When Russian security police summoned me to an interrogation at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison in 1993, they allowed me to bring my own interpreter. And I knew exactly whom to ask. Andrei Mironov was a former Soviet dissident, former gulag prisoner and perennial advocate for truth. Fearless and crafty, he was uncowed by authority of any stripe and devoted to logic and rationality — exasperatingly so, in a country as illogical as Russia.
I had written a story about Novichok, a secret nerve agent Russia had developed (and would use 25 years later against the former double agent Sergei Skripal in England). The successor agency to the KGB wanted my testimony to use against a chemist charged with revealing state secrets. Andrei had in fact introduced me to that chemist, Vil Mirzayanov, hoping it would lead to the story that I had written.
We showed up at Lefortovo one morning, and what followed was just this side of crazy. The interrogator, Viktor Shkarin, would ask me a question. Andrei would translate and then tell me what Shkarin was trying to steer me into saying and advise me on how to avoid the trap. I would answer and Andrei would translate back into Russian. Then Shkarin would turn to an ancient word processor on his desk and type in a question that wasn’t really the one he had asked, followed by a response that bore almost no relation to what I had said.
The interrogation lasted all day. At the end, I refused to sign the transcript. When Shkarin threatened to have me back the next day with a KGB officer to translate, Andrei said he’d sign “as interpreter.” That satisfied Shkarin, though when word got out that evening, Andrei got some grief from his dissident friends for signing. But months later, when the authorities, under international pressure, were looking for an excuse to drop the charges against Mirzayanov, Andrei’s signature gave him standing as a witness, and he declared in court that Shkarin had distorted my responses to his questions. Case dismissed, said the judge.
In true American fashion, I misunderstood what had happened. To my eyes, the KGB — hoping to repress a truth-telling scientist and reassert the grip it lost when the Soviet Union collapsed — had been slapped down by the courts. A victory for transparency and truth. No, it’s not like that, Andrei told me. The KGB had made its point. Now everyone in Russia knew that it was back. The actual result didn’t matter. “Don’t,” he always liked to say, “look for logic where they didn’t put it.”
I think of that wisdom now in light of what happened to him two decades later, during the current war in eastern Ukraine — where, in 2014, he set out, as he always did, to seek the truth. To find out what was really happening, even as the confusion of war mounted. In Ukraine’s protracted conflict, there is no clear-cut black and white, no easily identifiable heroes and villains. To Western eyes, those fighting against the Russian-backed separatists in the east would seem to occupy a higher moral ground. But the reality is not so simple. One can be on the right side or the wrong side, but violence creates its own dynamic.
Six years later, an investigation and trial has answered some of the questions about what happened to Andrei and the Italian photographer he was accompanying. Yet so much remains uncertain. Theirs is a story of the murky nature of facts in a war zone. Perhaps even more, it’s a story of elusive moral clarity in a land where death comes from who knows where.
After his release from a prison camp in 1987, where he’d been sent for “anti-Soviet agitation” because he liked to hang out with foreign students at the Pushkin Institute, Andrei lived with his brother, Alexander, or Sasha, an aerospace engineer, in two rooms of a five-room communal apartment near Moscow’s Mayakovsky Square. He’d held a handful of jobs before his conviction, including doing restoration work in a history museum, but afterward he’d scrape together some money by helping journalists — arranging interviews, translating when needed. Andrei never had more than about one change of clothes, if that. A mutual American friend introduced us on my first visit to Moscow, in 1990. His English wasn’t bad, though he was subject to the occasional malapropism, such as saying “holy cow” when he meant “sacred cow.” His real passion, though, was Italian, which he’d picked up from the students he met at the Pushkin. He loved the language and the culture. His one concession to personal attire was a pair of treasured shoes he’d bought in Italy. He was, naturally, the go-to fixer for any number of Italian journalists passing through the former Soviet Union.
