A harsher than expected sentencing by an Italian court of a Ukrainian-born trooper was met with outrage by Ukrainian nationalists. One MP even suggested taking a dozen Italian nationals hostage in response.
On Friday, an Italian court in Pavia passed its judgment in the high-profile case of Vitaly Markiv. He was found responsible for the May 2014 killings of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and Russian human rights activist Andrei Mironov, who served as an interpreter for a group of journalists covering the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.
Markiv, who has Italian citizenship, was a member of one of Ukraine’s volunteer battalions that sided with Kiev in the conflict. A squad under his command marked the journalists’ car as a target for fellow troops, who fired mortar shells at it, the prosecution said.
The two victims were killed while French photo reporter William Roguelon was injured in the assault. The Italian court agreed that Markiv knew that the car was full of civilians and initiated the attack despite this, and sentenced him to 24 years in prison. The punishment is harsher than the 17 years the prosecution was asking for.
The sentence sparked outrage in Ukraine, where Markiv is perceived by nationalists as a hero and a victim of persecution by the Italian authorities. Dmitry Yarosh, a Ukrainian MP and former leader of the far-right umbrella group Right Sector, called for drastic measures in retaliation.
“I suggest a special operation in connection with the decision of the ‘independent’ Italian court in the case of Vitaly Markiv. Let’s ‘pack’ [slang for ‘round up’] a dozen Italians, who arrive in Ukraine from time to time,” he wrote in a blog, pledging support for fellow nationalists.
We will charge them with being part of the illegal armed groups… and murdering Ukrainian civilians between 2014–2019; hold a lengthy trial. And then our ‘most objective’ court will sentence them to life.
Yarosh also called on ‘patriotic businessmen’ to bribe Ukrainian judges in the hypothetical trials, “because without large financial donations they ‘don’t work as intended.’”
The suggestion was clearly made in jest, but it reflects the attitude towards the high-profile case in Ukraine. Senior Ukrainian officials, including powerful Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, insisted on Markiv’s innocence and called accusations against him absurd. Avakov called the sentence “unjust and shameful.”
The government in Kiev claims the rebellion in the east of the country, which was triggered by an armed coup in the Ukrainian capital in 2014, was an act of hybrid aggression by Russia. Moscow rejects the allegation and says Kiev’s unwillingness to negotiate a settlement with the secessionist regions in the east is the reason the conflict went on for five years.