Nikolai II Alexandrovich Romanov, the last Emperor of Russia, was brutally executed along with his wife and children by Bolshevik secret police on 17 July 1918. It is often said that the root of the murder of the Romanov family can be found in the earliest days of the reign of Nicholas. When he was crowned, Nikolas Romanov seemed bewildered and reported to exclaim to one of his advisors that he was not prepared for it and never wanted it. Twenty-four years later, although he had been deposed months earlier, he seemed as bewildered as a group of armed men, members of the Bolshevik secret police, stormed at his place to assassinate him, along with his family.
Although Nicholas gave his support to the economic and political reforms, advocated modernization based on foreign loans and close ties with France, he believed that God chose him to be the tsar and therefore the decisions of the tsar reflected the will of God, which could not be disputed. His belief made for a very stubborn ruler who rejected constitutional limitations on his power and resisted giving the new parliament, called the Duma, major roles.
Consequently, he was strongly criticized for his government's repression of political opponents, the crackdown on the freedom of the press, and the anti-Jewish pogroms. He was also held responsible for the massacre on Bloody Sunday, 22 January 1905, when the police unnecessarily opened fire, brutally killing nearly one hundred unarmed protesters during a peaceful assembly and the consequent savage suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution. His popularity was further damaged by the defeats sustained by the Russian military in the Russo-Jap War and defeat in World War I. The severe military losses led to a general strike and a mutiny of the garrison in Petrograd that sparked the February Revolution and the disintegration of the monarchy's authority. By March 1917, Nicholas had completely lost public support and on 15 March he was forced to abdicate the throne, thereby ending the 304-year Romanov dynasty rule of Russia.
When Bolshevik revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin took over the government in November 1917, Nicholas frantically tried to convince the British and the French to grant him asylum, especially as his wife, Empress Alexandra, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. However, as both the countries refused to oblige, the historic Romanov family had to remain under the mercy of the newly formed revolutionary government.
Although the Provisional Government decided on 20 March 1917 to hold the royal family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarkoye Selo, soon the decision was changed. It was finally decided that they would be moved to a safer location, in the remote town of Tobolsk in Western Siberia, which is around 50 miles (240 km) from the nearest rail station. Accordingly, the royal family that used to live in a royal palace with all the possible amenities, was moved out of the Alexander Palace on 13 August and after a long journey by rail for four days and then by two river ferries, they were unloaded in the Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk, in a rather comfortable situation.
Unfortunately for the Romanovs, the situation did not last long and restrictions were imposed on the time the family could spend in the open grounds for exercising and playing games in January 1918, even they were prohibited to walk to the local church on Sundays as they before. Finally, as the political situation in Tobolsk changed for the worse, they were moved to Yekaterinburg, a city located on the eastern slope of the Ural Mountain, around 1036 miles (1667 km) east of Moscow, on the morning of 30 April. There, they were imprisoned in the two-storey Ipatiev House, the home of the military engineer, which Bolsheviks called the house of special purpose.
Finally, it was in the wee hours of 17 July 1918, when the royal family was awakened around 2:00 am and asked to get dressed immediately. Expecting another move, the women members of the family put on clothing into which they had sewn precious jewelry and religious icons. However, they were led down into a half-basement room at the back of the Ipatiev house, on the pretext of safety as the anti-Bolshevik forces were approaching Yekaterinburg and they could open fire at the house. Apart from Nicholas, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna and their children, the group included Eugene Botkin, personal physician of the tsar, Anna Demidova, the maid in the service of the tsarina, Ivan Kharitonov, the chef of the family and footman Alexei Trupp. Nicholas was carrying his son and as there was no chair in the basement room, he asked if chairs could be brought in for his wife and son. When the chairs were brought in and the empress and the heir were seated, a group of armed men stormed into the room and Yakov Yurovsky, the Commandant of the Special House of Purpose, announced to the group that the Ural Soviet of Workers' Deputies had decided to execute them.
As the stunned and bewildered Nicholas shouted to know what he meant, executioners drew handguns and began indiscriminate shooting. Nicholas was the first to die in a hail of bullets to the chest, but his daughters – Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga and Maria – survived the first volley of bullets, protected by the precious gems and diamonds sewn into their clothing. However, the men with arms completed their job, when the sisters were then stabbed with bayonets and finally shot at close range in their heads.
Although it seemed to be an unscripted killing spree, the massacre of the entire Romanov family was in fact was a neatly plotted act of violence. The Bolshevik captors had been gradually preparing the Ipatiev House for the murder and enough quantity of benzene and sulfuric acid were stocked to mutilate and deform the corpses beyond recognition. In fact, Vladimir Lenin and the other leaders of the revolution strongly felt that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill their aims in the presence of Nicholas and the monarchy, he symbolized, and that made them to take the ultimate step to annihilate the entire family. However, they also apprehended that the brutal assassination of the Romanovs might go against them. Therefore, to erase the evidence of the massacre, the bodies of the group were stealthily driven to nearby woodland, searched and soaked in acid and finally thrown down a disused mineshaft.
Despite being viewed more positively in recent years, it is generally maintained that Nicholas was well-intentioned, but a poor ruler who proved incapable of handling the challenges facing his nation. Long after the massacre of the royal family, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, based in New York City, recognized Nicholas, his wife, and their children as martyrs in 1981. However, while their gravesite was discovered in 1979, it was not acknowledged until 1989. After the fall of Communism and the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, the remains of the imperial family were exhumed, identified by DNA analysis, and re-interred in St. Petersburg on 17 July 1998, with an elaborate state and church ceremony, 80 years after their assassination. Moreover, despite several disputes, the family was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers in 2000.
The Ipatiev House, which was built in the 1880s and held the Romanov family as prisoners for 78 days and ultimately murdered, was designated a national monument in 1974. However, three years later it was demolished on 22 September 1977, by order of Boris Yeltsin, the first President of Russia from 1991 to 1999. However, the basement of the structure remained as it was. The plot of land was finally handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church on 20 September 1990 for the construction of a memorial chapel. Finally, 85 years after the execution of the former imperial family, the construction of the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg was completed in 2003 on the site of their assassination, with the basement of the original Ipatiev House becoming a part of the church building.