The Rocchelli Trial: Ukrainian Minister defends Markiv

“He’s a war hero, he didn’t do it,” said the defence council Della Valle protesting against the prosecutor. The audience applauds. The president clears the room.

This account by Giacomo Bertoni was produced by Ossigeno per l’informazione in collaboration with La Provincia Pavese, the National Union of Italian Reporters and the Order of Journalists of Lombardy to supplement the media reports with an objective, timely and exhaustive account of the progress of the trial underway in the Court of Pavia where the alleged perpetrator of the killing of the Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and the Russian journalist Andrey Mironov is on trial. This text has been published on the oxygen.info website and has been sent to the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media in Vienna who is following the story closely.

Read the previous articles here

The courtroom was emptied for several minutes due to the applause of the Ukrainian community and Ukrainian interior minister in the front row following the trial. It was an unusual session on Friday 17th May 2019. Firstly for its location: the hearing was not held in the courtroom of the Assizes Court of the Pavia Tribunal, but in the Sala dell’Annunciata, a large municipal hall with 160 seats in the very central Piazza Petrarca, the market square. The decision had been taken by the president of the court, Annamaria Gatto, to ensure the proper conduct of a hearing in which the highest echelons of the Ukrainian National Guard would be heard. Vitaly Markiv the Italo-Ukranian who is the sole person charged with the murder of the photojournalist Andy Rocchelli is a member of this National Guard.

Significant security measures were taken with the two entrances to the hall controlled by police officers and the local police. In the front row was Arsen Avakov, the Interior Minister of Ukraine with his protection officer.

Avakov answered some questions from Italian journalists. “I trust Italian justice. Today” – he said – “I am here to express my closeness to one of our soldiers, to a war hero. Markiv’s military commitment was also recognized with an award given to him by our President of the Republic. He cannot become a scapegoat in this affair”. According to the minister, there is no doubt about Markiv’s innocence. “From the hill on which he stood to defend the tower with television antennas, our soldier could not have hit Rocchelli. He also did not have a weapon like the mortar with which the Italian photojournalist and the Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov were killed. In five years of conflict we have already lost 15,000 men and this very morning, at 8 o’clock, we heard news of another casualty”.

This version, according to which Markiv could not hit those targets due to sighting difficulties and because he had no heavy weapons, was confirmed by Mykola Balan, commander of the Ukrainian National Guard, and by the three soldiers who were on the hill together with Markiv in May 2014.

“We had light weapons, like guns and rifles – the captain explained -, and a rocket launcher. Only between the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 were we able to equip ourselves with heavy artillery. We were under constant attack. Our task was to defend the television tower on the hill. On May 29th 2014 a helicopter was shot down with 12 men on board, including our general”.

Markiv’s fellow soldiers also said they had never had heavy artillery available. “The pro-Russians were equipped with mortars – they explained -, we suffered several mortar attacks while we were in our positions, and the television tower itself was destroyed in an attack”.

The soldiers faced the Court, turning their backs to the public so as not to be filmed by the cameras. One of them added: “The Zeus factory was at least 3 kilometres from our location. It was impossible to recognize and identify men’s uniforms at that distance or the type of car in transit. The view was insufficient.”

During cross-examination by the prosecutor Andrea Zanoncelli, the defence lawyer Raffaele Della Valle was upset by some of the questions put to the witness. The lawyer accused the prosecutor of “having established guilt before the trial ended”, and called the way the trial was proceeding, “a disgrace”.

These remarks were greeted by a strong applause from the Ukrainian community present and the president of the Court, Annamaria Gatto, instructed that the Annunciata hall be cleared for a few minutes. The trial will resume on Friday 24th May.

Giacomo Bertoni (wt)

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