Lost Orthodox Churches of Imperial Russia

PHOTO: On 5 December 1931, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was dynamited and reduced to rubble

Unlike many of his predecessors, Emperor Nicholas was devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church. It was upon his ascension to the throne in 1894, that his devotion to the Holy Orthodox Church showed his greatest strength. It was during the reign of Russia’s last Tsar – 1894 to 1917 – that the Russian Orthodox Church reached her fullest development and power.

In 1914, the Russian Orthodox Church consisted of 68 dioceses, 54,923 churches, 953 monasteries, 4 theological academies, 185 religious schools, 40,530 schools and 278 periodicals. The clergy consisted of 157 bishops, 68,928 priests, 48 ​​987 clerics, 21,330 monks in monasteries and 73,229 nuns in convents.

The construction of new churches had the full support of the Emperor, who approved funding for the construction of over 7576 new churches and chapels, and the opening of 211 new monasteries. By the end of Nicholas II’s reign there were 57,000 churches in the Russian Empire.

PHOTO: the desecration and looting of Russian Orthodox Churches by Bolshevik thugs and criminals after the 1917 Revolution

Lost Orthodox Churches of Imperial Russia

The Decree on the Separation of Church and State was proclaimed by the Bolsheviks in January 1918. It declared all Church property to be the property of the state. Sanctioned by this licence, Bolshevik squads went round the country desecrating and looting churches and monasteries, mocking religion and religious people unmercifully, even murdering priests, monks, nuns and believers by the thousands.

During the Soviet years, three Anti-religious campaigns were carried out by the Bolsheviks and later the Soviets: 1917–1921; 1921–1928 and 1928-1941, which resulted in the destruction of thousands of cathedrals and churches. Many others were converted to secular use, whereby church buildings were transformed into warehouses, state institutions, cinemas, ice rinks and prisons

Between 1927 and 1940, the number of Orthodox churches in the Russian Republic fell from 29,584 to fewer than 500. In 1987, only 6,893 Orthodox churches and 15 monasteries remained in the USSR.

In this post, I have researched the fate of five randomly picked cathedrals and churches which were destroyed during the Soviet years. It is part of an important large-scale historic project which I have planned for 2023-24 and one, which goes hand-in-hand with my own personal journey to Orthodoxy.

No. 1 – Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Bezhitsa)

PHOTO: early 20th century view of the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord was built in 1880-1884 in Bezhitsa (now the region of Bryansk), according to the project of the Russian architect Alexander Groener. Construction was paid for by the workers of the Bryansk rail-rolling, iron-making and mechanical plant.

The church was five-domed and cruciform in plan. Its frame had been welded from iron rails and sheathed inside and outside with oak planks. The central part was crowned with a massive illuminated octagon under a tent with a dome. The interior decoration was distinguished by its magnificent splendour.

PHOTO: interior of the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Bezhitsa, 1895.

In 1894, a parish school was built. In 1897 and 1909, two chapels were added.

On 20th April (old style) 1915, the church was visited by Emperor Nicholas II.

In 1929, the church was closed by the Bolsheviks and converted into a circus and later a cinema. In 1933-1935 it was destroyed.

In 1937, the former rector of the church, priest Athanasius Preobrazhensky and priest Simeon Krasovsky, were shot by the Bolsheviks. The former site of the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord is now a wasteland. Only the building of the almshouse has been partially preserved to this day.

No. 2 – Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos (Moscow)

PHOTO: the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (left), the Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos (right) and a monument to Emperor Alexander III (also left). Moscow, 1912.

The magnificent monument to Emperor Alexander III was created by the outstanding Russian sculptor Alexander Mikhailovich Opekushin (1838-1923) and opened in 1912 near the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

Opekushin’s creation was to become one of the first victims of Bolshevik vandalism. The monument to the “Tsar-Peacemaker” was destroyed in 1918.

The fate of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow is well known. When Napoleon Bonaparte retreated from Moscow in 1812, Emperor Alexander I signed a manifesto declaring his intention to build a cathedral in honour of Christ the Saviour “to signify Our gratitude to Divine Providence for saving Russia from the doom that overshadowed Her” and as a memorial to the sacrifices of the Russian people. It was destroyed in 1931 on the order of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

PHOTO: early 20th century view of the Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos

The Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos is lesser known. Originally constructed in the 15th century, it was rebuilt several times. In 1705, the Russian nobleman Dementiy Bashmakov rebuilt a stone church at his own expense. The church was rebuilt with the same external and internal appearance: high, five-domed cupolas, a baroque decor and a rare six-tier iconostasis. The church featured a miraculous icon of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, to which many pilgrims came to venerate.

The Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos existed until 1932, when it to was demolished.

The demolition of both houses of worship was supposed to make way for a colossal Palace of the Soviets to house the country’s legislature, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Construction started in 1937 but was halted in 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union during World War II. Its steel frame was disassembled the following year, and the Palace was never built. In 1960, an enormous outdoor swimming pool was built at the foundation site, which existed until 1994.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt on the site between 1995 and 2000. There are no plans to reconstruct either the Church of Praise of the Most Holy Theotokos or the monument to Emperor Alexander III.

No. 3 – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Vyatka)

PHOTO: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Vyatka

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Vyatka [renamed Kirov in 1934], was founded on 30th August 1839 in memory of the visit to the city by Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825) in 1824.

The construction of the cathedral was funded by voluntary donations in the amount of 120 thousand rubles, collected over 40 years. Work was carried out by the Russian architect of Swedish origin Alexander Lavrentievich Vitberg (1787-1855).

