Update: On November 3, the Italian Court of Appeal acquitted a Ukrainian neofascist and soldier of the National Guard of Ukraine Vitaliy Markiv. Last year he was sentenced in Italy to 24 years for the murder of the Italian journalist Andrea Rockelli and his Russian guide, Andrei Mironov, in 2014 – when Markiv was already a volunteer of the paramilitary nationalist battalion fighting against the Donbass republics.
Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, who commands neo-nazi regiments like Azov (integrated into the National guard), personally took him from Italy chartering a special flight costing 24 000 euro. The president of Ukraine welcomed him as a ‘national hero’. For the Ukraine authorities it is a matter of loyalty from far-right militants – the main pillar of their power.
But more noteworthy, was the release and arrival in Ukraine of the neofascist murderer, who was greeted by the Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Ukraine, Melinda Simmons[i]. She also congratulated those who were involved in the release. The Ukrainian opposition media also pose a question: how could it happen that Markiv was first sentenced to 24 years and then – completely acquitted? This indicates that something is either profoundly wrong with the Italian system of justice or has come about due to pressure from outside.
Ukraine media’s Strana.ua notes[ii] that Avakov knew about the verdict some hours before it was announced, suggesting also that British or American powers were involved in this bizarre acquittal of the neofascist. Kiev had also organized a campaign demanding the man’s release along with Ukrainian and Italian nationalists and far-right politicians.
We offer our readers a translation from the Italian edition of Contropiano that investigates this campaign.
By Valerio Gentili
Published in Italian on Contropiano, Oct 30, 2020
Translated by Greg Butterfield
The second-degree trial in the murder of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli, killed in 2014, along with Russian journalist Andrei Mironov, during the Donbass war in eastern Ukraine, will end in early November. Condemned to 24 years in prison in the first-degree trial is Ukrainian nationalist and sergeant Vitaly Markiv, accused of having contributed to the murder of the photojournalist, who was allegedly bombed with artillery from a base located on a hill manned by pro-Ukrainian government troops.
For three years, from the assassination on May 24, 2014, until the Ukrainian’s arrest in July 2017, the case remained out of the media spotlight. Few other than the photojournalist’s family seemed to be dealing with the affair. But when the police arrested Markiv while he was returning to Italy for the holidays, a whole series of pro-Ukrainian personalities and organizations in Italy and in Ukraine itself began to take action to tell their own version of the case.
Let’s proceed in order, starting with the accused. Vitaly Markiv, an Italian citizen (as well as a Ukrainian citizen) who lived in Tolentino with his family, decided to voluntarily enlist in the National Guard of Ukraine at the same time that the Ukrainian government launched the repressive actions in the Donbass against the independence revolts of the local population. Markiv is a frequent visitor to the Porter Pub in Kiev, a neo-Nazi venue where Celtic and Nazi symbols of the far-right Ukrainian military formations are displayed. On the devices he was carrying at the time of his arrest, some photographs were found that testify to war crimes by pro-government troops, such as the mistreatment and killing of prisoners, and his comrades giving a Nazi salute while waving a Nazi German flag.
Among the first in Ukraine to ask for the release of soldier Markiv were some neo-Nazi organizations, such as the S14 group, and the National Corps, the political project of the Azov Battalion, which organized protests in front of the Italian embassy in Kiev. In addition to them, there is the whole Ukrainian state, with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov at the forefront, a figure known for having handed over the management of some police departments to the neo-Nazis, engaging in a major national and international campaign to save Markiv from the clutches of Italian justice.
In 2019, after the conviction issued by the court of Assize of Pavia against Markiv, a group of journalists in Italy headed by Cristiano Tinazzi, rejecting the verdict, decided to produce a documentary called “The Wrong Place.”
