Ukraine gives soldier a hero's welcome after Italy acquittal

·1-min read
Ukrainian National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv kisses his wife Diana Markiv during a ceremony for his arrival in Kiev, on November 4, 2020
Ukrainian National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv kisses his wife Diana Markiv during a ceremony for his arrival in Kiev, on November 4, 2020

A Ukrainian soldier acquitted of killing an Italian photographer and his Russian assistant during a war in the country's east returned home to a hero's welcome on Wednesday.

Last year, former national guard commander Vitaliy Markiv had been sentenced to 24 years in prison for the killing of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian assistant Andrei Mironov in May 2014.

The pair were hit by shrapnel from mortar shells during a fierce firefight between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in the rebel-held east.

On Tuesday a court in Milan overturned the verdict and ordered his immediate release.

After more than three years of imprisonment, Markiv, 31, arrived in Kiev accompanied by the interior minister and the country's rights ombudsman. 

"Justice exists and the truth exists too, and they always win," Markiv, who wore a military uniform, told reporters.

He was welcomed by an honour guard and an orchestra and then hugged his wife and army comrades.

Markiv, who has Italian and Ukrainian passports, was arrested in Italy in 2017 and had been held in several prisons in the EU country.

He has been hailed as a hero in Ukraine where his conviction was seen as "political."

"This is my personal victory" against "the cowardice of propaganda and disinformation which sought to dishonour Ukraine," Markiv said upon his arrival.

Rocchelli, 30, was the founder of the Cesura photo agency and a contributor to leading media outlets such as US magazine Newsweek and the French daily Le Monde.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that erupted in 2014 after a popular uprising ousted a pro-Kremlin president and Russia responded by annexing Crimea.