Nicholas II’s grave was an “open secret” in Soviet Russia during the 1920s

PHOTO: the remains of Nicholas II, his wife, three of their children and their four faithful retainers were buried under the “sleepers bridge” at Porosenkov Log by their murderers in 1918

We hid them so well that the world will never find them,” boasted Commissar for Supply in the Ural Region Soviet Pyotr Lazarevich Voykov (1888-1927), on the location of the murdered remains of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

While the burial site of the Imperial Family at Porosenkov Log remained a secret to the world for more than 60 years, it was in fact an “open secret”[1] to a select few in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

In January 1928 – ten years after the murders of Emperor Nicholas II, his family and four faithful retainers – the famous Soviet poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (1893-1930) visited Sverdlovsk. It was at the city’s Business Club that he met the Chairman of the Ekaterinburg City Executive Committee Anatoly Ivanovich Paramonov (1891-1970), making enquiries about the city and the last days of the Imperial Family.

Paramonov took Mayakovsky to the Ipatiev House, and then in minus 30-degree frost, along the Old Koptyaki Road to the place where the remains of the Imperial Family had been buried by their murderers – members of the Ural Soviet on 17th July 1918.

“Of course, it was nothing special – to see the grave of the tsar. In fact, nothing is visible there. It is very difficult to find as there are no signs or marks, this secret place is familiar only to a certain group of people,” Mayakovsky wrote in his diary.

PHOTO: Vladimir Mayakovsky and Anatoly Paramonov

Three months after his trip to the Urals, Mayakovsky wrote the mockingly pathetic poem The Emperor, which indicated the place of burial with absolute toponymic accuracy. In his poem, Mayakovsky reveals clues: “Beyond the Iset [river], where the wind howled, the executive committee coachman fell silent and stood at the ninth verst.”[2] “Beyond Iset at the ninth verst” is a key clue that indicated where to look for the tsar’s grave on the Old Koptyaki Road. The poem further notes: “Here the cedar was torn with an ax, notches under the root of the bark, at the root, under the cedar, there is a road, and in it the emperor is buried.”

The Emperor was published in the Soviet literary magazine Krasnaya Nov on 4th April 1928. Mayakovsky’s poem made a terrible impression on the Russian/Soviet poet Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941). She deplored Mayakovsky’s justification of the terrible massacre, as a kind of verdict of history. She insisted that the poet should be on the side of the victims, not the executioners, and if the story is cruel and unfair, he must speak against it. In 1929, in response, she began working on a poem about the Tsar’s Family entitled Heart and Stone.

Mayakovsky’s poem, as well as other evidence such as the “Yurovsky note”, helped Soviet and Russian geologist Alexander Nikolayevich Avdonin and Soviet writer and filmmaker Geliy Trofimovich Ryabov (1932-2015) locate the remains of the Imperial Family in 1979[3].

PHOTO: Pyotr Voykov and Boris Kowerda

In 1926, Mayakovsky visited Voykov in Warsaw, where the latter served as Soviet Ambassador to Poland. It was during this visit that Voykov told Mayakovsky about the regicide which took place in Ekaterinburg. Voykov was assassinated in Warsaw on 7th June 1927, by Boris Sofronovich Kowerda (1907-1987) a White émigré and monarchist. Kowerda planned to kill Voykov in order to “Avenge Russia, and the deaths of millions of people”, as well for Voykov’s participation in the decision to execute Nicholas II and his family.

Declassified photographs taken by members of the firing squad, as well as those who did not participate in the regicide, but who knew of the location of burial site, aided Paramonov and Mayakovsky to locate the “sleepers bridge” (see photo below).

The murderer Pyotr Zakharovich Ermakov (1884-1952) used a Mauser pistol[4], during the liquidation of the Imperial Family in the basement of the Ipatiev House. He brought it with him to the place where the bodies lay so that he could be photographed (see photo below).

“In the first half of the 1960s, one of the sons of the murderers applied to the Central Committee of the Communist Party with a letter addressed to the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev (1894-1971), boasting that his father had participated in the murder of the Imperial Family. He presented Khrushchev with two pistols that he had preserved: one for the Soviet leader, the other – to be handed over to Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro (1926-2016) as the leader of the world revolution. At that time, documents in all the archives were still sealed, yet two of the executioners were still alive. And for history, the Radio Committee recorded their memories, which had been preserved and “coincided with those of Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky” (1878-1938), said Sergei Mironenko, Director of the State Archives of the Russian Federation [GARF} in Moscow.

Yurovsky served as commandant of the “House of Special Purpose” [Ipatiev House], and the chief executioner of the Tsar and his family. But his memories raised a lot of questions – some historians believe that the typewritten text may have been specially falsified by the GPU-NKVD-KGB, in order to send future search efforts on the wrong track, or a story written by a third party, such as the Soviet historian Mikhail Nikolayevich Pokrovsky[5].