Over the years, as my wife, Kathy Lally, and I moved back and forth between Russia and the trump, we kept in touch with Andrei. And whenever we were in Moscow, he always had an idea for a story he thought we should pursue: abuse of Central Asian migrants, the destruction of historical buildings by rapacious developers, outrages in Chechnya, pollution in the Arctic. Andrei’s battles against the arrogance of power pretty well track the history of Russia over the past three decades. Another Muscovite friend of ours called him “the last honest man in Russia.”
One evening in early 2014, Andrei called and asked if we’d be willing to have him and an Italian friend, a freelance photographer named Andrea Rocchelli, over for dinner. Andy, as he was called, was thin, polite, self-confident in an attractive way. He had helped found a cooperative photo agency called Cesura in the Italian town of Pavia. He and his partner, Maria, had a young son.
I later learned that he had been intent on avoiding the fashion photography world of nearby Milan. He believed that photos were worthwhile only if they got under the surface phoniness and dug down toward the truth. A couple of years before we met, Andy had told an interviewer for Italy’s Radio Bici why he kept traveling to difficult and dangerous places. “If we do not produce something new,” he said, “if we do not show what is not possible for people to see at home, then what’s the sense of being here?”
To Western eyes, those fighting against the Russian-backed separatists in the east would seem to occupy a higher moral ground. But the reality is not so simple.
During their visit to us, Andy and Andrei were eager to hear about events in Kyiv, where I had been covering the demonstrators camped out on the Ukrainian capital’s Maidan, or main square, since November 2013. The liberal protesters were objecting to the turn toward Moscow taken by Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych. They had been joined by Ukrainian nationalists — “fascists,” in the Kremlin’s description — and together these unlikely allies had refused to be dislodged from the square.
Andrei had marched time and again to protest Vladimir Putin’s reign in Russia, and now he was thrilled by the events in Kyiv. If people in Ukraine could stand up to a graft-ridden regime, he reasoned, why couldn’t that same spirit take hold in Moscow? Andy, as a young photographer, had been drawn to areas of conflict before, but he liked to turn his camera toward the civilians who suffered while others fought.
The Maidan — where thousands had stayed through frigid nights, building barricades, huddling around oil-drum fires, tearing up cobblestones, filling molotov cocktails, singing the national anthem every hour on the hour, enduring the tear gas and police batons of a half-dozen botched raids — beckoned both men, and they headed for Ukraine. By the spring of 2014, this unlikely pair — the Italian was 30, the Russian 60 — had landed in the town of Slovyansk, on the front line of the breakaway Donbass region of the east.
By that time, Yanukovych had fled, and a new government had taken over in Kyiv, propelled by the Maidan protest, now labeled the Revolution of Dignity. But revolt, fomented by Russia, had broken out in the Donbass. This was Yanukovych’s home base, and people there had long nurtured a simmering resentment against Kyiv and western Ukraine, a resentment the Russians were only too happy to exploit.
With a powerful backer in Moscow, and several leaders drawn from the ranks of organized crime, the separatists enjoyed considerable success at first. After 20 years of neglect, the Ukrainian army was woefully ragged and ill-equipped. To stem the separatist tide, battalions of volunteers streamed from the Maidan to the Donbass, with little training or discipline but zealous in their determination to defend Ukraine from the Russian threat. Among them was a 24-year-old nationalist named Vitaly Markiv. He, too, had an Italian connection. Having moved to Italy with his mother as a teenager and attended high school there, he spoke the language fluently and had become a favorite of the Italian journalists who’d flocked to Kyiv that winter. He had been on the verge of enlisting in the Italian army, but when the Maidan protests broke out, he headed back to Ukraine instead, spoiling for a fight.
Rebels seized Slovyansk in April. In response, Ukrainian volunteers and regular army units approached from the west and entrenched on a rise called Karachun Hill. Between them and town was an unfordable stream and a railroad track. The separatists had welded five freight cars to the rails at a crossing to block the only road that connected the two sides. On the town side sat the Zeus Ceramics factory, which, astonishingly, continued to operate even as the combatants traded mortar and small-arms fire almost daily.
