For more than half a year, an Italian citizen of Ukrainian origin, a fighter of the National Guard Vitalii Markiv, has been kept in prison in Italy. Italian investigators pressed absurd charges against him of murdering an Italian photographer near the besieged Sloviansk, based on controversial publications in the media and testimonies of journalists. Despite loud statements, the Ukrainian side does not seem to have made any significant efforts for his liberation so far. The correspondent of OstroV, having visited the scene, tried to study the circumstances of the death of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian fixer and interpreter Andrei Mironov.
The shelling in Sloviansk began very early, around 4 or 5 a.m. Local residents said: "Like the fascists", — referring to Germany's "treacherous" attack on the Soviet Union at dawn on June 22, 1941. Self-propelled artillery "Nona" began to fire from Artyoma microdistrict, packed with high-rise buildings, — and then quickly retreated. The "response" got into the residential quarters.
There are only two such heights in Sloviansk and its immediate vicinity. The Artyoma microdistrict on the northern outskirts of the city was controlled by Igor Girkin's gang. The south one — mountain Karachun — was controlled by the Ukrainian troops. The shelling from the microdistrict was aimed precisely at Karachun — and Karachun also answered.
View from the Artyoma microdistrict. The TV tower on Karachun is barely visible against the background of the sky to the left of the center photo
A wreath at the place of death of a civilian from the mortar shelling in the microdistrict. There is a residential high-rise building behind a tree on which it hangs
The road from Karachun to Sloviansk is crossed by rails: in the spring of 2014, there was a block-post of militants immediately behind the railroad. Then, in a few tens of meters, the road makes a fork. The second block-post was immediately at the turn to the left, the third — at the turn to the right, near Zeus Ceramica plant. At the beginning of May, an "armored train" appeared in front of the first checkpoint — the militants several brought several freight trains to block off Karachun. A few days later, it had already been bullet-riddled.
Honcharna Street makes a fork, were block-posts of the militants were made in May 2014. The first one was at that place where the street is intersected by an arc with traces of the rails
The same crossing in August 2017. There is a TV tower on Karachun at the far right on the first photo. In the second photo you can see a part of the ditch in which foreign photographers were hiding from the shelling, and the knocked-out transmission tower
The witness contradicted himself and the facts
On the morning of May 24, French photographer William Rogelon called a Sloviansk taxi driver and, knowing only a few words in Russian, made it clear that he wanted to go to the "armored train".
The Frenchman worked with the Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his interpreter Andrei Mironov, the well-known human rights activist. According to the taxi driver, who wished to remain anonymous, it was Rogelon who was always looking for adventures.
The resident of Sloviansk Dmitry (name changed) was one of several taxi drivers who drove the journalists. On that day, Dmitry refused the Frenchman, because his car didn’t start. The trio took another car from the hotel where Mironov and Rocchelli lived (Rogelon lived in another hotel), and still went to Karachun at 5 p.m.
As follows from the testimony of William Rogelon to the Italian investigators, published in 2017, there was no one on that territory when they arrived to the "armored train". This is confirmed by another OstroV's interlocutors: the block-posts were abandoned at that time. The French photographer said that a local resident suddenly appeared and warned Mironov that it was necessary to hide because the shelling must start soon.
The road from one of the block-posts in the direction of crossing and Karachun. There is still a trace of the once-working "Nona" on the asphalt
Trace from "Nona", where there was a block-post of militants on the road to Karachun
The photo was taken from the place of the first block-post in the direction of the second one. It was there, near Zeus Ceramica, where wounded William Rogelon, running away from the shelling, allegedly stumbled upon three dozen militants
It was something ordinary then — locals were often warned about the upcoming battles. Rogelon says that before that time, he and his companions had received such warnings. And if to omit the version that the Ukrainian military regularly warned from Karachun, it is necessary to think that in this way the militants were preparing for backfire to planned attacks.
Therefore, the "mysticism" of the story with a sudden "prophet" is not in the allegedly transmitted warning, but in that the Frenchman has never mentioned a fifth person other than his partners and a taxi driver while commenting to Russian television crews immediately after the incident. He only casually mentioned that he thought that at some point someone else jumped into the ditch, where the four people jumped to escape the shelling.
Local militants, relying on his words, even searched for the third victim, in addition to Mironov and Rocchelli, but no one else was found. The taxi driver does not remember any local "prophet" at all, according to the most reliable local sources.
In addition, this driver, who initially refused to show his face, did not mention any fifth man in a commentary to one of the Russian TV channels immediately after the incident. The Russian and his companion died in front of the taxi driver. The danger of death in the ditch was exactly the same as the danger of death in the car, so the driver decided to try to leave the scene. Rogelon jumped out of the ditch after him, fell on the road after another shot, so the taxi driver thought that the second photographer was also killed. The shelling did not stop, so he had no choice but to leave as quickly as possible.
The ditch in which Rogelon, Rocchelli, Mironov and their driver tried to hide from shelling. Part of the ditch near the railway is completely bare, though most of it is covered with a dense shrub. Rocchelli and others, probably, hid in this second part of the ditch
The mysterious local civilian appeared in Rogelon's commentary for Radio France Internationale as well. There, the photographer claims that this man was with the driver and was killed. In May 2017, the Italian edition La Repubblica quoted Rogelon, who this time claimed that he had seen unidentified stranger not only alive, but also getting out of the ditch and leaving with the taxi driver. It seemed that someone jumped into the ditch to him, Rocchelli and Mironov after that.
