The brutal murder in Yekaterinburg on the night of July 17, 1918, of the last Russian Tsarist family and their entourage was overgrown with many myths and legends, but has not yet been adequately understood.
Hundreds of books have been written about the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II, often diametrically opposed in meaning and content. No wonder: Soviet historiography did everything to justify the Yekaterinburg crime – the brutal massacre of the Tsar’s family and their entourage. The massacre, in the details of which historians are still confused, constructing the sequence of events in different ways, and also heatedly argue about the fate of the remains of the holy royal martyrs.
Debunking myths about regicide is not easy, despite several official investigations into the case. The first of them was carried out during the years of the Civil War at the direction of Admiral Kolchak by the investigator Nikolai Sokolov. The second is the investigation of the 1990s, hastily carried out at the direction of Yeltsin under the supervision of Boris Nemtsov, in order to report as soon as possible: they say, by the 90th anniversary of the murder of the Tsar’s family, all points have been set, the remains are buried. And finally, the consequence of recent years, which has been going on since 2015 without haste, but with a firm intention to answer the questions in as much detail as possible, of which there are still much more than answers.
Ural tragedy of 1918: Beginning
To begin with, it is important to note that the death of the Tsar’s family was the central, but by no means the only tragic event in the series of bloody Bolshevik lawlessness. The “Red Terror” will be officially announced only in September 1918, but in the Urals it began much earlier, back in June. In fact, a series of murders began in 1917, when the first new martyrs of the Russian Church died. The very first among them was Archpriest John Kochurov – Hieromartyr John of Tsarskoye Selo, who was killed by the Bolsheviks six days after the October Revolution. In the same Tsarskoe Selo, where not long before that the last Russian Tsar’s family was kept under arrest.
By the summer of 1918, revolutionary terror was already raging throughout the country, although the Bolsheviks formally abolished the death penalty only on June 13. And it was on this day that the first murder of a member of the House of Romanov took place. It was Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, the younger brother of the last Emperor. Together with his personal secretary Nikolai Johnson, he was secretly kidnapped from a Perm hotel, where he lived under the supervision of the Cheka, taken into the forest and killed by a group of security officers and policemen. The assassins plundered the property of the killed, and subsequently each openly boasted that it was he who killed the Grand Duke.
At first, the Bolsheviks tried to hide this crime, spreading rumors that the Grand Duke fled from Perm and allegedly led some white rebels, and therefore in the monarchist environment there was a long time hope that Mikhail Alexandrovich survived. Moreover, many of them hoped that it was he who would take the throne after the revival of the monarchy they wanted. But, alas, by the day of the murder of the Tsar’s family, the brother of Nicholas II had been in an unknown grave for more than a month.
Regicide: Repression or Murder?
Questions about what happened in the Yekaterinburg house of Ipatiev on the night of July 16-17, 1918 begin with how one should generally assess the Yekaterinburg tragedy? Is this one of the first repressive actions of the Soviet government or just a criminal offense? Of course, for people who venerate the Royal family as holy royal passion-bearers, this does not matter, but for the sake of historical truth, this moment is also important. Including in order to reveal the essence of the new revolutionary government, which turned out to be not just invaders and usurpers, but the most real murderers and criminals.
It would seem that the answer to this question is simple: even if the Soviet government is recognized not only de facto, but also de jure, its bodies did not take any judicial action. The royal family (Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia) and those close to them (Dr. Evgeny Botkin, cook Ivan Kharitonov, room girl Anna Demidova and valet Alexei Trup) were killed without trial, investigation and the verdict – by the decision of the Ural Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
That is, if we draw a parallel with modernity, the decision to kill eleven people was made … by the regional Legislative Assembly. Moreover, not a popularly elected one, but hastily assembled by revolutionary activists. Was there a sanction from Moscow, whereby that time Lenin and Sverdlov and their comrades had already moved, who, as a result of the October Revolution of 1917, declared themselves the All-Russian government? Here historians and lawyers have not yet come to a common opinion.
However, even if it was a grassroots initiative, the Moscow Bolsheviks were quite satisfied with what happened. Already in the evening of July 18, at a meeting of the Council of People’s Commissars, one of the key speakers of which was Trotsky, it was decided to “take note of” the execution of the Tsar’s family. True, for several more years the Soviet authorities tried to hide the fact that the entire Tsar’s family had been shot, confirming the shooting of Nicholas II alone. The latter was due to a banal foreign policy: it was impossible to demonstrate oneself in the eyes of “Western partners” as bloody tyrants.
