MARBLEHEAD – When Lucy Egisserian read the headline that Boris Nemtsov had been shot near the Kremlin, she had a similar reaction to the thousands of Russians who would later march in his memory and continue laying wreaths, flowers, and candles at the site of his death four years later: shock and horror.
“I couldn’t make sense of it – all the words I understood, but I couldn’t make sense of the sentence,” said Egisserian, a web designer turned filmmaker from Marblehead who was born in Odessa, Ukraine. “For me it was a shock … I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat.”
Nemtsov, the leader of Russia’s liberal opposition to Vladimir Putin, was shot while walking on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge on Feb. 27, 2015.
After his death, Egisserian began editing some footage of Nemtsov that she found online, which eventually became “Not Your Average Citizen,” a documentary film that explains, in her words, “The why, rather than the how, or who, killed him.”
While a Moscow jury found five Chechens guilty of murdering Nemtsov, the “who” and “how” of the masterminds who ordered the assassination remain unknown. The “why” of his death may have something to do with the fact that he was the charismatic Jewish leader of the liberal opposition to Putin’s authoritarian government.
Nemtsov, who was the governor of one of the most populous regions in Russia, had openly criticized the Putin’s government for years, and he escalated his public attacks following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. The day after his murder, Nemtsov was scheduled to lead a peace protest against the war in Ukraine and the ongoing financial crisis in Russia.
Egisserian offered glowing praise of the man she feels represented hope that a different Russia could exist. “He was the poster boy – he was the symbol of the Russia that we always dreamed of,” she said. “He was an absolutely uncompromised fighter. He felt it was his personal destiny to bring Russia to the democratic world. He couldn’t see himself doing anything else. He couldn’t be bought, and he couldn’t be sold.”
Egisserian, who is Jewish and has a daughter who lives in Tel Aviv, does not think that Nemtsov was killed because he was Jewish, nor does she think Putin is especially anti-Semitic. Still, anti-Semitic slurs against Nemtsov are common.
“He strongly believed his ethnicity wouldn’t forbid him from being president … he always believed in common sense,” said Egisserian. “But from his own words, there always was someone who called him ‘[the K-word],’ and all that stuff. And if you go on YouTube, you will see it’s a nonstop anti-Semitic rant: ‘Go back to Israel,’ or ‘You’re selling Russia to whoever.’”
Since Nemtsov died four years ago, Egisserian has been addressing these questions in her documentary, which tells Nemtsov’s story through voiceovers and archival footage. Obtaining the rights to hours of footage has not been easy, especially since many in Russia do not want her to have it, and do not want this story told. As a result, Egisserian was afraid to make the film for a long time.
“I was very much in the shadows, and this is my first coming out – for three years it was only my friends who I shared the story with,” said Egisserian. “He’s a very polarizing person. From Americans, it was a 99-percent positive reaction. The Russian community is 50-50. Some people consider him a traitor.”
Egisserian has had to publicize her film because she needs to obtain funding in order to finish it. She hopes to raise $30,000 by March 5. If she obtains it, she thinks she can finish the film within a year.
“What I want to tell in my film is that democracy is a very fragile thing, and Americans take it for granted,” said Egisserian. “We are very wrong, because it requires work every day to defend it. I hope to wake people up to see what happens when we’re not aware what is going on around us. There’s a quote: ‘You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.’”
To support “Not Your Average Citizen,” visit nemtsovfreedom.com.