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25 May, 2014 09:31

Confirmed: Italian journalist killed in Eastern Ukraine

An Italian journalist has been killed near the Ukrainian city of Slavyansk during a mortar attack, the Italian Foreign Ministry has confirmed. The journalist was covering the ongoing conflict in the east of Ukraine ahead of the presidential elections.

The body of the reporter has been preliminary identified as 30-year-old photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli. The Italian citizen was reportedly hit along with his interpreter, Andrey Mironov, by mortar fire on Saturday near the village of Andreevka, a couple of kilometers from Slavyansk.

Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini appealed to Ukraine’s authorities to clarify the circumstances that led to Rocchelli’s death in the Donetsk Region.

"We ask to clarify the circumstances of the attack that killed an Italian citizen as soon as possible," she said in a statement. Mogherini intends to personally contact her Ukrainian counterpart Andrey Deshchytsya about the issue.

Rocchelli’s body is now awaiting official identification from his family, who are due to arrive in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Sunday.

IMAGE: ID of killed Italian journalist found with body near E.#Ukraine's #Slavyanskhttp://t.co/ot4z2jGMdRpic.twitter.com/9TPgXxVBGK

— RT (@RT_com) May 25, 2014

French journalist William Roguelon, who was reportedly with Rocchelli at the time of the attack, told Italian press how their vehicle was bombarded by mortar fire.

"Before that we heard Kalashnikov shots,” Roguelon was quoted by the Italian tgcom24. “Then the mortar shells rained down all around," he said, claiming to have heard up to 60 explosions as they tried to hide in the “middle of a ditch."

He told Russian news channel Vesti that when he came to after the explosions he saw the bodies of Rocchelli and his interpreter on the ground not moving. Roguelon was injured in the assault and was taken to a local hospital where he received treatment and was well enough to leave the facility on his own.

IMAGE: ID of Russian journalist Andrey Mironov found dead in E.#Ukrainehttp://t.co/ot4z2jGMdRpic.twitter.com/VcgJjqNxHI

— RT (@RT_com) May 25, 2014

Local residents who found the bodies told RT’s video agency Ruptly that they found the remains of mortars at the scene of the attack.

Screenshot from Ruptly video

Rocchelli was a professional photographer who had worked with a number of Italian photography agencies as well as Wall Street Journal, ForeignPolicy and Novaya Gazeta, to name but a few.

The area around Slavyansk has been gripped by violence in the run up to Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential elections. The coup-appointed government in Kiev has deployed troops in the east of Ukraine as part of an ‘anti-terrorist’ operation to quell anti-Kiev activists who have taken control of government buildings as a mark of protest against the Kiev authorities.

A number of journalists have already fallen prey to the violence in eastern Ukraine. On Sunday, Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko were released after several days of detention by the Ukrainian Army.

The men told Russian press that they had been kept in a dug-out cell with their legs and hands tied and had had their heads covered by sacks. The Ukrainian authorities said that the journalists were being investigated on charges of terrorism, and denied a special observer mission access to them.

Italian journalist #Rocchelli died near #Slavyansk. He documented life of children under siege. Photo: Cesuralab pic.twitter.com/JWbtCAOQg4

— Maryana Drach (@MaryanaDrach1) May 25, 2014

The crackdown of journalists in Ukraine has been condemned by a number of rights groups. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Kiev to “stop equating conflict reporting with terrorism.”

In addition the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE) said journalists in Ukraine are “continually been denied access to events and information, often by force” and warned that consequences will be “too grave to even imagine.”

Journalists are “being directly targeted in some cases," Mark Sleboda, Moscow State University’s international relations expert, told RT.

“This is to be expected when you are indiscriminately shelling civilian areas with artillery, with mortars…that of course is a war crime,” he said. “Russian journalists have been barred from entering the Ukraine despite protests of the OSCE and other organizations. The putsch regime is regarding all journalists who might provide critical information about it as enemies.”

He added that the most alarming is the reaction of Western journalists to the detention and barring of entry of their professional colleagues from Russia.

“They have been absolutely silent,” he said.

‘Regrettable incident, terrorist resistance to blame’ – Kiev

The Russian Foreign Minister and his Italian counterpart Federica Mogherini have discussed and shared condolences of the death of the Italian journalist alongside his Russian colleague near Slavyanks on Saturday.

“Lavrov and Mogherini have called for an immediate end to violence in the south-east of Ukraine and called for a prompt halt in the 'antiterrorist operation' launched by the Kiev authorities there,” the FM statement reads.

The coup-appointed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrey Deschytsia also spoke on the subject with his Italian counterpart, promising to conduct a probe into the death of the two journalists.

“The Ukrainian foreign minister assured his Italian counterpart that the best experts will be involved in the inquiry, while Ukrainian government agencies will keep the Italian consular services updated about the investigation,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Ukrainian side however was quick to blame the self-defense forces for the incident despite witness account of the French journalist William Roguelon, who was in the car at the time of the armed assault and blamed it on Ukrainian forces.

“This regrettable incident testifies to further resistance on the side of the terrorist groups to the activity of journalists in the territory of Ukraine,” Deschytsia said.

Meanwhile, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said she was “deeply saddened” about Rocchelli and Mironov's deaths as she expressed condolences to their families and colleagues.

“These deaths are horrid reminders that not enough is being done to protect journalists who risk their lives reporting from conflict zones in Ukraine,” Mijatović said. “I have raised my concern about the appalling situation regarding journalists’ safety in the country on numerous occasions, but it has continued to deteriorate," Mijatović said. “I call on the authorities to swiftly and thoroughly investigate the circumstances of this deadly attack and to hold those responsible accountable.”