The Milan Court of Appeals has fully acquitted Vitaliy Markiv, who spent three years and four months behind bars in Italy. In June 2017, Vitaliy Markiv was detained at Bologna airport by Italian police on charges of his involvement in the murder of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his interpreter, Andrei Mironov, who were killed near Sloviansk, Ukraine's Donetsk region, in May 2014. In July 2019, the Pavia court sentenced the Ukrainian to 24 years in prison without providing any evidence.
Markiv's defense team called such accusations and the verdict absurd. They filed an appeal and finally won the case.
IN ONLINE MODE
The fifth court hearing of the Milan Court of Appeals...
Vitaliy Markiv is not in the courtroom for the first time. It emerged later that he would not be present, but the hearing will take place. The National Guard serviceman was not taken to court due to coronavirus restrictions. However, he was able to follow the process online from prison. This is despite the expectation that on November 3, the appellate court may hold the last jury hearing before issuing a judgment.
Everyone admitted to the trial gathered in the courtroom. Among them are Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Liudmyla Denisova.
"We hope that this is the last court decision on Vitaliy Markiv, that he will be acquitted, and that this more than the three-year term of imprisonment will end. Ukraine will not leave its soldier. This is a lawsuit not only against the National Guard serviceman; this is a lawsuit against the whole of Ukraine," Avakov said.
Arsen Avakov, Vitaliy Markiv and Oksana Maksymchuk
For technical reasons, the start of the hearing was delayed, later communication was established, and Markiv appeared in court online. He is wearing an embroidered shirt. He is calm and confident. He courageously withstands all the dirt from the prosecution. Milan's deputy prosecutor general is trying to refute the arguments of the defense. According to her, the court did not intend to offend the state of Ukraine. Markiv's defense notes that it is unacceptable to call Ukraine's Anti-Terrorist Operation a "crime against humanity." In response, the prosecutor says that she meant shooting at civilians, rather than the Anti-Terrorist Operation. The defense says that Russian-backed forces used civilian buildings as their bases, which is why such buildings could come under fire.
Lawyer Niccolo Bertolini Clerici, who represents Ukraine in the Milan Court of Appeals, notes that the verdict of the Italian court actually makes the entire Ukrainian army "criminals against humanity."
Niccolo Bertolini Clerici
Vitaliy Markiv also speaks via video link. He emphasizes that civilians have never been the target of Ukrainian forces and reiterates that he is not involved in the journalist's death.
"Do not be afraid to seek the truth! I have always said that I am not guilty. I have said and will say that I am not guilty until I am acquitted," Markiv said.
Markiv's Italian lawyer emphasizes that the case materials confirm the innocence of the Ukrainian.
"They are absolutely in our favor. I was convinced of that in Pavia, and I am convinced of that now," defense lawyer Raffaele Della Valle said.
Raffaele Della Valle / Photo: Natalka Kudryk (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
According to him, even the key evidence of the prosecution turned out to be in favor of Markiv. It is a translation of records that allegedly testified to the confession. Interestingly, it was the prosecutor who requested an examination of the guardsman's conversation with his cellmate, though only in relation to words taken out of context. According to the published result, Markiv did not say: "We removed the reporter." Instead, he said: "In 2014, an Italian reporter was killed, and now they want to put the blame on me." Therefore, the prosecution tried to include in the case file the phrase "the journalist was killed" and interpret it as a confession to the murder.
After hearing all the parties, the court adjourned for several hours. The hearing resumed in five hours and the court acquitted Markiv.
LOSING THE BATTLE, BUT WINNING THE WAR
Vitaliy Markiv's mother says she hoped until the last minute that the court would acquit her son.
"Deep down I still believed that the truth should prevail, that there are judges who must understand and believe in the truth that we tried our best to convey, so that they could finally hear us. We have been trying to prove for three years that he is not guilty. They heard us. They found Vitaliy not guilty and dropped all charges," Vitaliy's mother, Oksana Maksymchuk, told Ukrinform.
Immediately after the court decision, she and a Ukrainian delegation went to prison to take her son home. After all, according to the court decision, the Ukrainian was acquitted as not having committed any crime and had to be released immediately.
"He spent three years and four months behind bars. He will not return three years of life. We passed this test. Vitaliy said that in Pavia we lost a small battle, but won the whole war," Maksymchuk said.