The customers are obvious, but what were the killers themselves? Typical semi-criminal and criminal elements imbued with the “romantic” of the revolution: Yakov Yurovsky, Grigory Nikulin, Pyotr Ermakov, Mikhail Medvedev, Pavel Medvedev (not brothers, but namesakes), Alexei Kabanov, Stepan Vaganov, and Viktor Netrebin. There is no evidence that at least one of them was subsequently tormented by the pangs of repentance. But it is known for certain that a number of them, right up to the end of their lives (and some died in severe torment), boasted of what had been done, and boasting that it was they who had “finished off” the Tsar, Empress and their children.
The very question of whether the holy royal passion-bearers are victims of political repression or a banal criminal murder arose in the middle of the 2000s when they started talking about their possible rehabilitation. This is a purely legal question, irrelevant either for the ecclesiastical canonization of the dead or for their nationwide veneration. Nevertheless, after a long debate about whether the royal family is subject to rehabilitation, on October 1, 2008, the decision was made:
The Presidium of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ruled to recognize the repressions as unfounded and to rehabilitate Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, Alexandra Fedorovna Romanova, Olga Nikolaevna Romanova, Tatyana Nikolaevna Romanova, Maria Nikolaevna Romanova, Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova and Alexey Nikolaevich Romanov.
In fact, this decree is important only from one side: the modern Russian state, which is the legal successor of the Soviet state, has recognized the groundlessness and criminality of this event. The rehabilitation of those killed, including the minors of the Tsarevich and the Grand Duchesses, is rather a legal incident. After all, even the haters of Nicholas II himself cannot but admit that he was not convicted. Although formally they tried to impute to him an imaginary correspondence with a secret “officers’ organization”, allegedly planning the release of the Tsar’s family.
In clumsy French, the Bolshevik provocateur Pyotr Voikov (yes, the one in whose honor the Moscow metro station, the district and many streets in different cities of Russia are named) wrote encouraging letters to the Yekaterinburg prisoners. In response, the holy royal martyrs only asked the “officers” to prevent bloodshed. But back to the Yekaterinburg murder itself.
The last Russian Emperor or “Citizen Romanov”?
And this question is not idle. For many years Soviet propaganda did everything to prove that there was no murder of the Tsar’s family. Liberal propaganda echoes today: yes, it was a “citizen Romanov” who abdicated the throne of his own free will, arrested and kept in custody with his family and servants. The goal of propaganda is clear: to desacralize what happened. Like, you never know repressions and murders before and especially after? From “citizen Romanov” to “non-citizen Trotsky”.
And it is precisely in order that no one put Nicholas II and the “demon of the revolution” Trotsky in one line, it is necessary to understand: who was killed in the Yekaterinburg house of Ipatiev on that July night of 1918? Firstly, certainly not a citizen of the RSFSR, whose citizenship (as well as the citizenship of the “Kerensky” Russian Republic of September-November 1917) the last Russian Emperor never accepted. But did he remain the Emperor, albeit deprived of the throne?
And here again there is no consensus among historians. And if at first the dispute was about whether the abdication was voluntary or violent, the result of a criminal conspiracy and betrayal of part of the tsarist entourage, including the high military officials who overstepped the oath, then in recent years the version has been widely circulated that there was no abdication at all, but his the text allegedly signed by Nicholas II is a fake. The latest version is being actively developed by the historian Peter Multatuli, the great-grandson of the murdered imperial chef Ivan Kharitonov. You can disagree with the arguments of this researcher, but in one thing he is absolutely right:
The events of February-March 1917 were nothing more than the overthrow of Emperor Nicholas II from the ancestral throne; illegal, committed in a criminal way, against the will and desire of the autocrat, depriving him of power.
That is, even if the abdication was signed by Nicholas II himself, it was clearly signed under pressure from the conspirators. Could the Emperor, after some time, disavow what had happened? The answer is obvious: he was in custody, under constant pressure and feared for the life of his family. And therefore, be that as it may, until his last days he remained forcibly overthrown by the Emperor, and his family – the Royal. For believers, this is beyond any doubt also because the Russian tsars were God’s anointed, over whom the chrismation was performed at the time of the coronation.
Could someone have been saved?
One of the most scandalous questions that has become the basis of all kinds of cheap fiction. The topic of journalistic “sensational” speculations, as well as the hopes of many sincere admirers of the Tsar’s family. Unfortunately, the answer is simple and hopeless: there is no reason to talk about the possible salvation of any of the martyrs. Although there were several impostors who pretended to be Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna and Tsarevich Alexei.
According to researchers, such rumors were actively spread by the Soviet authorities, and not from the periphery, but from the center. And this was done for the same foreign policy purposes as attempts to imagine that Nicholas II alone was shot in Yekaterinburg, and his family managed to escape.
