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Ukrainian National Guard Vitaliy Markiv, who was yesterday released from an Italian prison after the court of appeal in Milan has cleared him of all charges, was initially accused at the behest of Russian propaganda pundits, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko told journalists on Wednesday, November 4.

As soon as Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli died in Donbas on May 24, 2014, most Russian media blamed Ukraine forces for the Italian's death, and "then, someone whom we haven't identified started telling the Italian special services that Markiv, who has Italian citizenship and often visited Italy on business, was complicit in this murder," said Gerashchenko.

Read alsoMarkiv case: Italian prosecutors distort facts, Ombudsperson saysAlthough, as Gerashchenko said, "in fact, his fault was only that he was there on Mount Karachun, 2 kilometers from where Rocchelli died."

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"After that, the Italians wiretapped his phones, the phones of his family, and when he was detained - Vitaliy told me this himself – the Italian justice officials offered him to state that Ukraine was guilty of Rocchelli's murder, and for this they promised to release him. However, Markiv turned down such cooperation offer, refusing to call Ukraine a country where journalists get killed," Gerashchenko stressed.

In his opinion, "Russian propaganda did everything to show, using the example of Rocchelli's death, that Ukrainian military are beasts who kill journalists."

Markiv's case: Background

Deputy platoon commander of the Ukrainian National Guard's first battalion, senior sergeant Vitaliy Markiv was detained in Italy on June 30, 2017, on suspicion of the murder of Italian journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter Andrei Mironov amid a mortar attack in Donetsk region in May 2014.

According to the Ukrainian investigation, the two were killed in shelling by Russian-led troops.

Ukrainian National Guard officials insisted that the Ukrainian battalion was not armed with mortars in 2014.

The jury in the court of Italy's Pavia on July 12, 2019, sentenced the Ukrainian guardsman to 24 years in prison. He is also to pay compensation to Rocchelli's family.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prosecutor General's Office to immediately address the issue of Markiv's return to Ukraine.

On November 20, Ukraine filed an appeal against Markiv's verdict.

It had to be considered by a Lombardy appellate court in the spring of 2020. On March 10, 2020, an Italian appellate court in Milan postponed a hearing in the case of Ukrainian national Vitaliy Markiv over the coronavirus pandemic.

On July 3, 2020, President Zelensky during his phone talks with Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said he hoped for a fair ruling in Markiv's case and his return home as soon as possible.

On November 3, the Court of Appeal in Italy's Milan ruled to fully acquit Markiv. The Guardsman was released at the courtroom and flown to Ukraine along with the Ukrainian delegation that attended the hearing.