30th anniversary of the exhumation of the remains of Nicholas II and his family

PHOTO: Avdonin and his team excavate the burial site at Porosenkov Log in 1991

WARNING: please be aware that this post includes graphic images which some readers may find disturbing.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the exhumation of the remains of Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family, discovered at Porosenkov Log in 1979. The Sverdlovsk Regional Museum of Local Lore in Ekaterinburg have published archival photos of the excavations, which were not carried out until 1991.

The photos show the excavations, which were initiated in the Porosenkov Log area on the Old Koptyakovskaya Road on 11th July 1991. Geologist Alexander Nikolaevich Avdonin and curator from the Institute of History and Archaeology of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Lyudmila Koryakova and their team experts, all participated in the exhumation of the skeletons, which, were later established as the remains of Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, their three daughters Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Anastasia and their four faithful retainers.

PHOTO: Avdonin and his team excavate the burial site at Porosenkov Log in 1991

According to the museum “1991 was a turning point for Russia” and “the country’s political future was uncertain.” On 12th June 1991, the presidential elections of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) were held, which was won by Boris Yeltsin – Russia’s first president. It was at this point that “more than 70 years of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was coming to an end.” This is what prompted Avdonin to initiate excavations.

It was in 1979, that Avdonin and Gely Trofimovich Ryabov (1932-2015) discovered the unmarked grave containing the skeletons of the Romanovs in the north-western outskirts of Sverdlovsk. At first Avdonin believed that the time was not yet right to announce their discovery, however, Yeltsin’s victory convinced him that it was high time. On 10th July 1991, he turned to Governor Eduard Rossel and said that he knew where the remains of the Imperial Family were buried.

PHOTO: remains of the Imperial Family exhumed from the burial site at Porosenkov Log in 1991

Despite the fact that the political situation in Russia seemed extremely unstable, Rossel decided to exhume the remains. On 11th July 1991, Avdonin and Rossel assembled a team of local archaeologists, who began the excavation of the grave at Porosenkov Log. Upon the discovery of the remains, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation opened a criminal case. The outcome of the investigation divided many Russian Orthodox Christians – some of whom recognized the authenticity of the remains, while many others did not. The investigations and examinations are still ongoing, however a final decision on the authenticity of the Ekaterinburg remains will be made by the Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), which will take place in November of this year.

PHOTO: Alexander Avdonin (right) with Nikolai Borisovich Neuymin, director of the Romanov Memorial Hall in Ekaterinburg, standing at the burial site at Porosenkov Log

Emperor Nicholas II and his family were all shot in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg on the night of 16/17 July 1918. The bodies were taken out of the city, where their murderers attempted to destroy the remains with fire and acid in the area of ​​old mines in the Ganina Yama tract. Their horrific mission failed, after which the remains were transported 3.8 km and buried near the Old Koptyakovskaya Road [Porosenkov Log]. The grave remained a secret until 1979, when the remains were found by a team of enthusiasts led by the Ural geologist Alexander Avdonin, who worked under the patronage of Geliy Ryabov, at that time assistant to the head of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs.

It was not possible to extract and study the remains at that time. Avdonin’s team, together with archaeologists, did this in 1991, only to discover that two skeletons were missing. It was not until 2007, that the remains of Tsesarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria, were discovered in a second grave just meters from the main burial site.

© Paul Gilbert. 7 July 2021

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