Completed and consecrated on 8th October 1864, the cathedral combined features of different styles: Romanesque of the Middle Ages, elements of Gothic, and the interior in the Old Russian and late Empire styles.

PHOTO: the main iconostasis of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Vyatka

The construction of the main iconostasis was completed in 1858, the carving in 1859. The committee contracted Academician Gorbunov and artist Vasilyev from St. Petersburg to make the icons for the main iconostasis. The icons were brought to Vyatka in 1863, and the following year, in 1864, the main iconostasis was gilded.

In 1895, a large public garden was built around the cathedral, surrounded by a cast-iron lattice fence. Four gates to the cardinal points were named after four Russian emperors – Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicholas II. In 1896, a bronze bust of Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894), cast in St. Petersburg, and mounted on a tall marble pedestal was installed in the northern part of the garden. In 1905, electric lighting was installed in the cathedral.

In June 1937, at the insistence of the Presidium of the City Council and the Regional Executive Committee, and permission of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was removed from the list of architecture protected by the state and was blown up.

For thirty years the square of the cathedral sat empty, and it was only in the 1960s, that the Kirov Regional Philharmonic was constructed on the site of the once magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

PHOTO: the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw

No. 4 – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Warsaw)

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw was built on Saxon Square (later renamed Pilsudski Square) in the Kingdom of Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). The cathedral, designed by the distinguished Russian architect Leon Benois (1856-1928), was built between 1894 and 1912. Upon completion, the bell tower of the cathedral reached a height of 70 m [230 ft.], making it the tallest building in Warsaw at the time.

The idea of building a large Orthodox cathedral in Warsaw was expressed in a letter from the Governor General of Poland, Joseph Vladimirovich Gourko, to Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894). He indicated that the Orthodox churches in Warsaw at that time were able to accommodate less than one tenth of the city’s 42,000 Orthodox residents, who urgently needed a new place of worship.

Alexander III gave his approval to fund the cathedral, a significant part of the funds needed were raised by personal donations from almost every corner of the Russian Empire.

PHOTO: aerial view of Saxon Square in Warsaw and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Work on the interior of the cathedral, designed by Nikolay Pokrovsky (1848-1917), continued for another 12 years. The frescoes were painted by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926). The cathedral was decorated with 16 mosaic panels designed by Vasnetsov and Andrei Ryabushkin (1861-1904). The decorations of the cathedral used precious and semi-precious stones extensively, marble, and granite. The altar was decorated with jasper columns, donated by Emperor Nicholas II. The largest of the 14 bells was the fifth-largest in the Russian Empire.

The main chapel of the cathedral was solemnly consecrated on 20th May 1912, by the Metropolitan of Kiev and Galich Flavian (Gorodetsky) in the name of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky.

At the beginning of 1915, during the First World War, the Russian population was evacuated from the city along with the Orthodox clergy. The iconostasis and the most valuable details of the interior decoration were removed from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

PHOTO: view of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral after its demolition in the 1920s

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was demolished in 1924–1926 – along with all but two Orthodox churches in Warsaw – by the Polish authorities less than 15 years after its construction. The demolition itself was complex, and required almost 15,000 controlled explosions.

The negative connotations in Poland associated with Russian imperial policy towards Poland, was cited as the major motive for its demolition. The cathedral shared the fate of many Orthodox churches demolished after Poland regained its independence from Russia.

No. 5 – Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Moscow)

PHOTO: architect’s drawing of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, 1904

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Moscow was the largest of a series of cathedrals erected in Imperial Russia in commemoration of Alexander Nevsky, the patron saint of Emperors Alexander II and Alexander III.

The creation of the project was entrusted to the architect Alexander Nikonorovich Pomerantsev (1849-1918), who executed it in the Old Russian style according to the sketches of the artist Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926), as a 70-metre-tall memorial to Alexander II’s Emancipation reform [the liberation of peasants from serfdom] in 1861.

In 1894, Emperor Nicholas II approved a plan to place the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on Miusskaya Square on a site donated to him by the city authorities. The foundation stone of the votive church was laid in 1911, on the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Manifesto, in the presence of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna. Construction did not start until 1913, and the First World War impeded further progress.

The first chapel was dedicated to St. Tikhon of Voronezh in 1915, Divine Liturgies were performed here until 1920.

PHOTO: the abandoned Alexander Nevsky Cathedral as it looked in 1921

After the Russian Revolution, the huge 17-domed church [one unconfirmed source cites 21 domes] capable of accommodating more than 4,000 persons stood unfinished, while the Soviets debated whether to have it reconstructed into a crematorium or a radio centre. The building were used as a warehouse for storing the rolled up 115-meter canvas of the Borodino Panorama and parts of the dismantled Triumphal Arch.

The cathedral stood abandoned on Miusskaya Square for many years. The dilapidated concrete shell was eventually torn down in 1952. A Pioneers Palace was constructed – now the Palace of Creativity of Children and Youth – on the old foundation in 1960.

© Paul Gilbert. 26 January 2023

‘You reap what you sow’ – Monarchists take revenge on the regicide Peter Ermakov

PHOTO: the desecrated grave of the regicide Peter Ermakov in Ivanovo Cemetery in Ekaterinburg

Every year on 17th July – the day marking the anniversary of the murder of Emperor Nicholas II and his family – the grave of the Bolshevik revolutionary Peter Ermakov, has been vandalized by local monarchists, who douse his gravestone with red paint.

This annual protest began shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The red paint symbolizes the blood which this evil man spilled, and his involvement in the regicide.

