Vitaliy Markiv, is the truth for Andrea Rocchelli closer?

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The arrest of the Ukrainian suspected for the murder of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and Russian journalist Andrey Mironov in Ukraine in 2014 triggered opposing reactions. Once again, fruit of the cheer on one side and the other. But we must not lose sight of the most important thing: truth for Andy and Andrey.

The Pavia prosecutor’s inquiry is largely basedon a sentence collected by a Corriere della Sera contributor, Ilaria Morani, pronounced by the man who in those days was in charge of the Ukrainian position on the Karachun hill, south of Slavyansk. A very heavy phrase, which is in fact a confession: “Normally we do not shoot in the direction of the city and the civilians, but as soon as we see a movement, we load heavy artillery. So it happened with the car of the two journalists and the interpreter”.

Such blatant admission of guilt that I myself, the last time I wrote about Andrea Rocchelli, in October 2016, was amazed that it remained only on paper, that Morani had not been heard by the prosecutor of Pavia and that, indeed, that article was neglected. I told to Ilaria: you should get in touch with Andy’s parents.

And on that occasion she added a detail to the story: when she phoned the military – a contact she often used in those days – “His voice was strange, broken, unlike other times. He broke the communication over and over again, it seemed as he had realized that something serious had happened“.

The prosecutor inquired Morani a few weeks later. She opposed the professional secrecy, but this didn’t prevent the investigators from identifying Vitaliy Markiv as that captain.

Did he lie? Did he exaggerated to boast of his role? Did the journalist misunderstood his words? All good questions that justify the investigation and the process.

The responsibilities of paramilitaries

Markiv was then a member of the Kulchyntsky battalion, consisting of Maidan volunteers. It was May 2014, a phase of the conflict in Donbass when much of the Ukrainian troops were formed by paramilitaries, without discipline, without military training, without a hierarchy of command. In that phaseKiev hadactually a limited control over the thousands of armed men in the ATO (Anti Terror Operation) area.

To have an idea, those are the weeks when Aidar battalion, according to Amnesty International, repeatedly committed human rights violations in the Luhansk region; the Tornado Battalion stained with civilian crimes such as rape, torture and kidnapping (and its members, former convict, were sentenced by Kiev military court); and the Azov battalionwelcomed far right foreign fighters, also from Italy.

Of course, the majority of the thousands of volunteers who risked and gave life to their country were animated by the noblest intentions and acted correctly. However, this shouldn’t prevent the judiciary from investigating a specific episode.

It is clear that it is necessary to shed light on the deaths of two civilians in that context.

The fact that today Markiv is a National Guard officer because, as with other battalions, his has been incorporated in the ranks of the Defense Ministry, must not have any influence on the events that occurred in 2014.

The testimonies collected by Rocchelli

Because, let’s remember it, two civilians were killed. They were in a combat zone, that’s true. But by a number of reconstructions it seems that wasn’t any battle in progress. It seems that the group was the target of artillery.

We have the testimony of a soldier who in the hours immediately after the death of Rocchelli and Mironov admits that his position shoots on civilians. Not “normally”, but it does.

And we have testimonies of Slovyansk civilians, collected in those days by Rocchelli, according to which the Ukrainian forces fired on the city, at that time under control of pro-Russia militiamen, from the antenna’s hill.

Rocchelli, in fact, interviewed the subjects of his photos. In one of the recordings, returned to the family after his death, it can be clearly heard Mironov asking some Slovyansk residents who had taken shelter in the basement of their building, what hours of the day the artillery thundered “from the antenna where they shoot”, pointing out that “the hill from where they shoot from can be seen from the window”.

Moreover, Markiv himself had told the Corriere della Sera that “We’re not playing a game here, nobody should get close to our position: this is a strategic place for us. From herewe fire more than a mile away. There is no clear frontline here”.

It is right to investigate. It is necessary to shed light on the conduct of what was then a paramilitary troop out of control of the regular chain of command. If the investigation reveals that the death of Rocchelli and Mironov was a tragic collateral damageof a conflict, his parents and we all will have the truth. But if somebody’s criminal responsibility comes out of the investigation, they must paypay.

Concordant versions

Sadly, the only eye-witness of the incident, French William Roguelon, did not help much.

He reported they were out of the car taking pictures around there when a first mortar hit. At that point, all three had taken shelter between the trees on the side of the road, Roguelon on the one side, Rocchelli and Mironov, on the other, while the driver jumped into the car. From his trench he couldn’t see the others. From the hill artillery started to adjust the fire. They shot dozens of mortar shots for at least half an hour. As long as one hit Rocchelli and Mironov.

Olya Morvan, a Ukrainian photographer, told me that when Roguelon arrived at the hospital in Slovyansk, he called her asking to send an ambulance to take Rocchelli. Morvan was probably the first person with whom Roguelon spoke. The French, however, did not know where exactly the tragedy had happened. He said the driver was injured, that Mironov was probably dead and that Rocchelli was seriously injured but perhaps still alive. For the rest, he could not see much, since he had fled almost immediately. He knew Rocchelli just as Andy, ignoring his last name.

His version, however, is compatible with Markiv’s testimony.

No exploitation, just truth

The news that there is an investigation is to be welcomed. Of course, no one should be happy for Markiv’s arrest. He’s currently only defendant, but the pretrial arrest of a foreign citizen suspected of murder, in Italy for a few days, is an obvious measure to prevent him from escaping.

Unfortunately, it has to be said that Italian mainstream media have once again not proved a great deal of deontology. Calling Markiv a “killer” is an abuse worthy of defamation. Fortunately, not all journalists are the same. Moreover, this must not distract us from the facts.

Rocchelli’s family chose press blackout, at least until Markiv’s position is clarified. Their lawyer, contacted on the phone, confirmed it, adding she had received a large amount of insistent interview requests from many Russian journalists. It is a clear sign that the issue is likely to be exploited by theKremlin’s media to put Kiev in bad light.

The reaction of Kremlin fans, who cry to the “Nazi assassins from Kiev’s junta”, are – unfortunately – the usual cacophony of Moscow’s propaganda. Just as the reaction of the Ukrainians Markiv’s arrest is just the a priori acquittal, result of a biased narrative that continues to explain the war in Donbass with the fairy tale of the good and the bad ones.

And the words of Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Minister, who insinuated without any evidence that the Italian prosecutorwas informed by the Russian secret services, are unworthy of a man of government.

Rocchelli’s death does not have to be an occasion for exploitation by various pro-someone or anti-someone-else.

The prejudice must remain out of this story, which deserves only truth and facts.


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