The first thing Vitaliy Markiv did when he was freed was to hug his mother. Wrapped in a Ukrainian flag, he felt victorious late in the evening near the prison.
"The truth wins. I am infinitely happy and grateful. I am now overwhelmed with emotions. I didn't expect it, but the main thing is belief," Vitaliy said after his release.
Avakov and Denisova also arrived at the prison to take Markiv home.
"Ukraine, Vitaliy Markiv has been acquitted! The Milan Court of Appeals announced an acquittal in the case of our hero, fully acquitting him," Denisova said.
She also added: "Vitaliy Markiv is returning home with us."
Marquiva's Italian lawyer Raffaele Della Valle also can't contain his emotions after winning the case at the appellate court.
"In Pavia, the trial was like in the dark, when you wake up at night and wander without light by touch. They immediately said there that he was guilty, without even trying to investigate the situation. The trial in Milan was as if you were walking in the dark with a candle in your hands, and the judges saw the light," the lawyer said, reacting poetically to the court's decision.
His colleague also stressed that he was proud of Italy and the judicial system that overturned the terrible ruling by the court of first instance.
"It was an honor to serve justice, and please allow me also to be proud of my country and our judicial system that had the courage to overturn the harsh decision," Niccolo Bertolini Clerici, a partner at the Legance Avvocati Associati law firm that represents Ukraine in the Milan Court of Appeals, told Ukrinform.
The defense called Vitaliy Markiv's acquittal a team victory.
"Teams of Italian and Ukrainian lawyers worked hard on the evidence. In my opinion, since the human factor is decisive even in the field of justice, the main thing is not a fact or physical evidence itself, but how skillfully an experienced lawyer handles it, how much he "grew up with the case," how much he believes that his case is right. That was our team," Anna Tyshchenko, director of the international disputes department at the Ukrainian Justice Ministry, told Ukrinform.
She stressed that the lawyers were ready to respond promptly to any new charges in the case.
"We are proud that we were able to make every effort to release Vitaliy and, together with Italian lawyers, we helped the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the National Guard to provide all comprehensive evidence of the non-involvement of Markiv and Ukrainian troops in the death of the journalist near Sloviansk," lawyer Andriy Karnaukhov, a partner of the Sergii Koziakov & Partners law firm, told Ukrinform.
Together with the Italian law firm Legance Avvocati Associati he defended Ukraine's interests in the Markiv case.
He also noted that the most absurd thing, in his opinion, was the fact of total disregard for the presumption of innocence - a key principle in the criminal law of any country.
His colleague, Andriy Pylypenko, stressed that, despite all obstacles, the defense had won the case.
"In fact, we were the first who, together with the Justice Ministry, organized ourselves to defend Vitaliy and Ukraine in an Italian court, realizing what risks we were taking," Pylypenko said.
"Taking this opportunity, we would like to thank the entire large team of patriots of Ukraine, which was involved in the painstaking work of collecting materials. As we know, some examinations in the case were conducted in Ukraine for the first time," Leonid Topal, a Ukrainian lawyer for Markiv, said in a comment to Ukrinform.
According to his colleague, Oleksandr Chebanenko, the taste of victory is "salty - from tears, sweat and blood."
Markiv's Ukrainian lawyers called the whole trial absurd. At the same time, the Ukrainian side has shown that it can and will fight for its soldiers and is capable of winning.
"We are very glad that Vitaliy Markiv has been acquitted of all charges and restrictions, that he is a free man," Topal said.
However, despite the ruling of the Milan Court of Appeals in favor of Markiv, the defense does not rule out that the prosecution will file a cassation appeal to the Supreme Court of Italy. At the same time, Ukrainian serviceman Vitaliy Markiv spent three years, four months, and two days behind bars in Italy. When asked whether a complaint would be filed because the innocent man had spent three years in prison, the defense team said it would take action soon. "The defense of Vitaliy and the state of Ukraine stated from the very beginning that the accusations against Vitaliy Markiv were unfounded and that his detention and imprisonment were unfounded. We are glad that truth and justice have finally won, but the issue of compensation for moral and material damage due to illegal imprisonment will be decided in the near future," lawyer Oleksandr Chebanenko told Ukrinform.
Iryna Drabok, The Hague
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