The fate of the Yekaterinburg remains
At the moment, the investigation into the murder of the Tsar’s family has not yet been finally completed, and therefore, according to the current legislation, it is not only too early to announce its results, but it is also unacceptable. However, due to the special public importance of the investigation, a few years ago it was decided to disclose some of its details. In particular, the conclusions of a number of anthropological examinations (the results of the genetic examination have not yet been announced) on the remains found near Yekaterinburg, presumably belonging to the holy royal martyrs and their entourage, including the New Martyr Doctor Evgeny Botkin, numbered among the saints.
In the film by Elena Chavchavadze “The Murder of the Romanovs. Facts and Myths”, aired in 2020, a very important discovery was made in this regard. Today there is a widespread opinion that the Yekaterinburg remains cannot be genuine for one reason: they were completely destroyed by the Bolsheviks – they were doused with sulfuric acid and burned in the forest. According to experts, it is simply impossible to completely destroy the bodies in this way, but this version itself remains very tenacious. As it turned out, this is also a consequence of the Bolshevik propaganda. So, back in 1921, an article by the Bolshevik Pavel Bykov “The Last Days of the Last Tsar” was published, whose draft could be found by the creators of the film “The Murder of the Romanovs. Facts and Myths.”
In this document, it is noticeable that during the editing of the article, moments were deliberately erased, allowing one to assume that the remains of the holy royal passion-bearers could have survived. For example, in the phrase “The corpses were partially burned” the word “partially” was crossed out, and the word “buried” was changed to “destroyed”. In the phrase “The admirers of monarchism did not succeed in turning insignificant remains into incorruptible relics, and they are rotting now in the mountains of the Urals” the last words after the comma are crossed out.
Experts, including the historian and anthropologist Denis Pezhemsky and the medical forensic scientist Professor Vyacheslav Popov, with whom Constantinople prepared detailed interviews in 2018, where the version about the ownership of the Yekaterinburg remains to the Tsar’s family and their entourage looks very plausible, consider the discovery on the surface of the skull to be very important, presumably, belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, a possible trace from a saber blow, received by the Emperor in his youth.
Although the experts do not yet have full confidence. Therefore, there is still no talk of recognizing the Yekaterinburg remains as holy relics. And this is not the case of the investigative group, but the decision of the Russian Church, which must be conciliar and cannot be taken very quickly. But what about what happened in the Urals in the summer of 1918 can be completely sure? According to Professor Vyacheslav Popov, only in one:
The murder of these people, whose names today only the Lord knows, was committed under aggravating circumstances. There is no doubt that this was the most heinous crime, which no arguments, including even revolutionary ones, can not only be justified, but even mitigated.
Was the murder of the royal family “ritualistic”?
One of the most controversial and controversial issues, based on the fact that in the room of the Ipatiev house, where the Yekaterinburg tragedy took place, strange inscriptions and images were found on the walls. Some interpret them as Satanist, some are looking for a Jewish Kabbalistic trace, but the experts of the investigation team suggest that these recorded signs appeared after the tragedy. At the time when the ill-fated room was available for inspection, in some days or weeks after the execution.
Nevertheless, the investigation is considering this version as well. For a believer, an Orthodox person, it is obvious: even if the killers themselves did not pursue any occult goals, the very desire to destroy the entire House of Romanov, the entire family of Russian tsars is already a kind of anti-Christian ritual. And this is confirmed by the fact that exactly one day after the Yekaterinburg tragedy, the Alapaevskaya tragedy happened.
On the night of July 18, in Alapaevsk, relatively not far from Yekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks committed another atrocious crime. The assassination of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (the sister of the deceased Empress), Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich, princes of the imperial blood John Konstantinovich, Konstantin Konstantinovich (junior) and Igor Konstantinovich Romanov; Prince Vladimir Paley, Fyodor Remez (manager of the affairs of Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich) and sister of the Martha-Mariinsky monastery Barbara (Yakovleva), cell attendant Elizaveta Fyodorovna.
In conclusion, it is worth repeating that the investigation of one of the main Russian tragedies – the regicide of 1918 – continues. There are many questions, but the main answer is obvious: in those terrible years and days, Russia left the path of its historical destiny. More than a hundred years have passed, and now we are trying to get back on this path. This can be seen, among other things, in such actions as the appearance in the Basic Law of the Russian state of the mention of faith in God and the Russian people, as well as our traditional values, which no one questioned in the Russian Empire.
Whether we can make sure that these provisions do not remain declarative depends primarily on ourselves. And, of course, from the Providence of God and the prayers of our Heavenly intercessors, including the new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Church, including the holy royal passion-bearers, whose memory is now being celebrated.
The Russian version of the article is here .
Mikhail Tyurenkov is a Editor-in-chief, columnist and head of the religious editorial office of “Tsargrad” TV.
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