Andy and Andrei got to Slovyansk the second week of May. Along with a dozen or so other correspondents, they stayed at the Slovyansk Hotel, opposite the market. The town residents were under constant — and seemingly pointless — bombardment, and Andrei was apparently determined to figure out who was responsible for destroying houses and terrorizing civilians. Wherever the truth lay, that was where he followed, because the truth was more important to him than the comforts of partisanship. Day after day, for nearly two weeks, the two men set out for a neighborhood near the factory where the shelling was most frequent. They were together when they died, on May 24, 2014, in a roadside ditch just east of the railroad crossing.
Kathy and I had just returned to the trump when we heard that Andy and Andrei had been killed. We had grown more and more disheartened during our final months in Russia, as the ugliness of Putin’s assault on Ukraine unfolded before us. This news was devastating. I hoped, and expected, that the separatists were to blame for our friends’ deaths — “hoped” because it would fit more easily into my view that the separatists were essentially gangsters; it wouldn’t complicate my sense of Ukraine.
There were few details — it sounded as though the two had been caught in a crossfire, one of those awful, random happenstances of war. I thought to myself that Andrei should have been smart enough to avoid that; he’d been on plenty of front lines in Azerbaijan and Chechnya and Afghanistan. But maybe this time, as cliched as it sounds, his number was up.
That was what Andy’s parents, and his younger sister, Lucia, thought, too, at least at first. But in their grief they began to realize how little they understood of what had happened. A young French photographer named William Roguelon who was with Andy and Andrei on the fatal day had survived, and in August 2014, Rino Rocchelli and his wife, Eliza Signori, went to France to meet with him. They wanted to hear Roguelon’s story — no one else had talked to him — to help them get a clearer sense of how their son had died. “This was the start,” said Rino, “when we realized it was not just an accident.” For the next five years, he would be consumed with determining the truth of his son’s fate. An automotive engineer, he left no detail unexamined; his desire for facts bordered on an obsession.
When I returned to Moscow in August 2019 for a four-month stint as The Washington Post’s interim bureau chief, I set out in turn to learn the story of Andrei’s last hours. I’ve tried to piece together what I found out about the day Andrei and Andy died based on legal testimony and on interviews or contacts with those who met or knew the two men or were involved with the case, including Andy’s family; William Roguelon; and Oksana Chelysheva, a Russian friend of Andrei’s living in Helsinki who traveled to Ukraine a dozen times to learn about his final days.
Chelysheva found Lyudmila Kushchova, who lived with her husband and 11 foster children in Slovyansk; Kushchova was the only resident among the many Chelysheva talked to who was willing to let me quote her by name. That spring of 2014 when the firing began was terrifying, Kushchova told me in a phone conversation. Each day, when the guns opened up, as many of her foster kids as could fit would squeeze into the cellar of their house. And in the midst of it all these two unusual journalists just started showing up.
Kushchova instantly liked the “two Andreis.” Compared with other reporters, “they really acted as ordinary and simple people without any attitude,” she said. They listened, they wanted to hear what she had to say, they befriended the kids. Andy had an easy way with people, his sister Lucia told me, while Rino pointed out that he didn’t rush — he wanted to absorb any situation he was in, and then show the reality of it.
Andy took a powerful photo of Kushchova’s children huddled together alongside her jars of pickled vegetables. Andrei argued with her and her husband good-naturedly from time to time about politics. He thought the Maidan had been a positive event; they supported the separatists. It didn’t matter. The real task was to get their story.
Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, ran a group of Andy’s photos on May 19, with a short text by Andrei. He quoted Kushchova: “They lie, claiming that people have left our city, but we are here and that is why we are called separatists. … We watch Ukrainian TV, and we know what they say about us. … It is awful to see that the Ukrainian army, our co-patriots, are shooting at us, Ukrainians. We want them to see that we are people. People who want peace.”
On his last call home, Andy told his parents that he was following two men, friends since childhood, one fighting for the Ukrainians and the other for the pro-Russian side. Now they were enemies. He had talked to both, wanted to photograph both, his mother told me. He told his parents, “I will come back, because my son’s birthday is coming up. I will come back, but this work is very interesting, and I want to finish.” On May 17, Andy sent an email to Marco Valli, a colleague back in Italy. “They shoot a lot,” he wrote of that day. “Zero pictures — it was impossible to take pictures.”
