlin” in the incident.

“All of this story resembles more another Russian provocation. The special services of the Russian Federation transferred to Italy some far-fetched documents on the basis of which the Italians opened a criminal case. The charges against Markiv are absolute absurdity,” he stated on the air of “112 Ukraine”.

Currently Markiv continues to be under arrest, the Ukrainian consul was refused from visiting him. Local law enforcement bodies consider him as a citizen of Italy, which considerably burdens his fate in the event of confirmation of his guilt. Because in such case it is unlikely that they will agree to give him to Ukraine. Especially taking into account the numerous claims to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine regarding the sabotage of the investigation into the death of Rocchelli.

The defenders of “Italian” confirm that Markiv has dual citizenship. They say that he restored his Ukrainian passport after the Euromaidan victory, when he became acquainted with a girl and subsequently married her. At the same time, he didn’t refuse Italian citizenship.

At the moment it isn’t known what role is assigned to Markiv by the Italian law enforcement bodies in the events on May 24th, 2014, near Slavyansk. He already refused the free lawyer appointed to him by the authorities of Italy, and expects help from Ukraine.

It is obvious that after coordination of positions with the lawyer sent for him, he also will voice his version of events of the incident. Possibly, we will also hear a more detailed statement of the version of events of the Italian law enforcement authorities.

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