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#OnThisDay in 1918 Nicholas II of Russia and his family are murdered by Bolsheviks

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family were murdered by Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918.

Nicholas was the last Emperor of Russia and a first cousin of George V, as well as Haakon VII of Norway and Constantine I of Greece. He was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917. He and his family were then imprisoned. He had hoped to be able to live in exile in the United Kingdom. The British government initially offered asylum but revoked it after objections by George V. George’s objections were based on the advice given to him by his private secretary, Lord Stamfordham, who worried that the presence of Nicholas could cause an uprising like the Easter Rising in Ireland the year before.

In August 1917, the Romanov family was evacuated to the Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk, where they lived in comfort. However, in October 1917, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks took over the government from Alexander Kerensky during the October Revolution.

By 1 March 1918, the family was put on soldier’s rations. They continued to believe that plots were underway to smuggle them into safety. On 30 April 1918, the Romanovs were transferred to Yekaterinburg, where they were imprisoned in the Ipatiev House. 

The Romanovs in 1913. Photo: Alexander Palace Forums (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Romanovs in 1913. Photo: Alexander Palace Forums (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

Historians still debate on what exactly transpired on 17 July 1918. According to the chief executioner, Yakov Yurovsky, the family was awakened in the early hours of the morning and ordered to dress. They were then led down the stairs to the basement. They were told this was for their safety due to anti-Bolshevik forces entering the town, and the home had the possibility to be fired on.

When the family entered the room, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna complained that there were no chairs for them to sit on. At the request of Nicholas, Yurovsky had two chairs brought in, on which Alexandra and Alexei sat. At this point, the executioners walked into the room. Yurovsky then read aloud the death order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee. After repeating the order for a second time, he fatally shot Nicholas in the chest. He then shot Alexei. Alexei wasn’t killed by the initial shot to the head, so he was shot once more. The other executioners began firing, as well, until everyone lay dead. Tatiana, Anastasia, and Maria were the last to die. They were carrying over 1.3 kilograms of diamonds sewn into their clothing, and this defended them from some of the bullets. Olga was fatally shot in the head, and Tatiana was killed by a shot to the back of her head. When their bodies were being carried out of the basement, it was reported that one or more of the girls cried out, and according to Yurovsky, they were then clubbed on the back of the head.

The bodies of the Romanovs were taken to a mine shaft in the Koptyaki forest, where they were piled up and burned. After this, they were lowered into a shallow pit where sulphuric acid was sprinkled on them. Yurovsky attempted to cause the pit to collapse by a grenade but failed. His men covered it with branches and dirt until they returned the next day.

On 18 July, they removed the bodies to take them to another location. The next day, the truck carrying the remains of the Romanovs got stuck in the road. Yurovsky decided to bury them under the road where the truck had gotten stuck. The bodies were put in a grave two feet deep. Their faces were smashed with rifle butts, and their bodies were again sprinkled with sulphuric acid before being covered with quicklime.

Yurovsky decided to separate the bodies of Alexei and one of his sisters (believed to be either Maria or Anastasia) from the rest of the family to confuse anyone who would discover the grave. They were buried close to 15 metres away. Their bodies were partially burned and beaten into fragments by shovels before being thrown into the grave.

Nicholas was 50 years old and Alexandra was 46 at the time of their deaths. Their eldest child, Olga was 22, while Tatiana was 21 and Maria 19. Anastasia was 17 years old, and Alexei was just 13.

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