On May 22, when the firing started, Andrei went up to the second floor of Kushchova’s house with a theodolite — a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles — that belonged to Kushchova’s husband, a construction team leader. Waiting for the mortar flashes, he focused on the Ukrainian positions on Karachun Hill. He and Andy left to get closer to Karachun, despite the danger. “There was no way to stop them,” Kushchova told me. “I pleaded with them. They said this was not their first war. They didn’t understand why I was worried.” Late that night they called her from the hotel back in Slovyansk. They were okay.
All was quiet on the morning of May 24. In Pavia, Andy’s son turned 3 without his father. In the afternoon, the firing began again. The men called Kushchova: Could she tell where it was coming from? It seemed to be from Karachun, she said. They said they were getting a taxi and going to the railroad crossing in view of the hill.
They invited Roguelon, then 24, to join them. A driver, Yevgeny Koshman, agreed to take them in his beige taxi. At about 5 p.m., they pulled up alongside the ceramics factory, a hundred yards or so from the railroad track, and began walking toward the crossing, the Frenchman and Italian burdened with cameras. After days of bombardment, the stationary freight cars were riddled with jagged holes. Roguelon believed that Andy wanted to get photos of the damaged rail cars to show from which direction the incoming fire was hitting them. As they walked, Andy and Andrei went out in front of the other two.
The gunfire was abruptly replaced by a series of explosive concussions. Twenty to 30 rounds came in. The explosions seemed to be moving methodically toward them.
Roguelon lives today in Bordeaux, still traumatized, I think, by what happened. He declined to be interviewed in person, but we exchanged several emails about the details of what transpired, and his statements to investigators give a clear picture of the events that followed.
They had been there only a few minutes when a man suddenly came out from behind the gate of the ceramics factory. He called to Andrei in Russian. Andrei turned to the others and told them, “The shooting’s about to start.” They should turn and head back to the taxi, he said, walking, not running, so as not to attract suspicion.
Small-arms fire erupted almost immediately. They leaped into a deep ditch beside the road. Andrei called out to the others that they may have gotten caught in a crossfire. They weren’t together but strung out over a few dozen yards. The ditch was covered over with thick vegetation, and they were well hidden. Roguelon kept shooting photos and video. So did Andy.
The gunfire was abruptly replaced by a series of explosive concussions. Twenty to 30 rounds came in. The explosions seemed to be moving methodically toward them. Roguelon was wounded by shrapnel in both legs. Then he saw Koshman, who was closest to the taxi, making a break for the badly riddled car. Running on adrenaline, Roguelon got up and followed him, turning back to gesture to Andrei and Andy to follow. But Koshman, who drove away before Roguelon could reach the car, told others later that they waved him on as they stuck to the ditch.
Seconds later, Andy Rocchelli was killed as a piece of shrapnel pierced his neck and the force of an explosion collapsed his lungs. Andrei Mironov was decapitated. Roguelon was picked up by a band of separatist gunmen sometime later and taken to a hospital.
Precisely one mile away, Vitaly Markiv was in charge of the 2nd Platoon of volunteers at the base of a television antenna atop Karachun Hill. Their job was to defend the antenna and to act as spotters for a mortar unit of the regular army’s 95th Brigade dug in to their right, out of sight of the railroad crossing and the ceramics factory.
On the evening of the 24th, Markiv took two calls from Italian correspondents he had met on the Maidan. They were in Slovyansk, on the rebel side. One call was put on speakerphone as a small group listened. They asked him, they later told Italian investigators, if he knew anything about two journalists being killed two hours earlier. He replied by warning them not to go to the railroad crossing: It was too dangerous there; fighters “were shooting at anything that moved.” That’s what happened to those journalists, he said.
The Italian Embassy in Kyiv arranged for the return of Andy’s body to Pavia. “For 15 days it was a blackout,” said Rino Rocchelli when I sat with the family in a Renaissance-era university courtyard in September. “We did nothing.”
