MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian appeals court on Tuesday acquitted a Ukrainian man who was sentenced to 24 years in jail last year over his alleged role in the 2014 killing of an Italian photographer covering fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian colleague Andrey Mironov died after they were hit by mortar fire near the town of Slaviansk as they were covering fighting between pro-Russian separatist forces and Ukrainian troops.
Italian prosecutors said Vitaliy Markiv, a volunteer fighter with the Ukrainian forces at the time, had taken part in the deadly attack and accused him of being an accessory to murder.
At the initial trial, judges found him guilty, but the appeals court overturned the ruling and ordered Markiv to be released from prison, to the delight of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who attended the hearing.
"All of Ukraine has been following this case and we are very happy," he told reporters after the sentence was read out. "The truth is Vitaliy had nothing to do with this affair."
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the decision, which he said "the whole country was waiting for".
"The release of Markiv...is a victory for justice. I am sincerely grateful to the Italian side and to the entire team that worked to achieve this justice," he said in a statement.
Markiv holds joint Ukrainian-Italian citizenship and was arrested after he flew back to Italy in 2017 to see his mother. He always denied the charges.
Ukraine has blamed Russia for the deaths.
(Reporting by Alfredo Faieta with additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mark Heinrich)