MILAN (Reuters) - An Italian court sentenced a Ukrainian man to 24 years in jail on Friday over his role in the 2014 killing of an Italian photographer covering fighting between pro-Russian forces and Ukrainian troops.

Journalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian colleague Andrey Mironov were killed after they were hit by mortar fire near the town of Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine five years ago.

Italian prosecutors in the northern city of Pavia 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.

The prosecution had requested a 17-year sentence for Markiv but the judge ignored this and imposed a much tougher term.

Markiv holds joint Ukrainian-Italian citizenship and was arrested after he flew back to Italy in 2017 to see his mother.

He has denied the charges. "Glory to Ukraine," he shouted after the verdict was read out.

Under Italian law, a defendant has the right to two appeals before a sentence becomes definitive.

Ukrainian Interior Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov said the verdict was unfair and would be appealed.

"Our guardsman and Ukraine are not guilty of the death of Rocchelli. He has become the victim of an aggressive Russia which unleashed in Sloviansk a war on Donbass (region). We will continue fighting", Avakov posted on his Facebook.

The office of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement he had asked the Foreign Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office "to make every effort" to bring Markiv home.

Rocchelli was a freelance photographer who worked with the Cesura photographers' collective.

(Reporting by Emilio Parodi; additional reporting in Kiev by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Andrew Cawthorne)

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