Sasha Mironov went to Kyiv to receive Andrei’s remains. The mayor of Slovyansk had phoned to inform him of his brother’s death the day after it happened. They flew to Moscow, but there Aeroflot told Sasha that it would not fly Andrei’s remains onward to the family hometown of Izhevsk. It was a security risk, the airline said. Sasha had to hire a small truck to make the 17-hour drive. It was one last insult directed at this longtime dissident.
Ukrainian forces retook Slovyansk in July 2014. The authorities opened a formal investigation into the journalists’ death; in hindsight, it seems to have been designed to come up empty. The war was still very much going on. The two top commanders at Karachun were killed May 29 when their helicopter was shot down; both were posthumously named Heroes of Ukraine. People were still getting killed every day. Correspondents who reported from the rebel side — as Andy and Andrei did — were under a cloud. That Ukrainian authorities weren’t eager to pursue the case of their deaths is hardly surprising.
In the months that followed, as she repeatedly visited Slovyansk, Oksana Chelysheva came to realize what Andrei and Andy had been trying to do. Andrei had told the residents that he and Andy hoped to expose the wanton shelling of civilians and thus bring it to a halt. “It wasn’t just journalism — they were doing something there,” Chelysheva told Kathy and me when we met with her in Helsinki. “In the last weeks of their lives, they were [nailing down] the evidence. It’s why they were at that railroad crossing.”
In 2016 she stopped in at the Slovyansk Hotel, where she was surprised to discover that Andy Rocchelli’s belongings had never been retrieved. Among them was a camera bag, and when she returned it to the family, a colleague from Cesura discovered a memory card wedged in under the lining. It contained Andy’s last photos — taken in the final seconds of his life — as well as pictures someone else had taken, using his camera, of his and Andrei’s bodies in the morgue. That memory card seemed to have been hidden intentionally; why is unclear, but perhaps it was to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. It would provide crucial evidence later on. In the photos, Rino Rocchelli said, you can see the slanting late-afternoon sunlight, and you can see the fear in Andrei’s face.
Pavia was rocked by Andy’s killing, and when his parents appealed to the local prosecutor’s office to open an investigation into the death of an Italian citizen, it agreed to do so. But there was little enthusiasm for the task, and little hope of ever bringing anyone to justice. In 2015, a young prosecutor named Andrea Zanoncelli was handed the case, with the understanding that he should close it. “The level of evidence and the level of cooperation by the Ukrainian authorities was so bad that it was difficult to think it could turn out well,” he told me when I met with him in Pavia in September. Russia also refused to cooperate.
Andy’s family, however, kept pushing, so Zanoncelli met with them. They told him about the evidence they and others — including a lawyer they had hired in Slovyansk — had gathered. Zanoncelli then called in some of the journalists who had been on the phone call with Markiv on the night Andy and Andrei were killed. They didn’t want to reveal their source, but one acknowledged that the conversation had been in Italian. That was enough for the investigators to suspect that they were talking about Markiv. The Carabinieri, Italy’s national police, tapped Markiv’s mother’s phone, and investigators began to piece together a picture that placed Markiv at the center of the incident.
In June 2017, Markiv flew to Bologna to visit his mother, apparently planning to raise funds from the large Ukrainian diaspora in Italy. According to Zanoncelli, he was carrying two or three camera sticks, an iPad and two phones containing enough evidence about his time on Karachun to proceed with the case. Markiv was arrested at the airport and charged with the murder of Andrea Rocchelli. Listening in later on a jailhouse conversation, investigators heard Markiv remark that Andy and Andrei should have known what to expect going into “the lion’s den.”
At the trial, which opened in 2018, Zanoncelli argued that Andy and Andrei had been killed by mortar fire and that it was Markiv who had called it in. He was squad leader and carried a sighting device and the radio that was used to communicate with the adjacent army unit. Even from a mile away, Zanoncelli maintained, it would have been clear that four men getting out of a taxi with cameras were not enemy fighters. The duration of the barrage, he said, showed the intent to kill. The defense, led by a prominent lawyer named Raffaele della Valle, a close ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, argued that there were no mortars on the hill — easily disproved by a Ukrainian army video — and that Andrei Mironov was wearing camouflage pants, which was irrelevant but also easily disproved by Rocchelli’s last photos.
