Vitaly Markiv was on trial for the murder of Italian photographer Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian translator Andrei Mironov – a former Soviet era dissident – in May 2014, the first media deaths in the war between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

In 2014, Markiv served in the General Kulchitsky unit of the National Guard, which was made up of former activists of the EuroMaidan Revolution and sent to the eastern Donbas region to defend Ukraine in the first days of Russia’s aggression. 

Rochelli and Mironov were killed when they were hit by shrapnel from mortar shells during a fierce firefight near the flashpoint of Slavyansk in the rebel-held east.

French photographer William Roquelon, who was travelling with the two, was also seriously wounded.

Markiv denies any involvement in the deaths.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov had testified on behalf of Markiv, telling the court he was “totally convinced” of his innocence.

On Friday, Avakov branded the sentence “unfair and shameful” and said it would be appealed.

Markiv’s lawyer and friends claim that the national guardsmen, who are subordinate to the interior ministry, did not have any heavy weapons and, therefore, could not be involved in the deaths of Rocchelli and Mironov.

Markiv was arrested on June 30, 2017, upon his arrival in Italy, where he had lived for many years and even had citizenship.

Markiv was tried in the city of Pavia, Rocchelli’s hometown in northern Italy. 

Prosecutors allege that Markiv transmitted information about Rocchelli’s presence in the area to the Ukrainian military, thereby making the attack that killed the journalist possible.

The prosecution asked the court to sentence Markiv to 17 years in prison.

Ultimately, the court issued an even harsher sentence of 24 years.

When the judge announced the verdict, Markiv reportedly shouted: “Glory to Ukraine!”

Activists reportedly plan to picket the Italian Embassy in Kyiv with the slogan “Freedom for Vitaliy Markiv.”