On the 24th May 2014 Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli set out on a routine reporting mission in east Ukraine, where rebel soldiers were battling the army.
He was accompanied by Andrej Mironov, a Russian who acted as a fixer and translator, to record the damage and suffering endured by civilians in the increasingly bitter conflict.
Neither would ever return.
However, two others from their party did survive – their driver and a French reporter, William Roguelon – and from their accounts, together with the last photos and a short, grainy video taken by Rocchelli, it is possible to piece together the events of that day.
The group had travelled to Sloviansk where a train had been positioned as a barricade to halt the progress of tanks. As they explored, a civilian warned them that soldiers were nearby and urged them to retreat to a place of safety. As they were returning to their vehicle, they came under gunfire.
Desperate to take cover, the four men, joined by the civilian leapt into a ravine, planning to make a dash for the car when the firing subsided. Then the shelling began, a first round landing near the car. An enforced change of plan saw the group decide to run towards the shelter of the train, but another mortar round struck, flooring Rocchelli and Mironov.
At this stage, the driver and the local man managed to reach the car and escape, leaving a wounded Roguelon behind. Using his mobile phone, he alerted colleagues to his position and tried to make it away on foot. Behind him, he recalls hearing shooting continuing near to the ditch. Finally he made it to a nearby factory, from where he found a car to take him a local hospital.
He says he was not asked to give evidence either to the Ukrainian investigation into the deaths of his colleagues or to the French authorities.
The Ukrainian investigation
After Andrea Rocchelli died, his parents began a battle for justice. They were determined that their son would not remain just one of 10,000 casulaties of the war but that his killers would be held to account.
But they became increasingly frustrated with the progress of investigations conducted by the authorities in Kyiv. It took a year and half for a ballistics examination to be conducted and the report, when it came, could not establish the bullets’ origin and type.Roguelon was not questioned, but nor was the civilian who had first warned the group. Missing also were testimony from soldiers in the area at the time.
Lacking suspects the Ukrainian police called a halt to the investigation at the end of 2016, concluding that rebel fighters had been responsible though the exact culprit could not be identified. The family, however, refused to give up and convinced the Italian attorney’s office in Pavia, together with the ROS of Milan – Special Operations Group, part of the Italian Carabinieri – to continue inquiries.
The Italian investigations
It was those investigations which led on June 30 to the arrest of Vitaliy Markiv, a 28-year-old Italian-Ukrainian citizen in Bologna.
Vitaly Markiv was born in Ternopil, in West Ukraine. At the age of 16 he moved to Italy with his sister and after his mother married an Italian man, he gained Italian citizenship. He was said to be considering enlisting in the Italian army when the wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine broke out in 2013. Markiv decided to return to fight for his homeland and in March 2014 he joined the National Guard of Ukraine, the Ukrainian national gendarmerie and part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The Italian investigations are coordinated by the deputy public persecutor Mario Venditti and the assistant public persecutor Andrea Zanoncelli.
his lawyer Raffaele Della Valle confirmed to Euronews that on the 24th May he was stationed on top of a hill in Sloviansk, two miles from the ditch where Rocchelli died. However, Markiv insists he was innocent, being armed with an automatic rifle, not a mortar.
Della Valle says he has identified at least eight people in Ukraine who can help prove his client’s declarations and for now the investigation continues.
The parents of Rocchelli and their lawyer Alessandra Ballerini declined to comment for this story.
By Maria Michela D’alessandro