The Ukrainian press cast Markiv as a national hero and disparaged the witnesses. Ukrainians living in Italy flocked to Pavia. Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov came to testify in Markiv’s defense, as did a number of fellow volunteers. To the end, Markiv presented himself as a prisoner of war, rather than as a defendant in a criminal case. “His bearing was of a soldier arrested by an enemy,” said Rino Rocchelli. “That was a mistake. Italy is not an enemy, and not at war.”
It was the first time in his career, Zanoncelli told me, that he had become more convinced of a defendant’s guilt as the trial proceeded. Throughout, he avoided any moral comparison between the separatists who held Slovyansk and the Ukrainian forces arrayed against them. This wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t about who had the better cause, or who had the more cynical support from outside. It was about the events at that railroad crossing.
As the trial concluded in July 2019, Zanoncelli asked for a 17-year sentence. On July 12, the judges returned with a verdict: Guilty as charged. Markiv was sentenced to 24 years in prison. The verdict was followed at first by “absolute silence,” Paolo Perucchini, president of the Lombardy journalists association, told me. Then the courtroom erupted. “Glory to Ukraine!” shouted Markiv. “To the heroes, glory!” answered his many supporters in the courtroom, in the trademark call and response of Ukrainian nationalists.
That day, Kathy and I happened to be in France, along with several other old Moscow hands who had all known Andrei. I hadn’t been following the Italian criminal case, and the sudden news from Pavia seemed hard to fathom. It didn’t compute. That Andrei, who’d spent his life protesting the abuses of Russian power, should have been killed by those fighting Russian power — it was as distasteful an irony as I could have imagined.
But as I set out to learn what I could about the search for truth that had led Andy and Andrei to that blasted railroad crossing, I learned something from the Rocchelli family: In trying to understand that particular moment on a May afternoon in 2014, it doesn’t matter what you or I think about Russia or Ukraine. It doesn’t matter what we think about President Trump withholding military aid to Kyiv or his relations with either country. Those are significant questions, but we can’t let them color the facts. An extraordinary and gratuitous act of violence took place in Slovyansk that day. There has now been a legal reckoning, and slowly, I’ve been heading toward a personal one as well.
In October, the judges released their sentencing report. An extended act of aggression had been carried out against unarmed journalists, “there to exercise the right to freedom of information, the cardinal principle of every democracy,” who clearly turned to leave as soon as the firing began, the judges wrote. There was no other object but to kill them. Final shots that followed Roguelon as he scrambled to safety showed an intent to kill the “last inconvenient witness,” the judges wrote. “Defendant Markiv has chosen not to collaborate in discovering the truth about the murder, responding to the examination with many contradictions,” they wrote, “offering ridiculous answers.” They noted his “lack of remorse.”
When I visited his office in a town north of Milan, della Valle told me he considered the conviction and sentence the most absurd he’d seen in his half-century as a practicing attorney. Markiv “was a soldier who was fighting for a cause,” he said. The Ukrainian had good relations with the Italian journalists who knew him. Why would he intentionally kill Rocchelli and Mironov? “The sentence is in support of a strong political theory — that the Ukrainian army is made up of criminals who fire indiscriminately; that the Ukrainian government is sustaining these criminals,” he said. “This is a judicial error.” He promised to appeal.
The conviction was a victory in the sense that so often there is no justice in the deaths of journalists, especially in the former Soviet states.
In Ukraine, Markiv is treated as a martyr. His portrait adorns a large banner hung on the police headquarters in Kyiv. Protest rallies have been held outside the Italian Embassy. “Free Markiv” graffiti shows up all over the city. The Italians have been portrayed as stooges of the Russians, and Markiv’s supporters have started to claim that the prosecution used Russian propaganda as evidence. This infuriates Zanoncelli, who denies the allegations.
