While the tragic fate of Russia’s last tsar, his family and their four faithful retainers is well known, the life and fate of the owner of the notorious house in Ekaterinburg, where they were brutally murdered on 17th July 1918 – Nikolai Nikolaevich Ipatiev (1869-1938), remains less familiar.
Nikolai was born on 18th February 1869 in Moscow, to Nikolai Alekseevich Ipatiev (1839-1890) a well-known architect in Moscow, who held a prominent and influential post – one of the three official architects of the first Russian Insurance Society – the most respected in the country. His wife Anna Dmitrievna Ipatieva (nee Glika) came from a family that gave Russia many remarkable intellectuals.
In addition to Nikolai, the couple had two other children, a daughter Vera and a brother Vladimir (1867-1952), who became a famous chemist, who is considered one of the founders of petrochemistry in the United States.
Nikolai was a graduate of the 3rd Moscow Cadet Corps, the Nikolaev Engineering School in St. Petersburg and the Military Engineering Academy. In 1906, after serving in the army, he retired with the rank of engineer captain and settled in Ekaterinburg, where he began working as a civil engineer. He later opened a very successful company engaged in the laying of railroad tracks.
At first, Nikolai lived in a rented apartment, but his business was so successful, that two years later in 1908, he was able to buy a two-storey stone mansion at Voznesenskaya Gorka, 49/9 paying the former owner 6 thousand rubles. He became the third owner of the house since it’s construction in the 1880s.
Nikolai and his wife lived on the upper floor of the house, while the main floor was used for his thriving business. The interiors were richly decorated with iron castings, stucco mouldings, and the ceilings were decorated with artistic painting. The house was equipped with all the modern amenities: electricity, sewerage, a bathroom with a water heater, a wine cellar, and even a telephone.
He took part in the construction of the Ekaterinburg-Perm railway. He was active in public and local history activities. He also participated in the development of the project for the construction of the building of the Ural Mining Institute. He also served as an engineer of the Railway Troops of the Russian Armed Forces, a unit in the engineering corps of the Imperial Russian Army.
PHOTO: early 20th century view of the Ipatiev House (left) from the bell tower of the Ascension Church
THE BOLSHEVIKS EVICT THE IPATIEV’S
Nikolai Ipatiev and his wife Maria Feodorovna Ipatieva (1876-1953), led a quiet and peaceful life until April 1918, when the Bolsheviks suddenly knocked on the door of their house. Nikolai’s memories of that day are preserved in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF).
“On 27th April, Commissar Zhilinsky [Alexander Nikolaevich Zhilinsky, 1884-1937] came to me and, announced that my house would be occupied for the needs of the council, and then ordered me to clean the entire house by 29th April,” writes Nikolai. “Having overheard the order, my wife asked Zhilinksy, among other things, whether the integrity of our belongings that we would leave in the house would be guaranteed to us; Zhilinsky replied to this that the people who would be living in the house would not damage anything.”
The choice and location of the Imperial family’s place of imprisonment is explained by Alexander Dmitrievich Avdeev (1887-1947), the first commandant of the Ipatiev House [renamed “House of Special Purpose” by the Bolsheviks] in his memoirs, that it was located “… almost in the very centre of the city, in such a place that its defence against an external attempt to free the former tsar was favourable in all respects … ”
Ipatiev was able to take only a small number of personal belongings from the house. He locked the cabinet with his valuable books in his office. His wife locked their dishes in the dining room. The rest of their belongings were locked in the basement pantry, a room adjacent to the one where the regicide was carried out, and then locked with a key.
“The keys to the locked rooms were left with me, while the members of the Commission sealed the rooms themselves with the Soviet seal,” said Ipatiev. “I had moved our folded kitchen and table utensils, chests with clothes and linen into the carriage house . After some time, the Chairman of the App. Committee Sergei Egorovich Chutskaev (1876-1944) demanded from me the keys to all the locked rooms in order to check what was in them and, after inspecting the rooms, he replaced seals on them.”
Until the very last moment, Ipatiev did not know who exactly the Bolsheviks were preparing his house for. Only after 29th April, when he had already moved out [Nikolai and his wife moved to the village of Kurinskoye], did his neighbour inform him that the ex-tsar Nicholas II, his wife and one of his daughters [Grand Duchess Maria] had been settled in the mansion. The rest of the family members were brought later.
A high double wooden fence exceeding the windows of the second floor in height, was built around the outer perimeter of the house, closing it off from the street. The fence had a single gate in front of which a sentry was constantly on duty, two guard posts were placed inside, eight outside. Machine guns were installed in the attics of neighbouring buildings.The Imperial family were held under house arrest in the Ipatiev House for 78 days, from 28th April to 17th July 1918.
PHOTO: Nikolai Nikolaevich Ipatiev (1869-1938)
“THE TENANT HAS LEFT”
Before leaving, Nikolai Ipatiev made an agreement with his cousin Yevgenia Poppel that she would send him a telegram with certain words if the Bolsheviks suddenly vacated his house. And such a telegram came to him on 22nd July – five days after the murder of the Imperial Family. It contained only four words: “The tenant has left,” whereupon Nikolai and his wife returned to Ekaterinburg.
An article appeared in the newspaper Ural Worker – stating that, “at the numerous requests of the workers, the blood-drinking tsar was shot.”
On the same day, Nikolai Nikolaevich was summoned to the local Cheka, who returned to him, the keys to his own house. By that time, all traces of blood had been washed away, the floors swept, the personal belongings of the dead packed and taken away. Nikolai and his wife never returned to the “bloody house” again, even leaving his belongings, which he had stored in the house.
Later, during an interview Ipatiev noted that “in all the years of the existence of the house, no one had died in it. And then, overnight, eleven people were all murdered at once … “
On 25th July, Ekaterinburg was occupied by the Czechoslovak Corps. Upon the arrival of the White Army, Admiral Alexander Vasilyevich Kolchak (1874-1920), ordered the Ipatiev House sealed, “the crime scene was to remain intact.” He ordered investigator Nikolai Alekseevich Sokolov (1882-1924), to launch an investigation into the fate of Nicholas II and his family, and the events which took place in the house of engineer Ipatiev, where bullet marks were discovered in the basement walls.
PHOTO: Nikolai Ipatiev’s grave at the Olshansky Cemetery in Prague
LIFE AND DEATH IN EXILE
On 28th July, 1919, Ekaterinburg was retaken by the Reds, Nikolai Ipatiev was now considered an “enemy of the Bolsheviks”, forcing him to flee the Urals.
Nikolai and his wife Maria evacuated from Ekaterinburg with the Whites. They travelled across Siberia to Japan, then moved to Turkey, but eventually ended up in Czechoslavakia in 1920, where they settled in Prague, teaching at the Civil Engineering Institute.
Nikolai died there on 20th April 1938, and buried in the crypt of the Assumption Church, at the Olshansky Cemetery in Prague. His burial niche is decorated with an orthodox icon of the Saviour Made Without Hands. On the church’s website, they note in one line: “N.I. Ipatiev, in whose house the last Russian Emperor and his august family were killed. Maria died in Prague in 1953, and is buried near her husband.
On 22-23 September 1977, the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg where Emperor Nicholas II and his family were held under house arrest for 78 days before being murdered, was razed to the ground. Click HERE to read my article How Yeltsin justified the demolition of the Ipatiev House, published on 25th February, 2020.
© Paul Gilbert. 14 July 2022