Pyotr (Peter) Zakharovich Ermakov (1884–1952), was one of several men responsible for the murder of Emperor Nicholas II, his wife, their five children, and their four faithful retainers in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg.

He was also among the men in the firing squad, and considered to be the most bloodthirsty of the executioners. His Mauser revolver, which he alleges fired the fatal shot which ended the life of the Tsar is preserved today in the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Urals in Ekaterinburg.

According to his own recollections, it was he who also murdered the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, the cook Ivan Kharitonov and the doctor Eugene Botkin. He often boasted of his crime, without feeling any sense of remorse: “I shot the Tsarina who was seated only six feet away, I could not miss. My bullet hit her right in the mouth, two seconds later she was dead. Then I shot Dr. Botkin. He threw up his hands and half turned away. The bullet hit him in the neck. He fell backwards. Yurovsky’s shot knocked the Tsesarevich to the floor, where he lay and groaned. The cook Kharitonov was huddled over in the corner. I shot him first in the torso and then in the head. The footman Troupe also fell, I don’t know who shot him … ”

PHOTOS: (above) Ermakov standing on the grave of members of the Imperial Family and their retainers at Porosenkov Log in the 1920s; (below) Ermakov (far right) posing with a group of prominent Ural Bolsheviks on the Tsar’s grave, his Mauser pistol can be seen in the foreground in front of P.M. Bykov, author of The Last Days of Tsardom (1934)

In the 1920s, Yermakov returned to Porosenkov Log where he had his photograph taken standing on the railway ties which concealed the second grave of the Imperial Family. On the reverse of this photo, he wrote: “I am standing on the grave of the Tsar”.

In 1951, at a reception, which gathered all the local Party elite in Sverdlovsk [Ekaterinburg], Peter Ermakov approached Soviet Red Army General Georgy Zhukov (1896-1974) and held out his hand. Frowning in disgust Zhukov looked Ermakov in the eye, and muttered, “I do not shake the hands of the murderers.”

Ermakov died in Sverdlovsk on 22 May 1952 from cancer at the age of 67, he was buried in Ivanovo Cemetery in Ekaterinburg.

In January 2022, the famous Russian sculptor Konstantin Vasilievich Grunberg has proposed replacing monuments of the Bolshevik leaders Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Yakov Sverdlov in Ekaterinburg.

Grunberg also called for debunking the image of the revolutionary “hero” Pyotr Yermakov. “People still bring flowers to his grave. We need to destroy this regicide’s grave!” the sculptor said.

PHOTO: Ermakov’s Mauser revolver, which he alleges fired the fatal shot which ended the life of Russia’s last Tsar is preserved today in the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Urals in Ekaterinburg

Click HERE to read my article Yakov Yurovskys’ ashes remain hidden from vandals in Moscow, originally published on 23rd November 2019

Click HERE to read my article The fate of the regicides who murdered Nicholas II and his family, originally published on 28th October 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 17 January 2023

Lost architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin

During the Soviet years, numerous architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin were lost. Churches, monasteries, and palaces were destroyed because they reminded the Soviet regime under Stalin of Holy Russia and the glorious history of the Russian Empire.

The early 20th century postcard (above) reflects some of the greatest architectural losses in the Moscow Kremlin during the late 1920s to early 1930s – please refer to the numbers and the accompanying images below for additional information about each respective monument . .

1 – The Maly Nikolayevsky Palace or Small Nicholas Palace was a three-storey building located in the Kremlin on the corner of Ivanovskaya Square. Originally built in 1775, it served as the official Moscow residence of Imperial Family up until the construction of the Grand Kremlin Palace in 1838-1849. The palace was a favourite residence of Grand Duke Nicholas Pavlovich (future Emperor Nicholas I). On 29th (O.S. 17th) April 1818, his son, the future Alexander II, was born in the palace, who considered it the home of his childhood. Between 1891 and 1905, the palace became a residence of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich during his years as Governor-General of Moscow.

During the October armed uprising of 1917 in Moscow, the Small Nicholas Palace became the headquarters of the Junkers [a military rank in the Russian Guard and Army, until 1918] who were supporting the Committee of Public Security. As a result, the building served as a target for the Red Guards and suffered more than other Kremlin buildings.

According to Metropolitan Nestor (1885-1962): “The Small Nicholas Palace… suffered greatly from gunfire. Huge holes in the building’s’ façade are visible from the outside. Inside, too, everything is destroyed, and when I walked around the rooms, I saw a picture of complete destruction. Huge mirrors and other furnishings were barbarously broken and destroyed. The cabinets are broken, books, files and papers are scattered throughout the rooms… The palace church was hit by a shell and destroyed. The iconostasis was broken, the royal gates were forced open by explosions, and the veil of the church was torn in two. Hence, many valuable icons were stolen.”

In 1929, the palace was demolished together with the adjacent Chudov and Ascension monasteries. In 1932-1934 the Kremlin Presidium (aka Building No. 14) was built on the site. It housed, first, the Supreme Soviet, i. e. the supreme legislative body of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, and, second, the offices of the Presidential Administration of Russia until 2011. The Kremlin Presidium was demolished in 2016.

PHOTO: Small Nicholas Palace after the shelling of the Kremlin, 1917

2 – The first Monument to Emperor Alexander II stood above the Kremlin’s Taynitsky Gardens facing the Moskva River. Work on the monuments was begun under Emperor Alexander III in 1893, and was completed five years later under Emperor Nicholas II in 1898.

