On November 3, 2020, the Milan Court of Appeals acquitted Ukraine’s National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv, who had been sentenced by the Pavia court to 24 years in prison for alleged involvement in the deaths of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his interpreter, Russian Andrei Mironov, in May 2014. The Milan Court of Appeals announced its judgment at about 20:00 local time. Markiv heard the court's judgment in prison. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was not taken to the court hearing for the first time in years of litigation but attended the hearing via video conference. Ukrainian serviceman Vitaliy Markiv stayed behind the bars in Italy for three years, four months, and two days.
His case began in 2017 when Vitaliy and his wife flew to Italy to visit his mother. Vitaliy Markiv was detained at the Bologna airport by Italian law enforcement officers. The Ukrainian serviceman is fluent in Italian as he lived in Italy for almost ten years. When the Maidan protests in Ukraine started, Markiv made a decision that he should be in Ukraine. And when the war came to Ukraine, he did not hesitate to go to defend his native land. Vitaliy told about the ordeal of recent years in an interview with an Ukrinform correspondent on the night he was released from prison.
ROAD TO FREEDOM
- Vitaliy, first of all, accept my congratulations! Thank you for agreeing to talk in the middle of the night. How do you feel? What were your first emotions when you realized that you are already a free person?
- In the first instance, I did not believe it. I was preparing for the worst. I was preparing for the worst but never gave up hope for the best. You know, now I realize that I'm really a free person but when I heard the phrase "not guilty", I couldn't believe it ... There, in prison, I didn't expect it, but it was an extremely big surprise. For me, this is one of my most important battles and my ultimate victory as for a person and a man.
- How were you seen off and met? How did you feel when you walked unaccompanied along that road near the prison to your relatives who came to pick you up late in the evening immediately after the court decision?
- You know, every time I left that prison to attend court hearings, I was taken in a special car with very limited visibility because I was almost in a cage. It is impossible to see anything but I still saw the road, which I believed I would walk along sooner or later. And when my main wishes came true at last, when I was already walking with my bags, when the convicts from my section started knocking on the doors, observing a tradition when a person is released, I was overwhelmed by an ocean of emotions I cannot even describe. I finally hugged my mother… I saw Arsen Borysovych [Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov attended the court hearing], consul, Ukrainian ambassador, and journalists. And I thought: finally this dream is becoming a reality.
- You haven't seen your wife for three years. You forbade her to visit you in prison. How do you prepare for a meeting? Your mother told me that you had already asked to cook your favourite treats.
- It was a pure issue of principle. I did not forbid her, we agreed that she would not visit me. She was ready to get on a plane at the first call and fly to Italy, but she and I agreed that she would wait for me in Kyiv.
Why? Because I remember how she endured all that, my arrest. I saw her state when I was handcuffed, I saw that she experienced emotions that could not be described in words. I understood what my mother and my sister had to go through - all those checks - to see each other. In my opinion, it was very shameful. And I didn't want her, being so vulnerable, to go through that as well. If it were up to me, others would not visit me either because of all those searches, checks, requests to hand over the parcel, extra grams, kilograms.
Therefore, a meeting with my wife… I still have no idea how it will happen.
Moreover, my dog, a Yorkshire Terrier, is waiting for me. I don't know how she will react to me. I remember how she was waiting for me when I returned from the anti-terrorist operation [in Donbas], from the service, so I don't know how it will happen, I will act according to the situation.
You know, I love my mother and I adore my mother-in-law. I asked my dear mother-in-law to cook my favorite liver pie. My mother-in-law cooks exceptional pie. This is such a festive dish because I lead a healthy, sporty lifestyle.
- Absolutely all restrictions and charges against you have been dropped. You are a free person, you return to Ukraine. Do you plan to go to Italy again someday? Do you still have a desire after what happened to you?
- We should not judge the whole country, all people because of the actions of certain individuals. That would be unfair. Even though I was convicted on behalf of the Italian people, I won’t be in this game. So, first of all, I want this to end completely and definitively, I will talk to my lawyers, and then we will act. I have a mother, a sister, a stepfather in Italy.
THANKS TO GREAT SUPPORT
- You were deprived of three years of life. You spent them behind bars. Now that you have been acquitted, will you apply to court? What will be your next steps?
- Of course, the perpetrators must be brought to justice. I strongly believe that people, who knew I was not guilty, just kept silence. Therefore, I will consult my lawyers first, and then we will continue to act according to circumstances. They tried to disgrace me not only as a person but as a soldier as well. I was presented as a person who does not respect anything, does not respect human laws, military doctrine, as if I was a person of lawlessness. Instead, I showed with my endurance, my upbringing, and my discipline what I am worth and what ideals gave me the opportunity to withstand all these trials.
- What are your future plans after returning to Ukraine? Military career? Are you planning a baby?
- Of course, with regard to solving the demographic problem - we have already discussed it with my wife… This will be one of the first actions.
As for my future plans, I am a serviceman so I will continue my service, and then we will continue to act according to circumstances.
- Mr. Vitaliy, one last question and I let you go to your family. What helped you to endure your time in prison? Exercise, books? ..
- Endure? I endured that time thanks to the great support ... In particular, from the Ukrainian diaspora. Patriotic upbringing, Ukrainian writers… My military discipline, my enthusiasm for workout, because a healthy mind is in a healthy body. I had a lot of emotional support thanks to my family, the community in Italy, everyone who cared.
Iryna Drabok, The Hague
Photo credit: Yevhen Kotenko, Ukrinform