When I met him in Kyiv, Bohdan Matkivsky, who had been Markiv’s commander on Karachun and is now a member of the Ukrainian parliament, maintained that Markiv “was a simple soldier, acting as a good soldier, following orders.” The journalists were much too far away, he said, to be identifiable. As for the mortars bombarding Slovyansk, “they were protecting the lives of every Ukrainian soldier.” Matkivsky, who testified in Pavia on Markiv’s behalf, is now himself a target of a second Italian investigation.
Top: Rocchelli took this photo — one of his last — of French photographer William Roguelon, who survived the attack that killed Rocchelli and Mironov. Above: The taxi driver Yevgeny Koshman, foreground, and Mironov.
The conviction was a victory in the sense that so often there is no justice in the deaths of journalists, especially in the former Soviet states. Still, would Markiv have been pursued if he hadn’t had that Italian connection? If he did call in the mortars that day, is that an act of murder? If Andy and Andrei were intentionally targeted, why? And of the thousands of civilians killed in the war, including a handful of journalists, why does Andy Rocchelli’s death warrant this sort of criminal procedure?
I’ve asked some version of these questions to any number of people. Markiv’s supporters dismiss the whole case, of course. Others are morally certain that the conviction is a rare and righteous instance of justice. “I’m sure 100 percent that they were deliberate targets,” said Chelysheva, who can no longer go to Slovyansk because of the death threats she has received from nationalists who have tried to portray her as a Russian propagandist — painful for her because as a truth-telling journalist she chose exile from Russia a decade ago.
Vanessa Kogan, of the Stichting Justice Initiative in the Netherlands, has helped bring a civil case in the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Andy and Andrei’s survivors. “It’s not clear cut. It wasn’t the strongest evidence,” she said. “But we thought we had enough evidence, just about, to show that the Ukrainian armed forces were responsible for their deaths.” Ukraine is named as a defendant, as is Russia, for its failure to carry out an investigation into Mironov’s death.
Lyudmila Kushchova’s husband was abducted from their home in 2015, apparently by Ukrainian security agents, and tortured, she says. Months later, he was released, though he still faces charges of separatism and organizing terrorist activity. She believes his detention may have been a reprisal for hosting Andy and Andrei, and the couple has since moved to the final remnant of separatist territory. As angry as she is at the authorities in Kyiv, though, Kushchova’s not sure that Andy and Andrei were deliberately targeted. How would you know who was in the taxi, she asked when I talked to her. “They were probably just shooting at it for the fun of it. There were no rules. I told Andy and Andrei about this. The war was terrifying.”
Nadezda Azhgikhina, executive director of PEN Moscow who followed the case closely, has no doubts. “It was a targeted shooting. It was an assassination,” she said. And, for once, someone responsible for the death of journalists has been called to account. That, she said, is because “Rino didn’t give up. He is a fighter for his son, for justice. He is a fighter for a world where journalists are not being killed.”
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I asked della Valle what he thought of the Rocchellis, who had devoted so much effort to pushing the case. He straightened up in his chair, his eyes flaring beneath his shock of curly gray hair. “Massimo rispetto,” he said. Maximum respect. “It’s obvious the family looks for the truth.”
Just as Andrei had. For the past few months I’ve thought about how he would relish this kind of story: Let’s dig down and get the facts, he’d probably say. But facts are not motivations, and it can be hard to decipher someone’s innermost thoughts. The trial established some crucial facts, yet the larger truth in war is not so easily nailed down. And I still harbor small whispered doubts about the legal certainty underlying Markiv’s criminal conviction.
But I’m even more distressed by those who portray Markiv as a hero, and who in doing so denigrate the two Andreis and lump them with the Russian-backed separatists. I want to tell them: Not everyone on your side is a saint. War doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, you can’t find logic where it hasn’t been put.
Will Englund is a former Moscow correspondent. A winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he joined The Washington Post in 2010 and now covers energy.
Photo editing by Dudley M. Brooks. Design by Victoria Adams Fogg.
Credits: Will Englund
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