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Ukrainian Soldier Given 24 Years For Role In Deadly Shelling Of Journalists In Donbas

Vitaliy Markiv in court earlier this month

An Italian court has sentenced Ukrainian National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv to 24 years in prison for his role in the deaths of an Italian photojournalist and his translator during fighting near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk in 2014.

A court in Pavia on July 12 found Markiv, a dual Ukrainian-Italian citizen, guilty of complicity in premeditated murder in the deaths of Andrea Rochelli and his Russian translator, Andrei Mironov, Ukraine's Hromadske TV reported from the courtroom.

Rochelli and Mironov were working in the Donetsk region when they were hit by mortar shelling by the Ukrainian military just weeks after fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatist formations in parts of eastern Ukraine.

Markiv was arrested in Bologna in June 2017, and his trial on murder charges began one year ago.

The prosecution based its case on the testimonies of a French journalist who was injured in the May 24, 2014, incident, and an Italian journalist who quoted Markiv discussing the shelling.

While Markiv was not accused of committing the killings himself, but of informing the Ukrainian National Guard of the presence of the group.

That message was relayed to the Ukrainian armed forces, which opened fire on the group.

Prosecutors reportedly requested a sentence of only 17 years.

The defense argued that the group was working in a war zone without protective armor and were not identified as members of the press.

Markiv's lawyers demanded he be released for lack of evidence.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov posted on Twitter that the "unfair and shameful" decision would be appealed.

Avakov wrote that Markiv has "become [a] victim of an aggressive Russia which unleashed in [Slovyansk] a war on [Donbas]."

According to the United Nations, some 13,000 people have been killed, a quarter of them civilians, and as many as 30,000 wounded in the war in eastern Ukraine since it broke out in April 2014.

Based on reporting by Hromadske TV and Interfax.