The monument was the work of sculptor Alexander Opekushin (1838-1923), artist Peter Zhukovsky (1845-1912) and architect Nicholas V. Sultanov (1850-1908). The memorial consisted of a life-size bronze sculpture of Alexander II, set on a square pedestal with the words “To Emperor Alexander II by the love of the people” engraved on it. The sculpture was shaded by a canopy of polished dark red Karelian granite. The top of the canopy was made of specially fitted gilded bronze sheets with green enamel. On three sides, the monument was surrounded by a gallery with arches and openwork. Thirty-three mosaic portraits of Russia’s rulers from Prince Vladimir to Emperor Nicholas II based on sketches by artist Peter Zhukovsky were placed in the gallery’s vaults.

The solemn opening and consecration of the Monument to Emperor Alexander II took place on 16th August 1898. At eight in the morning, five cannon shots were fired from the Tainitskaya Tower. The opening ceremony began at two o’clock in the afternoon with a procession from the Chudov Monastery. After Metropolitan Vladimir of Moscow served a prayer service, the “Transfiguration March” was played and cannons were fired 360 times. The ceremony was closed by a parade of troops commanded by Emperor Nicholas II..

2a –  The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic [supported by Lenin] dated 12th April 1918 called for all monuments of Russia’s monarchs to be demolished and replaced with statues honouring the leaders of the revolution. The monument of Alexander II was to be one of the first monuments destroyed in this campaign. Lenin planned to install a monument to the writer Leo Tolstoy on the site, however, his plan never came to fruition.

The monument to Alexander II was demolished by the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1918. In June 1918, Russian art historian Nikolai Okunev described this event in his diary: “I saw in the cinema a newsreel on the removal of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin. It was terrible to watch! It’s as if they were cutting a living person into pieces, and saying “Look, this is is how it’s done!” It’s not enough to show the shootings on the cinema screen.” The remaining columns and gallery were demolished in 1928.

PHOTO: the dismantled fragments of the monument to Alexander II in the Kremlin after its destruction in 1918. To the left of the Spassky Tower is the Church of St. Catherine of the Ascension Monastery, blown up in 1929

3 – The Voznesensky (Ascension) Convent known as the Starodevichy Convent or Old Maidens’ Convent until 1817, was an Orthodox nunnery in the Moscow Kremlin which contained the tombs of grand princesses, tsarinas, and other noble ladies from the Muscovite royal court. The convent was founded at the beginning of the 15th century near the Kremlin’s Spassky (Saviour’s) Gate.

The convent was also used as a residence for royal fiancée’s prior to their wedding. In 1721, the convent was renovated on behest of Peter the Great. In 1808, by order of Emperor Alexander I, the famous Italian architect Carlo Rossi (1775-1849) began construction of the Church of Saint Catherine, built in the Neo-Gothic design. During Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow in 1812, the French army looted the monastery and expelled the nuns. Most of the property was preserved thanks to Abbess Athanasia, who managed to take the wealth from the sacristy to Vologda. 

By 1907, the monastery had a mother superior, 62 nuns and 45 lay sisters. It was also in 1907, that the monastery celebrated the 500th anniversary of the death of the founder of the monastery St. Euphrosyne of Moscow (1353–1407). After the service, a procession took place, in which Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna participated, and placed a golden lamp and flower garlands on the founder’s tomb.

During the October 1917 Revolution, the ancient buildings were damaged by artillery fire. In 1929, the convent complex – including the majestic 16th-century cathedral – was demolished by the Soviets in order to make room for the Red Commanders School, named after the All-Russian Central Executive Committee.

Some of the icons of Ascension Convent were transferred to the State Tretyakov Gallery and State museums of the Moscow Kremlin. The iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral (see below) was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), while the tombs of the Muscovite royalty were transferred into an annex of the Archangel Cathedral, where they reside to this day.

PHOTO: in 1930 the iconostasis of the Ascension Cathedral was moved into the Cathedral of Twelve Apostles (also in the Kremlin), where it remains to this day

4 – The two chapels at the Spassky Gates (facing Red Square) were built in the “Russian style” in 1866. Both belonged to St Basil’s Cathedral. The left houses the sacred image of Our Lady of Smolensk as a reminder of the city’s return to the Russian lands in the 16th century. The right is renowned for its sacred image of Christ the Saviour, an exact replica of the icon over Spassky Gates. They were both demolished in 1929.

The 16th-century icon was bricked over during the 1930s, and restored to its original in 2010.

5 – The Church of Konstantin and Elena in the lower section of the Kremlin Garden was built in 1692 by Tsarina Natalia Naryshkina, mother of Peter I. It was demolished in 1928. It became the first church demolished on the territory of the Kremlin since the Bolsheviks came to power and the first in a large series of losses of architectural monuments of the Moscow Kremlin in 1928-1930. Today the site is home to government buildings and a helipad for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In addition, were the Chudov Monastery and the Monument to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich:

6 – The Chudov Monastery (more formally known as Alexius’ Archangel Michael Monastery) was founded in 1358 by Metropolitan Alexius of Moscow. The monastery was dedicated to the miracle of the Archangel Michael at Chonae on 19th September (O.S. 6th September). It was traditionally used for baptising the royal children, including future Tsars Feodor I, Aleksey I and Peter the Great.