Declaring itself absolutely impartial, the group claims — on paper — its objective of reconstructing the assassination of Andrea Rocchelli and Andrey Mironov from an independent point of view. The title was not very successful; the obvious allusion to the fact that those journalists were in the wrong place, or to document a war, immediately turned against the same production, unleashing the anger of both the Rocchelli family and the dead Russian journalist’s niece. The title was changed a few days ago to “Crossfire.”
Let’s move on to the director: Tinazzi was a candidate in 1999 on the list of the National Front, the neo-fascist party of Adriano Tilgher. In the following years his acquaintances with neofascist or ambiguous figures seem to have continued, as evidenced by interviews with the band ZetaZeroAlfa or collaboration with the newspaper Rinascita.
Twenty years ago he frequented far-right circles. Now in his documentary, we find him at a shooting range of the National Guard of Ukraine, a military formation in which neo-Nazi groups such as the Azov Battalion are integrated. And what is Tinazzi doing at a shooting range with the military body accused of murdering Rocchelli? From what can be seen from the trailer of the documentary, he is producing the “evidence” that would show that from the hill where the pro-government troops were barricaded, it was not possible to see or shoot the group of journalists.
I will not dwell much on the objections from a technical point of view, which among other things have already been raised about the tests carried out in the documentary. In any case, according to the reconstructions of the first-degree sentence confirmed by the General Attorney in the Court of Assizes of Appeal, the murder would have taken place by means of mortars and it is therefore not clear why ballistic tests are carried out with firearms.
Furthermore, it is the same Interior Minister Avakov who declares that, from the hill where the pro-government troops were positioned, their snipers had “cleaned up” the area around the train carriages, the place where Rocchelli’s murder took place, and therefore certified that from the hill it was possible to hit targets even at that distance with firearms, as well as with mortars.
Avakov will always declare that a group of journalists has approached him to deal with the Rocchelli case, and that he will provide them with all the necessary assistance. In the documentary, the authors did not fail to thank the Ukrainian National Guard for their collaboration, but only in the Ukrainian version. In the Italian version the thanks was curiously removed. A documentary that is, as they say, truly independent and that has nothing to hide.
Among the other collaborators of the project is Olga Tokariuk, a Ukrainian journalist who travels a lot in Italy, who has also worked for Hromadske TV, a Ukrainian online news service that supports the government, also included in the thanks at the end of the documentary. Hromadske also boasts some minor scandals, such as having cut the live interview with Tanya Lokshina, a member of Human Rights Watch, because she refused to blame Russia for the civilian deaths in the Donbass conflict.
Tokariuk, during a presentation of the documentary, states: “In our Italian-Ukrainian team we have no ideological differences […] Tinazzi knows very well that separatists are criminals, who committed crimes in the Donbass […] he knows who is the aggressor in Ukraine and who is the victim.” So it seems that we are facing, rather than a group of journalists in search of the truth, a cohesive taskforce with an ideological viewpoint that tries to validate the thesis according to which separatists are criminals; and therefore the blame for the assassinations must be placed on them, to clear the Ukrainian nationalist.
“Markiv is an example of dignity for me,” Tokariuk said during the trial stages in 2018, “he holds his head up despite the absurd accusations.” The documentary had not yet been shot and she had already taken a clear position, a curious way of approaching the story from an independent point of view.
Another collaborator of the documentary is journalist Danilo Elia, who has dealt with Ukrainian affairs since Euromaidan from a veiled pro-coup position. It is clear in articles where, in a certain way, he tries to “humanize” the Ukrainian extremist formations, like when he had a beer with the neo-Nazis of Pravy Sektor, while he does not hesitate to describe the rebels as “armed men running around the streets […] They steal, drink, shoot. They terrorize the population.” Tokariuk said it: no ideological differences in the team.
At the international level support and recognition for the project comes from various individuals and organizations. Reading the list of sponsors, you can see the Open Dialogue Foundation, an NGO based in Poland which also operates in Ukraine. In 2013 it supported Euromaidan and still openly supports the Ukrainian army.
