Soldier Markiv and the Italian Connection

Ukrainian Guardsman Vitaly Markiv

Everyone talks about the rule of law, independent courts, a free press, European values. Everyone also talks about bought and paid for politicians, that everyone’s a sellout, that Putin runs Europe. But what I want to say is a bit more complicated. 

Let’s start from the beginning. Our story begins with a Ukrainian National Guardsman named Vitaliy Markiv, a dual Ukrainian-Italian citizen who spoke Italian fluently. He gave a few interviews, broadcast and print, to the Italian media. That played a role in his downfall — he was arrested as an Italian citizen when he went to visit his mother during the holidays.

But let’s go back a bit. On the 24th of May, 2019, a National Guard security checkpoint came under fire. The National Guard recorded casualties from this firefight. On the same day, Andrea Rocchelli, an Italian photographer, and his colleague, Russian citizen Andrei Mironov, both perished as a result of artillery barrages. They were in territory controlled by the Russian side. They’d traveled there without permission from the Ukrainian authorities, and were in a very high-risk area that was undergoing full-scale combat with heavy weaponry, as they themselves noted. Officially, the two died in the village of Andriievka, which stretches east to west for five kilometers under the shadow of the Karachun Mountain.

Before he died, Mironov observed an artillery crossfire.

Ukraine had a philosophical approach to these deaths: They went where they shouldn’t have, and suffered the consequences. An investigation from the Ukrainian side moved at the speed of molasses — as many other things tend to do in Ukraine.  Ukrainians are used to this sort of things, but not the Italians. They waited for Ukraine to say something — and their patience ran out. In 2017, Italy began its own investigation into the matter.

But to call it an investigation is to give it too much credit. They just found a single Ukrainian participant who took part in combat in May 2014 and who could speak Italian on camera. They dug up some quote recorded on some lost audio file from an unidentified soldier who stated that «There’s heavy artillery on the move, and that’s what happened to the Italian journalists’ car.» They also took testimony from a survivor of the same artillery barrage that killed the Italian. This survivor in 2014 was unsure of the source of the artillery — but in 2017 came to the conclusion that it must have come from Karachun Mountain.

But what about actually going to the site of the crime, as the Ukrainian side suggested after Markiv’s arrest in the Bologna airport, and run an experiment? Nah, said the Italians, we already know all there is to know. A European, an Italian was murdered, a journalist! What dissembling barbarians! Someone has to answer for this!

The Italians wanted blood. They wanted someone to pay for the death of an Italian son. The Italian press association demanded nothing less. Public opinion was firmly on the side of the dead journalist, killed, obviously, at the hands of Ukrainian soldiers. Italians aren’t too different from Ukrainians in that way — they both love simple solutions and loud emotions. That’s why, when the Italian press, like throwing meat to the hounds, gave the Italian people Senior Sergeant Markiv —  media took him apart and fed the pieces to the blood-starved Italian public. The Italian media accused Markiv long before they learned his name. It’s multi-million sized audience swallowed the accusations without a thought. They used a simple plan: the ingrained and unarguable notion that ‘Nazis are evil’, along with ‘Russians fought against the Nazis’ to found a new idea, namely: ‘The Russians are fighting with Ukraine, which means that Ukrainians are Nazis.’ This ended, of course, in hostility towards Ukrainian immigrants in Italy, and to sympathy to Putin as the antithesis to the hated European Union, which has caused Italy so much economic hardship in the form of austerity.

This all occurred against the backdrop of the rise of the Italian populist right, coming from parties like the ‘Five Star Movement’ and the ‘Lega Nord’. They literally eat from Putin’s palm: In fact, it was only recently that we discovered that the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, was in talks with the Russian on a gas deal — which, not coincidentally, would have brought ‘Lega Nord’ around 65 million USD. Salvini himself is famous for his neofascism and his obvious and demonstration sympathies for the Russian president.

That’s why the attitude of the Italian elite, and the masses, fell in perfectly. No, Salvini doesn’t control the Italian media. And he doesn’t give the Italian courts their orders. But the media, and the courts in Italy understand very well the power vertical. And they reacted in the following way: why should they piss off the people and conflict with the head of their government over some case regarding an eastern barbarian, who probably could have been involved in the death of a son of Italy, who’s worth more than all of the Ukrainian lives combined.

This is all awful, but not very surprising.

The defense did all it could. The prosecutor was even forced to admit that Markiv did not kill the Italian journalist. The guilty verdict reads that in fact all that Markiv did was to tell his commanders about the fact that a civilian convoy is moving through the factory ‘Zevs Ceramic’. Those commanders were supposedly in touch with the artillery command of the Ukrainian armed forces, which, the prosecutor insisted, was responsible for the bombing that killed Rocchelli. This actually doesn’t line up with what we know about the death of the journalist in Andriivka — ‘Zevs Ceramic’ is located on the edge of Sloviansk — a kilometer away from Andriivka, and two kilometers from Karachun.

This fact — the message about civilian movement (which is not allowed to be fired upon) — would be, in reasonable jurisprudence, enough evidence to vindicate Markiv. And any further attacks, regardless of who was responsible for them, would not have been Markiv’s fault.

Buyt the prosecutor claimed to the court that the point isn’t in degrees of guilt — but in the simple fact that an Italian journalist was murdered, and someone has to answer for that crime.

It’s now clear that the courts and the sentence handed down to Markiv were both politically driven. Moscow, as usual, uses foreign hands to do its dirty work, but to blame Moscow entirely would be incorrect. The court, after all, was a European one, and it shows that not only Italy, but all of Europe is in a deep crisis. This crisis is not just one of institutions and economics, but a crisis of values, of ideologies and morals. 

To be fair, this crisis isn’t just limited to Europe — Ukraine is also gripped by the same.

/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski

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