The Chudov Monastery was demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1928, and the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was built on the site. Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich’s body was buried in a crypt of the Chudov Monastery. The burial crypt was located underneath a courtyard of that building, which was later used as a parking lot during the Soviet years. In 1990, building workers in the Kremlin discovered the blocked up entrance of the burial vault. The coffin was examined and found to contain the Grand Duke’s remains, covered with the military greatcoat of the Kiev regiment, decorations, and an icon. He had left written instructions that he was to be buried in the Preobrazhensky Lifeguard regiment uniform, but as his body was so badly mutilated this proved impossible.

In 1995, the coffin was officially exhumed, and after a Panikhida in the Kremlin Cathedral of the Archangel, it was reburied in a vault of the Novospassky Monastery in Moscow on 17 September 1995.

7 – The Memorial Cross to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was consecrated on 2nd April 1908 on the spot where Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich was assassinated. The original bronze monument, set on a stepped pedestal of dark green labrador marble, was an example of ‘Church Art Nouveau’. After the October 1917 Revolution, the cross was destroyed on 1st May 1918 by Bolshevik thugs with the personal participation of Vladimir Lenin.

On 4th May 2017, the memorial cross was restored in a ceremony that was attended by President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

8 – The Church of the Transfiguration of Christ the Saviour on Boru was located in the courtyard of the Grand Kremlin Palace [seen in behind the church in the photo above]. The name “on Boru” came from the coniferous forests which once surrounded the church, that once stood on Borovitsky Hill.

In 1767, when Catherine II began the reconstruction of the Kremlin, the church was revived in brick and required major repairs.

The Church of the Savior-on-Boru was demolished on 1st May 1933 by order of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, despite the protests of prominent restorers. The church’s ancient bells were transferred to the funds of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. Upon demolition of the church, a 5-storey service building was built on the site of the cathedral. Plans to restore one of the oldest churches in Moscow have not yet been considered.

In 2014 President Vladimir Putin proposed the restoration of the former Chudov Monastery, Ascension Convent, and Small Nicholas Palace. Opposition from UNESCO ended any hope of reconstructing these architectural gems. The proposal, had it been approved, would have restored the historical vista of Ivanovskaya Square. Instead, it has become park space for tourists visiting the Kremlin museums and churches.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 January 2023

Portrait of Nicholas II still bears the cuts made by Bolshevik bayonets in 1917

PHOTO: the portrait of Emperor Nicholas II, painted by Nun Emeliana (Batalov), still bears the cuts made by Bolshevik bayonets in 1917

During his reign, Emperor Nicholas II never visited the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent in Ekaterinburg, however, when a request was made by one of the nuns to paint his portrait came, the Emperor granted this favour. It was Nun Emeliana (Batalov), who painted the portrait of the Emperor wearing the uniform of the Life-Guards Hussar Regiment. The portrait – a gift marking the 1896 coronation – was sent to Moscow, where it was presented to the new Emperor at a reception held in the Grand Kremlin Palace. Nicholas was so pleased with the portrait, that he ordered that it be sent to St Petersburg, where it was to be hung in one of the rooms of his private apartments in the Winter Palace.

In October 1917, during the assault on the Winter Palace, the portrait was cut by the bayonets of Bolshevik thugs. For the next 12 years, the portrait sat gathering dust in the attic of the Winter Palace, until it was transferred to Museum of the October Revolution in Leningrad. During the Soviet years, the portrait hung in the museum or more than 70 years. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the portrait was restored, leaving, however, the cuts made by the bayonets as a poignant reminder of the dark days of the Bolshevik Revolution which swept Russia and the monarchy into an abyss.

Today, the portrait hangs in the Museum of Political History of Russia (located in the former mansion of Mathilde Kschessinska) in St. Petersburg.

© Paul Gilbert. 29 November 2022

Why did Nicholas II not have Lenin executed?

PHOTO: Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II and Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin

The Russian Empire experienced an explosion of terrorist activity during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II (1894-1917), a period of changing times and political unrest, when over 17,000 people were killed or wounded by revolutionary extremists[1]

By the late 1890s, capital punishment for murder in the Russian Empire was seldom carried out, instead a sentence of 10 to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour was served. Capital punishment, however, was still carried out for treason. For example, in the spring of 1887, Alexander Ilyich Ulyanov (1866-1887) was executed by hanging for conspiring to assassinate Emperor Alexander III. 

The death penalty in Tsarist Russia at that time was applied only in extreme cases of serious state crimes and only after lengthy legal proceedings, which often in the end acquitted even those whose guilt was obvious.

Alexander’s execution, however, drove his younger brother Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) to pursue the Russian revolutionary struggle ever more fervently. Vladimir was already active in politics prior to his older brother’s arrest. Lenin also remembered how his family had been shunned by liberal circles in Simbirsk following his brother’s arrest.

Any family member related to a terrorist was rarely persecuted by the authorities. As a result, in the autumn of 1887, Vladimir Ulyanov entered the Faculty of Law at Kazan Imperial University, where he began to organize anti-government meetings.

For this, he was expelled from the university and sent into exile. Instead of being sent to one of the harsh penal colonies in Sakhalin, Solovki, or Magadan, the future Bolshevik leader was exiled to the comfort of Kokushkino estate, which served as his family’s summer residence during Lenin’s childhood.

In September 1889, the Ulyanov family moved to the city of Samara, where Lenin worked first as a legal assistant for a regional court and then for a local lawyer. He then took his exams externally from the Faculty of Law at the University of St Petersburg, where he obtained the equivalent of a first-class degree with honours. 

Upon graduating, however, Lenin continued to with his revolutionary agenda. So why did the Tsarist police not take Lenin’s revolutionary activities more seriously? Sadly, those who served to protect the Emperor continued to underestimate Lenin’s importance and growing influence.

