An Italian appellate court in Milan has postponed a hearing in the case of Ukrainian citizen Vitaliy Markiv, who is challenging a 24-year sentence for his role six years ago while serving in the Ukrainian National Guard that involved the deaths of an Italian photojournalist and his Russian interpreter.
Lawyers for the defendant told RFE/RL on March 8 that the court in the Lombardy region had decided to hear the case on March 31 due to government-imposed measures that have banned public gatherings.
The measures were introduced on March 7 in much of the country’s north and have since been extended nationwide amid an outbreak of a new respiratory illness known as COVID-19 that has killed 463 people and infected 9,172 in Italy.
The contagion became known near Italy's financial capital on February 21, some three months after it originated in China and spread to at least 106 countries, killed nearly 4,000 people, and infected over 113,000 worldwide.
Since then, the rising numbers of deaths and infection have stunned Italy's health-care system.
Following his June 30, 2017 arrest in Bologna, Markiv, a dual Ukrainian-Italian national, was given a 24-year prison sentence in July for actions he allegedly committed while being posted near Slovyansk, a town in the Donetsk region that was held by Russian national Igor Girkin, a former colonel in the Federal Security Service, and the forces he was leading comprised of other Russians and local separatists.
At the time, Markiv and about 150 Ukrainian servicemen were stationed atop the Karachun hill, surrounded by Girkin’s forces and approximately 2 kilometers from where the group of journalists were located at a ceramic factory on the edge of Slovyansk.
Markiv, a native of the western Ukrainian regional capital of Ternopil, in particular was found guilty of directing mortar fire that led to the May 24, 2014 death of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rochelli and Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov, who was also known as a rights activist.
A third person, French photographer William Roguelon, was wounded during the shelling.
In February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on his first official visit to Italy, spoke about Markiv's case in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March 2014. A month later, fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russia-backed separatists in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced more than 1.5 million.