Italian court speaks of "two (wounded) persons of Ukrainian nationality, who cannot be identified", although the taxi driver, whose wrist was actually injured, was not only identified, but also regularly went to Ukrainian investigators to testify. La Repubblica quoted a lawyer who was hired by the family of Andrea Rocchelli. He claimed that the driver was confused in the testimony. In fact, it was not him, but William Rogelon who gave more and more contradictory details in his numerous comments.
In his first comments to Russian television channels, the French photographer also stated that he did not know whether it was the shelling of foreigners, who had come to the railway crossing. He later determined the direction of the shots only by the fact that they hit the fence of Zeus Ceramica. At the same time, shooting, as the investigation registered Rogelon's testimony, was conducted initially from machine guns. However, it would be difficult to hit the territory of crossing and Zeus Ceramica from Karachun using the machine guns — the distance is too long.
The distance from Karachun to the crossing, as Google satellite map shows, is 1.64 km
For some reason, Rogelon claims in his testimony that he lived in the same hotel with Mironov and Rocchelli, although in fact, it is not true. Employees of the hotel confirmed that only the Italian and the Russian were their guests. Taxi driver Dmitriy confirms that the Frenchman lived in another hotel.
It also follows from Rogelon's testimony that all three of them had already intended to go to Kramatorsk in the morning, and stopped near Zeus Ceramica on the way to take pictures of the "armored train". However, the road to Kramatorsk does not pass near Zeus Ceramica, and Rogelon himself, as mentioned above, asked Dmitriy in the morning to take him exactly to the railroad crossing near Karachun. The taxi driver, who eventually drove with foreigners, clearly commented to the Russian television channel that he had received an order to take them to Zeus Ceramica and not to Kramatorsk.
Further in his testimony, Rogelon speaks of a machine gun, confusing it with a mortar. At the same time, according to him, the shots started from afar, and then they began to approach people at the crossing. Their direction was determined by the fact that, running to the side opposite from the shots, he came across a group of about three dozen militants.
The fate of Private Markiv
Ukrainian-born Italian citizen Vitalii Markiv was detained at the end of June 2017 in Italy on suspicion of the particularly cruel murder of Andrea Rocchelli.
Markiv was born in the Ternopil oblast. He left for Italy with his mother being a teenager — a usual story for the families of Ukrainian migrant workers. Until the end of 2013, the guy worked in the wood economy, had a side job as a DJ and fitness instructor, was fond of parachuting. When the Maidan protests began, Markiv went to Kyiv, later from there — to the front as a volunteer. Being in the National Guard battalion, later named in honor of General Serhiy Kulchytsky, he got to Karachun, where a troop of the 95th Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was too.
The charges against Vitalii Markiv were based on the testimonies and publications of three Italian journalists. It was not difficult to identify the military talking with them — he was the only one in Karachun who knew the Italian language. Having compared the data, the investigation found Markiv among the "friends" of the journalists on Facebook. Then the telephone tapping of his mother and stepfather began. The Ukrainian was arrested when he came home to see his parents.
Based on the publications and testimonies of the journalists, the court concluded that Markiv, being a commander of unidentified rank, gave an order on May 24, 2014 to fire at people beyond the crossing in the territory controlled by Girkin's militants, since they fired from Karachun "at everything that moves, in a 2 km radius". In fact, as evidenced not only by the position of the Ukrainian party, but also by independent authoritative testimonies, the fighters of the National Guard in Karachun did not have mortars at all, and Markiv was a usual soldier and could not give the order to open fire. Moreover, his troop was located on this hill so that the crossing was barely visible.
Defending Vitalii Markiv, the Ukrainian party is trying not to pedal the presence of mortars at the 95th brigade, which was just able to conduct that shelling. Mathematical calculations confirm that the road from the crossing to the fork could be viewed from Karachun. According to the Ukrainians, mortar shelling was conducted by illegal armed formations from Sloviansk. However, no evidence of this version was presented up to this point, the only possible place where the mortar could fire at the photographers from is Karachun.
As noted above, at the time of the arrival of Rocchelli, Mironov, Rogelon and their driver, there were no people at the checkpoints near the crossing and Zeus Ceramica. In fact, this place was considered dangerous from the very beginning of armed hostilities. Photographer Vasyliy Maksimov wrote in his photo chronicle of the April-May events in Sloviansk under the photo dated May 7: "120 mm mines began to fall into the area of Zeus Ceramica plant. The Andriyivsky crossing became seedy. When we came, even the already familiar separatists told us: "Are you immortal, or what?""
Thus, the Italian, the Frenchman and the Russian drove to the crossing as if no one noticed. It is likely that the militants started shooting from automatic weapons — either having suddenly seen the uninvited guests near the "armored train" and wishing to intimidate them to leave, or having not known about them at all and simply provoking Karachun to respond. According to this version, the mortars' firing from Karachun started in response to submachine gun bursts, when they decided on the mountain that the militants opened the fire at the mountain, as happened more than once. As can be seen from the shells' traces, the territory was simply shelled from the mortars immediately beyond the crossing. However, the court ruled out that the shooting had political motivation — the murder of journalists — on what the Italian media were speculating.
The fence around the territory of Zeus Ceramica with traces of shelling. The ditch, where foreign photographers were hiding — on the other side of the road
More than six months have passed from the arrest of Vitalii Markiv. Justifying the need for his detention, the court argued that otherwise, the guy will return to Ukraine and will hardly cooperate with the investigation. For sure, understanding the absurdity of the charges brought against the Ukrainian, the Italian investigation apparently continues to keep him as a valuable witness — not trusting the materials that the Ukrainian investigation has provided. And this is, in fact, the failure of the Ukrainian state, no matter what faces public defenders Vitalii from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made. Markiv can be kept in custody until the Ukrainian party conducts a full investigation and puts all chips on the table.
Yuliia Abibok, OstroV