As it turned out, Lenin was considered small fry, the Tsar’s agents did not see him as much of a threat. He was not considered a terrorist, so the authorities did not pay attention to him, as they were busy with the Social Revolutionaries and anarchists. Among these were the bombers and anarchists of Narodnaya Volya[2]. The government was more occupied with the threats from the Savinkovs, the Figners, the Chernovs, the Spiridonovs, the Bakunins, and the Kropotkins—those who plotted the assassination of key government figures in the Russian Empire. But even many of them were spared execution, and instead exiled to hard labour.

A few years later, Lenin organized an alliance of struggle for the liberation of the working class, holding impassioned speeches to the workers and writing anti-government leaflets.

The authorities then took notice, which resulted in Lenin’s arrest, and sent to a St. Petersburg remand prison for a year. Here, he is of course interrogated, but his jailers do not torture or beat confessions out of him, nor is he starved.

His time in prison [including his exile to Siberia] served as the perfect melting pot for his revolutionary agenda. Dozens of books were transferred to him in prison, and it was here that Lenin wrote the bulk of The Development of Capitalism in Russia. It was published in 1899 under the pseudonym of “Vladimir Ilyin”. It established his reputation as a major Marxist theorist. In addition, he became a regular contributor to Marxist journals.

Lenin asked for a government allowance, which was granted, and paid for his needs. In addition, his rather wealthy mother Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova (1835-1916), who in her youth served as a maid of honour at the Imperial Court, sent her son everything he requested.

Lenin’s life in exile created the ideal lifestyle for a revolutionary: fresh air, healthy food, an abundance of meat, milk, vegetables, and hunting. His day to day routies required no duties, no service. It was in exile that he was cured of his gastric disease, which he suffered from his youth. 

Vladimir Ilyich, his wife and mother-in-law did not strain during their exile: a young peasant girl was paid 2.5 rubles a month, to clean, cook and carry out other household duties. 

Soon Lenin was allowed to live in Pskov, a little later he was allowed to travel around Russia. The police saw no reason not to issue a foreign passport to the future leader of the revolution.

Lenin repeatedly held anti-government meetings, carried out subversive activities against tsarism, wrote leaflets and writings for Marxist journals, instead of rotting in prison or being executed.

Another reason that Lenin escaped more harsher sentences and even execution, was the lesson he learned from his older brother. Vladimir Ilyich, was cunning and crafty, never leaving a paper trail of his activities, so as not to get his hands dirty or implicate him in any illegal activity. This would serve him well in the summer of 1918, when he ordered the murder of Emperor Nicholas II, his wife, and their five children. Lenin did not want his name linked with the murder of the Tsar or his family, particularly his five children – the latter of whom were innocent of any politics

Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not really carry a primary threat, nor was it Lenin who put an end to tsarism, the latter was that of the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks gained power following the overthrow of the Kerensky government in October 1917. Once he had seized power, Lenin put a bounty on members of the Russian Imperial Family. To this day, many historians believe that the order to kill Russia’s last Tsar came directly from Lenin himself. In addition, he ordered that all remaining members of the Imperial Family should be killed, for fear that any survivors would be a beacon for the restoration of monarchy. These actions thus earned him the title of “terrorist”!

One question thus remains: had Nicholas II had Lenin executed, would it have spared the Tsar and his family the violent and horrific murder that they endured in 1918?

NOTES:

[1] Thou Shalt Not Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917 by Anna Geifman. Published by Princeton University Press, 1993

[2] Narodnaya Volya (‘People’s Will’) was a 19th-century revolutionary political organization in the Russian Empire which conducted assassinations of government officials in an attempt to overthrow the autocratic system and stop the government reforms. Their acts of revolutionary violence culminated in the successful assassination of Emperor Alexander II in March 1881—the event for which the group is best remembered.

© Paul Gilbert. 12 April 2022

New exhibition explores Bolshevik campaign to confiscate church valuables in 1918

PHOTO: exhibition poster

On 6th February 2022, a new exhibition: Sacrilege: on the 100th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Campaign to Confiscate Church Valuables, opened in Ekaterinburg. The exhibition is timed to the 104th anniversary of the 1918 Decree on the Separation of Church and State in Bolshevik Russia.

The venue for the exhibition is the Museum of the Holy Royal Family, situated in the Patriarchal Compound, and runs until 6th February 2023.

The exhibition explores the Bolshevik campaign to confiscate church valuables in 1918. Resistance by the faithful was met with arrests, mock trials of the clergy, as a result of which many priests and nuns were shot.

The exhibition presents liturgical items damaged during the years of Soviet power, damaged icons, liturgical and religious literature, secretly hidden during the years of Soviet power between the covers of Soviet books, and other items related to the history of the Church in the atheistic years. A collection of photographs provide evidence of the churches and monasteries destroyed and desecrated during the Bolshevik and later Soviet years.

***

According to Nathaniel Davis’s A Long Walk to Church: A Contemporary History of Russian Orthodoxy, the ROC had only about 200-300 active parishes in the Soviet Union by 1939; before the revolution there had been roughly 50,000.

The Decree on the Separation of Church and State was an act adopted by the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on 3rd February [O.S. 20th January]. The edict was signed by Vladimir Lenin, and came into force four days later on 6th February [O.S. 23rd January] 1918.

The Decree declared all Church property to be the property of the state. Sanctioned by this licence, Bolshevik squads went around the country desecrating and looting churches and monasteries, mocking religion and religious people unmercifully, even murdering priests, monks and other believers by the thousands.

