Yekaterinburg is in the Ural mountain chain which runs North South from the Arctic to Central Asia. It forms a geographical boundary between Asia and Europe.
The Urals are where the meteors blazed across the sky and exploded into earth last year, injuring over a thousand. It’s not the first time that’s happened here.
Coincidentally or not, the Urals are mineral rich. Conquering the Ural-based tribes here long ago enabled the growing Russian influence from the West to strengthen its resources and push further East and South.
Over time, they who held the riches of the Urals held the country. The Statue of Liberty in New York and the roofs of London’s Houses of Parliament are made from iron and copper from the Urals. Military factories abounded here during WWII (moved away from the German advances) and for a long time the area was shut off to visitors.
But, this is not what brings most people to Yekaterinburg.
Here, in the basement of a local merchant’s house in the very early hours of 17 July 2018, the (already abdicated) Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra (granddaughter of UK’s Queen Victoria and follower of “Ra, Ra, Rasputin…lover of the Russian Queen”) and their children, Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), Anastasia (17) and Alexei (13) were executed.
It was a bloody and drawn out execution as diamonds and other treasures sewn into the Royal’s clothes deflected the initial bullets. The family, under house arrest for some time in ever worsening conditions, had been hoping for eventual exile and had been woken in the night “to be moved on for their safety”. Shock, stabbings and panic ensued. The bodies were dumped in old mine shafts out of town.
The Red Army (Bolsheviks-Communists) were afraid that the Royals (now known just as the Comrades “Romanov”) might be recaptured by the White Army and used as motivating figureheads in the ongoing Civil War. Yekaterinburg did fall to the Whites a few days later.
Rumours spread after the deaths, some probably started by the White Army, including that the youngest daughter Anastasia may have escaped! The rumour grew stronger when her body and her brother’s were not found with the others.
This captured my imagination as a kid – a Russian Princess on the run! I must have seen something on TV, maybe news of one of the many “Anastasia”s that “came forward” over the years. Or perhaps I saw the news when new bodies were found or DNA testing (including using UK Royal blood for comparison) proved that Anastasia and Alexei did in fact die with the others. I admit to some disappointment.
I loved wandering among this history and watching flickering old footage of the family in happier times. Nicholas II was a shorty (and apparently quite ineffectual in comparison to his strong father), Alexei seemed cheeky and played for the camera, but I was always watching Anastasia scurrying along with her sisters in a huddle of white dresses and hats. Interestingly, as a young girl, she always seemed in a grump. It could be my imagination.
Although the Church was largely outlawed during the Soviet period, the 7 Romanovs were eventually canonised as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church, along with many of their servants that served and died with them. They now rest in St Petersburg.
The grand “Church of the Blood” honours them on the site of the destroyed merchants’ house in Yekaterinburg and we made an adventure of getting to and from the monastery (Ganina Yama) built 12km out of town where the bodies had been found.