Then we have the Justice for Journalists foundation, which awarded € 40,000 for the production of the documentary. This NGO was founded by former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now a millionaire who lives in London. The very millionaire who during Euromaidan incited the crowd for a “democratic Ukraine,” the same Ukraine that a few months later will start a civil war in Europe, bombarding its own population with war planes.
Among the supporters of the project in Italy, there are above all the Italian Radicals of Emma Bonino, who see the “conditioning of the Russian regime on Italian politics and society” behind the condemnation of Vitaly Markiv. Last year a group of Ukrainian nationalists joined the party thanks to this convergence of views. Among them is Oles Horodetskyy, the same person who was expelled from the courtroom during the trial because from behind the Ukrainian’s lawyer he suggested the answers to Markiv’s comrades who were called to testify three times. Incidentally, they contradicted themselves multiple times.
Other organizations not strictly connected with the production have joined the operation “Saving Private Markiv,” promoting the documentary on social networks. For example, there is Fabio Prevedello, president of the European Association Italy-Ukraine Maidan, who defines as “friend” Cristiano Tinazzi and “friend” Olga Tokariuk. In 2019 this association ended in a scandal in the province of Reggio Emilia, which resulted in him being removed from the cultural projects of the anti-fascist Alcide Cervi Institute. What had they done? In addition to raising funds and buying equipment to be sent to the pro-government battalions, the Prevedello organization was discovered selling books and gadgets attributable to the neo-Nazis of Pravy Sektor at their stalls, here in Italy.
And again, the Ukrainian organization StopFake.org, which works closely with Facebook and does fact-checking for articles uploaded by users on the social network, also comes to fire media support for the documentary. This organization ended in an international scandal when a journalist, Katerina Sergatskova, who is far from oriented towards the Russian world, decided to carry out an investigation at the top of the organization, revealing a murky intertwining of information between StopFake and the Ukrainian neo-Nazi millieu. Once her investigation was published, the journalist was threatened with death by a crowd of far-right users who accused her of being a Kremlin agent and then posted her address, photos of the house, and even the photo of her 5-year-old son online. At that point Katerina was forced to flee the country.
The Italian branch of StopFake is managed by Mauro Voerzio, a war reporter who is gladly hosted by the Italian Radicals. As can be seen from the material he released, he gave media coverage to the operations of the neo-Nazi group S14, and shared the candidacy of the politicians of the Azov Battalion. Unsurprisingly, of course, in the Markiv case, he is perfectly aligned with the arguments of the team “without ideological differences.”
Oles Horodetskyy, the prompter expelled from the courtroom who was mentioned earlier, is the president of the Christian Association of Ukrainians in Italy and a member of the national committee of the Italian Radicals. Always present inside and outside the courtrooms, he organized demonstrations together with groups from the Ukrainian community to express their dissent for Markiv’s arrest. Oles is among those who are spending the most to promote this documentary, and he is the person who seems to have contacts with Anton Gerashchenko, the advisor to Minister Avakov, who also participates in the presentations of the documentary both in Italy with the Italian Radicals and in Ukraine. Therefore, one of the subjects involved sponsors this “independent documentary,” yet another curious aspect of this story.
Oles Horodetskyy, Mauro Voerzio and Fabio Prevedello, who knew each other from Euromaidan when they organized or participated in the support efforts from Italy, will continue to meet at the events of the Italian Radicals or during the trial of Vitaly Markiv.
According to what has been written and reported, I think it is very difficult to speak of this documentary as an independent and impartial project. Several authors, the organizations that gravitate around them and those that give them media support would seem to already be on the side of Vitaly Markiv and the National Guard, not to mention the contacts that some of them have with the Ukrainian state. The minimum requirements do not exist to be able to conduct a search for the truth, assuming that there is another “truth” with respect to the version that emerged from the precise reconstruction set out in the first-degree sentence and confirmed by the general prosecutor and by the civil parties in the Court of Assizes of Appeal.