Viktor Marunyak, a village head of Stara Zburievka in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, has been known not only as one of the longest-serving mayors, but also as a movie star. His international visibility helped save his life after he was abducted by Russian soldiers during the invasion of Ukraine.
Marunyak was one of the protagonists of “Ukrainian Sheriffs,” a documentary directed by Roman Bondarchuk, winner of several international awards and Ukraine’s 2016 Oscars entry. The movie tells a story of a remote village in the Kherson region, 50 miles from Crimea, where two local men assume the functions of “sheriffs” because the police rarely come to the village to settle disputes. They are given this mandate by the village head, Viktor Marunyak, who trusts them to enforce law and order.
Marunyak, a historian by education, has been reelected as a mayor of Stara Zburievka four times since 2006, thanks to his efforts to reform the village and fight corruption. When the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, Stara Zburievka immediately fell under occupation. For the first several weeks, things were quiet: Russians mostly bypassed it. In mid-March, the invaders came to Stara Zburievka knocking on people’s doors, looking for local collaborators willing to help install the Russian administration there.
On March 21, Marunyak’s 60th birthday, they knocked on his door too.
“Russians arrived at my house in the evening in several cars. They said they will take me with them, and then will bring me back home,” Marunyak told New Lines. “They took me to a building in the village where three local men have already been detained. They were young boys and they had signs of beating. Russians asked me to confirm that these boys were from our village. They started interrogating me about local ‘sabotage groups’ and weapons storages. For some reason, they were obsessed with the idea of finding a lot of Kalashnikovs. When I didn’t answer, they just beat me up.”
Marunyak wasn’t released the following morning, nor in the next three weeks. He was held by Russian occupiers first in Stara Zburievka and then in Kherson, where he was beaten and tortured for his refusal to collaborate. [Continue reading…]