An explosive documentary burst onto Israeli screens Wednesday evening, grabbing viewers from their armchairs and hurling them into the middle of a forest outside of Russia.
In “Credit for Murder,” Vladi Antonevicz, a released IDF soldier, reveals the product of seven years of hard, often life-threatening work. The Jerusalem film school graduate plunged himself into the violent world of Russia’s neo-Nazi underground, and has emerged with a lot to say.
Not only does the intrepid Israeli’s documentary give an insight into some of the most extreme gangs in the country, but Antonevicz claims to have uncovered a deeply sinister aspect of how Russia’s neo-Nazi underworld is really organized.
Speaking to the Tazpit News Agency, Antonevicz begins his story in 2008. “I was caught up in a YouTube craze – watching people’s reactions to shocking, violent, banned videos,” he said.
It wasn’t long until Antonevicz, who has an energetic and probing nature, discovered that one video in particular was popular with YouTube uploaders: a double murder by supposed Russian neo-Nazis.
“There was one woman, she was just screaming, you could see she was terrified,” Antonevicz said, describing one of the YouTube videos showing a woman watching the executions.
When he found the video, both his horror and his curiosity were aroused. “Two boys were on their knees, beneath a Nazi flag. They were both murdered, and one of them was beheaded, close up to the camera. I had to find this video, and find who was responsible for the murders.”
There had been 49 murders of foreign nationals in the three months leading up to the 2008 Russian elections, a large spike from normal crime levels. It was a statistic which would later take on new significance for Antonevicz.
When asked how he had prepared for a mission so broad, the former soldier, who served in one of the IDF’s most elite infantry units, said, “I had no plan. No connections. Almost no finances. Just an idea, and a few friends.”
Two friends in particular had helped him on his journey, posing as fellow journalists hoping to reveal the neo-Nazi way of life for an American audience. Dima “Shuravi” was Antonevicz’s contact in Moscow, while Johnatan Cherny joined after the first visit to Russia.
Before meeting any gangs, Antonevicz did some research. He quickly developed a suspicion that the double murder in the video was not what it seemed, after noticing what he described as two red flags. “First, the authorities claimed for a year that the video was faked, even though one of the murders was a beheading from close up. That to me made no sense,” he said.
Then, the beheaded boy was identified. The victim was a Muslim from the region of Dagestan. “His father had been told by the Police that they would not help with an investigation. I know, I went to meet him myself,” Antonevicz clarified.
That is when Antonevicz took the real plunge. He immersed himself in the neo-Nazi world several times over six years, gaining the trust of gang members and leaders, and capturing their words on film.
Despite not knowing where or how to start, his goal remained to find who was responsible for the double murder.
It was a treacherous task, and getting discovered would have spelled disaster. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, Antonevicz revealed the extent of the gang’s hatred for Jews. “If I made a mistake, I would probably get a knife in my neck,” he said.
Even with his cover intact, Antonevicz faced imminent danger a number of times. On his first visit to the country, he was forced to take part in a knife fight with a gang leader. “He has no fear of death,” his friend Cherny told Tazpit.
On another occasion, a gang leader gave the filmmaker a protective vest, before shooting him twice at point-blank range. Another test of Antonevicz’s manliness.
Nevertheless, the team continued. Antonevicz told Tazpit that only after roughly four years, he joined dots together, and a greater picture began to emerge. The nature of the neo-Nazi gangs themselves was not what it appeared to be on the surface.
According to the team’s claims, key elements in the Russian administration are manipulating neo-Nazi activity, to further their own political needs.
In the documentary, the extent of the alleged discoveries into government involvment come full circle, back to the original video which brought the three men to the forests outside Moscow.
In a clever twist, the film almost makes good on the promise of its title, to give credit for the murders.At the end of the first scene, two censored words appear on the screen. It’s the name of a Russian politician Antonevicz claims is personally responsible for ordering the double murder.
The proof he brings in “Credit for Murder” has its cost, as his partners live in constant fear. Antonevicz himself, although unbowed, claims the Russian authorities are not ignoring his work. “Kremlin trolls” are following the documentary’s online presence, attacking the three men as “racist, Russian hating liars.”
Cherny told Tazpit he would never return to Russia. Antonevicz, on the other hand, says that not only is he not afraid in Israel, but he would even go back to Moscow.
“If they want to find me, they’ll find me. In Israel, in the USA, or in Russia. And I’m not scared of the neo-Nazis,” he explained, calmly.
The filmmakers are hoping “Credit for Murder” will be featured widely on the European film festival circuit, but not in Russia.
Tazpit News Agency