It installed the secular nature of the state power, proclaimed the freedom of conscience and religion; religious organizations were deprived of any property rights and the rights of a legal entity. It laid the foundation for the deployment of atheistic propaganda and atheistic education

The following images depict atheist Bolsheviks thugs desecrating and looting Russia’s churches:

© Paul Gilbert. 6 February 2022

Russian sculptor proposes removal of monuments to Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg

PHOTO: monuments to Lenin and Sverdlov in Ekaterinburg

The famous Russian sculptor Konstantin Vasilievich Grunberg has proposed replacing monuments of the Bolshevik leaders Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and Yakov Sverdlov in Ekaterinburg with monuments to Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881) and *Empress Catherine I (1684-1727).

*Ekaterinburg was founded on 18th November 1723 and named after the Russian emperor Peter the Great’s wife, who after his death became Empress Catherine I, Yekaterina being the Russian form of her name.

Grunberg believes that by replacing the Bolshevik monuments will help solve the problem with city-planning concept. Although Ekaterinburg is called the capital of the Urals, little of the city’s history is reflected in the the center of Russia’s 4th largest city.

“Lenin’s monument should be removed from the 1905 Square, and in his place a bronze monument to Emperor Alexander II should be returned to its original pedestal” said Konstantin Grunberg.

In 1906, a monument to Alexander II [demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1917] was installed on Cathedral Square [renamed 1905 Square],near the Epiphany Cathedral [demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1930]. The monument to Lenin was installed on the site in the early 1950s.

Grunberg made the same proposal regarding the monument to Sverdlov [opened in 1927], which is situated on the Paris Commune Square in the middle of Lenin Avenue between the Ural Federal University and the Opera and Ballet Theater. The sculptor has proposed that a monument to Empress Catherine I would look more appropriate.

“Throw the monuments to Lenin and Sverdlov into a pit!” Grunberg suggested.

PHOTO: ‘You reap what you sow’ – local monarchists take revenge on the Bolshevik revolutionary and murderer Peter Zakharovich Yermakov (1884-1952), by dosing his grave with red paint symbolizing blood

Konstantin Grunberg also called for debunking the image of the revolutionary “hero” Pyotr Yermakov, who participated in the murder of the Imperial Family and whose grave is located in the cemetery next to the grave of the writer Pavel Bazhov. “People still bring flowers to his grave. We need to destroy this regicide’s grave!” the sculptor said.

Yermakov died in Sverdlovsk on 22 May 1952 from cancer at the age of 67 and was buried in Ivanovo Cemetery in Ekaterinburg.

In 1951, at a reception, which gathered all the local Party elite in Sverdlovsk, Yermakov approached Soviet Red Army General Georgy Zhukov [1896-1974] and held out his hand. Frowning in disgust Zhukov looked Yermakov in the eye, and muttered, “I do not shake the hands of the murderers.”

Yermakov’s Mauser revolver, which he alleges fired the fatal shot which ended the life of Russia’s last Tsar is preserved today in the Museum of History and Archaeology of the Urals in Ekaterinburg.

Every year, since the 1990s, Yermakov’s grave has been vandalized by local monarchists, who douse his gravestone with red paint.

The red paint symbolizes the blood which this evil man spilled, and his involvement in the brutal murder of Nicholas II and his family on 17th July 1918.

PHOTO: Grunberg’s monument to the Holy Royal Martyrs, Church on the Blood

Konstantin Vasilievich Grunberg [born in Sverdlovsk in 1944] is a famous Russian sculptor who has eight monuments to his credit. Among them is the sculptural composition of the Holy Royal Martyrs situated at the entrance to the Lower Church of the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg. The composition which was officially unveiled and consecrated on 28th May 2003, depicts the Imperial Family descending the 23 steps in the basement of the Ipatiev House, where they met their death and martyrdom on 17th July 1918.

© Paul Gilbert. 15 January 2022

How British intelligence tried to get Nicholas II out of Russia

PHOTO: King George V and Emperor Nicholas II

In 1917, British intelligence officers developed several options for evacuating Tsar Nicholas II from Russia without delay, but the British government and King George V did not have enough resolve to carry out this operation. An article published by the BBC News русская служба [Russian Service], by Russian journalist Olga Ivshina, revealed some interesting new details from recently declassified secret service documents and the Royal Archives,

Discussions on the possible evacuation of Nicholas II from Russia began almost immediately after the Tsar’s abdication from the throne on 2nd March 1917. Already on 19th March, British General Sir John Hanbury-Williams met with Nicholas II’s mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna.

Britain’s concerns for the Romanov family is explained by the fact that King George V was a cousin of both Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. The two monarchs were close and often corresponded, calling each other ‘old Nicky’ and ‘dear Georgie’. In addition, Britain and Russia were allies in the First World War.

The British general and the dowager empress agreed that the abdicated tsar should leave Russia as soon as possible. Maria Feodorovna – born in Copenhagen and holding the title of Danish princess before marriage – advocated that her son be evacuated to Denmark. She expressed concern that in the event of a longer sea voyage, that the ship carrying her son could be sunk by a German submarine. The British general assured Maria Feodorovna that he could ensure the safety of the Tsar. He even offered to personally accompany the Imperial Family out of Russia to England. Maria Fedorovna agreed. The British Ambassador to Russia Sir George Buchanan began negotiations with representatives of the Russian interim government on possible evacuation routes.