PHOTO: in the 1920s, the murderer Pyotr Zakharovich Yermakov returned to Porosenkov Log. On the reverse of this photo, he wrote: “I am standing on the grave of the Tsar”.

According to Vladimir Nikolaevich Solovyov, senior investigator and forensic expert at the Main Department of Criminalistics (Forensic Center) of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, who from 1991 to 2015 led the investigation into the death of the imperial family, “the real breakthrough was made quite recently”.

Shortly after the completion of the work of the government commission, a safe was discovered in another archive, not in the State Archive, but in the former Central Party Archive, which had not been opened for many decades. It contained a manuscript of the famous Soviet historian Mikhail Nikolayevich Pokrovsky (1868-1932), a typewritten copy of which is kept in the State Archive. The discovery immediately confirmed that this is Yurovsky’s recollection, recorded by Pokrovsky. According to Sergei Mironenko, the bottom of the last page of the manuscript had been torn off. Apparently, it contained the name of the place where the bodies were hidden. So there is no evidence? There is! As shown by the graphological examination, handwritten by Pokrovsky and Yurovsky, the name was entered into the typewritten version, the authenticity of which is considered beyond any doubt.

“Interestingly, at the end of the classic text of Yurovsky’s note, there is an addition, made in pencil, which precisely indicates the place where the bodies were found,” said Solovyov.

PHOTO: Pyotr Zakharovich Yermakov (far right) posing with a group of prominent Ural Bolsheviks on the Tsar’s grave[6], his Mauser pistol can be seen in the foreground in front of P.M. Bykov, author of The Last Days of Tsardom (1934)

There has always been a mystique behind this story. A 1991 diagram clearly shows the location of the bodies. Their remains were not laid, but simply dumped by their murderers. For example, Olga’s skull is under the skeleton of her father. But even in the photo of the burial site, opened in 1991, a telephone cable is clearly visible. When laying it, the cutter even cut off the arm of one of the skeletons. But how could the Soviet telephone technicians know where they were laying the cable, because even if they had read Mayakovsky’s poem, the instructions were too obscure for them to link it to the burial site.

One more detail – small but important. According to Mayakovsky’s poem, he wrote about “the cedar was torn with an axe”. During a comprehensive survey of the area, a fallen stump, clearly cut long ago with an axe was found.

PHOTO: Mayakovsky’s photo pinned to a tree at Porosenkov Log


[1] An “open secret” is a concept or idea that is “officially” secret or restricted in knowledge, but in practice (de facto) may be widely known; or it refers to something that is widely known to be true but which none of the people most intimately concerned are willing to categorically acknowledge in public.

[2] A verst is a Russian measure of length, about 0.66 mile (1.1 km).

[3] The remains of the Imperial Family were first discarded at the Four Brothers Mine, which is today the site of the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs at Ganina Yama. Avdonin and Ryabov discovered the second grave 3.8 km down the highway at Porosenkov Log.

[4] Yermakov’s revolver can be seen on display in the Romanov Memorial Hall, located on the top floor of the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Urals, in Ekaterinburg

[5] Pokrovsky was a Russian Marxist historian, Bolshevik revolutionary and a public and political figure. One of the earliest professionally trained historians to join the Russian revolutionary movement, Pokrovsky is regarded as the most influential Soviet historian of the 1920s.

His attitude to the tsar, the nobility, generals, statesmen and church leaders and diplomats of the Tsarist period appear in the Pokrovsky’s works in a completely different light – as selfish, cruel, limited, ignorant individuals. To achieve greater impact on the reader, representatives of the ruling classes and leaders were denounced with the help of satire, irony and grotesque. Thus, Pokrovsky’s negative assessment of the reign of Nicholas II was accepted as the standard in the Soviet Union, where he was vilified.

[6] Group of prominent Ural Bolsheviks, photographed at the “grave of the Romanovs”, 1924. This photo is on display in the Romanov Memorial Hall, located on the top floor of the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Urals, in Ekaterinburg

(from left to right): back row – A.I. Paramonov (chairman of the board of Uralselkhozbank and editor of Krestyanskaya Gazeta, *NN, M.M. Kharitonov (first secretary of the Ural regional committee of the RCP (b)), B.V. Didkovsky (deputy chairman of Uralplan), I.P. Rumyantsev (head of propaganda department), *NN, A.L. Borchaninov (chairman of the Tyumen regional executive committee); front row – D.E.Sulimov (chairman of the Ural regional executive committee), G.S. Moroz (head of the Yekaterinburg department of the GPU), M.V. Vasiliev (employee of Uralselkhozbank), P.M.Bykov (editor of the newspaper “Uralskaya Nov”), A.G. Kabanov, P.Z.Ermakov (employee of the Cheka)

*NN denotes “unknown identity”

© Paul Gilbert. 6 July 2021

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