Analysis. The far-right nationalist Vitaly Markyv received a 24-year sentence for the murder of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian fixer, Andrey Mironov. Although Markyv is an Italian citizen, neo-fascist elements in Ukraine are protesting the trial.

‘Free Markyv’: Ukrainians furious after Italian fighter sentenced for journalist murder

The trial against Vitaly Markyv has ended with a sentence of 24 years in prison. The far-right nationalist of Ukrainian-Italian origin was accused by the Italian judiciary of being responsible for killing the Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his translator, human rights activist Andrey Mironov, at the apex of the war in the Donbass in May 2014. 

The court is making an example of Markyv, given that the prosecution had requested only 17 years in prison and the recognition of extenuating circumstances. According to human rights activist Oksana Chelisheva, a friend of Mironov who has been closely following the Italian trial, “Markyv was sentenced to a particularly severe sentence because of his ‘militant’ behavior during the hearings, the actions of intimidation by his nationalist friends against the jury and the inappropriate pressure by the Ukrainian government.”

Rocchelli had a burning passion to tell the story of what was happening at the moment through the medium of his talent and his camera. This is the reason he ventured into Ukraine to witness the tragedy of the war in the midst of Europe, and ended up paying the ultimate price. 

The investigation by the Ukrainian prosecution was a hasty one, and ended quickly without any results. The Italian investigation soon ran into difficulties as well, and it seemed that the killing of Rocchelli and Mironov could become yet another tragic story in which the perpetrators escaped unpunished. Back then, our newspaper was among the few to raise doubts about why no one was even able to identify which of the warring parties had killed Rocchelli and Mironov.

However, thanks to the extraordinary determination of Rocchelli’s parents, the investigation was reopened and ended up identifying and arresting Markyv in Bologna. Even then, there was no celebration, but a sober response from the parents of “Andy,” as Rocchelli’s friends used to call him: “For us it is still a difficult time.”

Now, they will have to have even more patience during the wait for the appeal, which the defense team has already announced they will file. The statements by the journalists’ associations which have joined the criminal trial as civil parties was along the same lines: “What we are doing is bringing our contribution to finding the truth about the death of those who lost their lives to guarantee the right, and the duty, to inform and to be informed.”

On the other hand, the reactions coming from Ukraine have been full of shock and outrage. The new president, Volodomyr Zelensky, has instructed the leadership of the Foreign Ministry and the office of the Prosecutor General to urgently “return home” Markyv, a member of the Ukrainian National Guard. “I am asking you to forget the political differences between the new government and the heads of these departments and make every effort to get the former combatant released,” said Zelensky. This is nothing more than an attempt to interfere in Italy’s affairs, since Markyv doesn’t only hold a Ukrainian passport, but is also an Italian citizen.

On Friday evening, neo-fascist organizations organized a rally with threatening undertones in front of the Italian Embassy in Kiev, with the slogan “Free Markyv now!” and they have promised to organize further protest actions in the coming days, both in Ukraine and in Italy. The leader of the neo-Nazi organization Pravy Sektor, Dmytro Jaroshov, a candidate for the Ukrainian Rada, went as far as to threaten that an Italian currently in Ukraine could be arrested and convicted on some trumped-up charges in order to set up a “prisoner exchange” with Markyv. This Mafia-style logic should be brought to the attention of our judiciary authorities, and to that of Interpol for the crime of incitement to terrorism.

For the Ukrainian nationalist and neo-fascist extremist movement, “the battle to free Markyv has just begun.” In an article published on Saturday by Ozrevatel, a newspaper with ties to the extremist groups, we read that “the Markyv case will go down in the history books as a new Dreyfus affair.” 

According to the Ukrainian newspaper, the judges of the Court of Pavia needed three months to issue the “absurd sentence” against Markyv because they were under pressure from the Italian government, which has pro-Russian sympathies (as the Savoini-Lega scandal supposedly demonstrates). According to the article, the Ukrainian community in Italy and the “anti-Russian” parties are all ready to support Markyv as a candidate in the upcoming Ukrainian elections.

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