Several obstacles remained. First, it was necessary to convince Nicholas II of the need to leave, who, judging by his diary entries, still wanted to stay and dreamed of spending the rest of his days in Crimea with some kind of special honourary status. Secondly, it was necessary to obtain the final confirmation of the operation from London. And thirdly, it was necessary to figure out how to get the Romanovs out of Russia by passing the armed detachments of the Bolsheviks.

The fact is that at that moment the Provisional Government did not fully control the volatile situation in the country. It was strongly opposed by the influential Petrograd Soviet of Workers ‘and Soldiers’ Deputies, which were against the departure of Nicholas II and demanded that he be tried.

PHOTO: Oliver Locker-Lampson (1880-1954)
© Imperial War Museum

Plan one – creative

While the politicians were negotiating, intelligence scouts got to work. Some of the documents shedding light on the events of those days remain classified. Researchers Richard Aldrich, Rory Cormac and Andrew Cook managed to piece together the details of several plans.

One of them was proposed by Oliver Locker-Lampson (1880-1954), an officer of the Royal Navy. He was simultaneously the commander of a division of machine-gun armoured vehicles and a member of the British Parliament.

In 1916, the Locker-Lampson[1] division was transferred to Russia, where he immediately took action. According to his memoirs, in 1917 he was instructed to develop a plan for the rescue of Nicholas II.

By this time, Locker-Lampson managed to recruit one of the servants who worked in the Alexander Palace – it was there that the Imperial Family were being held under arrest after the Tsar’s abdication. According to the intelligence plan, on the designated day, the servant was supposed to come, shave off Nicholas II’s beard, change clothes with him and attach himself a false beard, similar to that of the emperor.

Nicholas II then had to calmly leave the palace and walk to the place where British intelligence officers would be waiting for him in a motorcar. Then the Tsar would be transferred to an armoured vehicle, then taken to Arkhangelsk under the protection of the British military and sent to London.

At first glance, the plan looked naive. But, as subsequent events showed, Locker-Lampson had previous experience of evacuation operations. In 1933, he helped Albert Einstein escape from Nazi persecution, and in 1936 he transported Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia to England so that he would not fall into the hands of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. During World War II, Locker-Lampson evacuated dozens of Jewish families from Germany.

The officer’s plan had one weak point – it meant the salvation of only Nicholas II himself. A devout husband and father, the forsaken Emperor had made it very clear, that he would not leave Russia without his beloved wife and children.

There was still one other obstacle to Lampson’s plan: it was necessary to get the approval of London and send a warship to Russia to evacuate the Romanovs. Time was quickly running out for both the Imperial Family and the scouts. General Hanbury-Williams sent an urgent telegram after telegram to Britain, but there was still no answer.

PHOTO: Prime Minister David Lloyd George

Wasteful and bloody

The General’s telegrams reached Downing Street, but the government was in no hurry to make a decision. So, in a note from the King’s secretary, Lord Stamfordham, for example, it is mentioned that Prime Minister David Lloyd George was very interested in the question of how much money Nicholas II would need to live in England. The First World War drained Britain’s budget and the prime minister did not seem to be pleased with the prospect of any additional burden on the treasury.

“Can you find out what private savings the emperor has?” – the prime minister asked the British ambassador to Russia, George Buchanan.

At that time, there were legends in London about the extravagant wealth of the Russian Imperial Family in British and other foreign banks. The British negative perception of the Romanovs was influenced by stories about the adventures of their “friend” Grigory Rasputin.

Lloyd George also expressed concerns about the presence of the Romanovs in Britain. At that time, the socialist movement was gaining popularity in Britain. After the dispersal of the procession of St. Petersburg workers in 1905, left-wing politicians spoke of Nicholas II only in a negative way, often referring to him as “Nikolai the Bloody”. Lloyd George – among others – feared that the arrival of the Tsar would provoke an increase in revolutionary sentiments in Britain itself.

The Provisional Government in Petrograd repeatedly asked London to provide the Tsar and his family with asylum, at least for the duration of the war. Lloyd George paused for a long time, but Petrograd continued to be Britain’s ally in the First World War. As a result, the government still officially invited Nicholas II and his family to London.

By now, King George V was against any plan to bring his cousin to Britain. The monarch’s secretary in his papers notes that when he heard about the government’s decision, the king “fell into a panic.” The fact is that George began to receive more and more information from his personal secretary and acquaintances that the possible evacuation of the Romanov family to Britain is being widely discussed by workers, Labour MPs, and even members of the British nobility in a negative way.

Not only were people worried about Nicholas II, but also by his wife Alexandra Feodorovna, a German by birth. Having married Nicholas, the German princess converted to Orthodoxy and, as far as can be judged, imbued with love and respect for her adopted Russia. However, rumours continued to circulate in society that she secretly sympathized with Germany, her detractors often claiming that she was a Germn spy.

PHOTO: Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin

The second plan was ambitious

In parallel with the development of plans for the evacuation of the Romanov family, British intelligence officers also worked to undermine or overthrow the new Bolshevik order.

“A large scale invasion is the only thing that can save the situation and Russia,” the cavalier of military orders, the captain of the Royal Navy, Francis Cromie, telegraphed to London.

Together with the legendary British intelligence officer Sidney Reilly, they drew up plans for the landing of the Entente military formations in Russia. The head of the British diplomatic mission under the Soviet government, Robert Bruce Lockhart, at first was against such a plan, but later, realizing the inevitability of intervention, agreed.

In parallel, British intelligence officers tried to help the Socialist-Revolutionaries and monarchists organize an uprising against the Bolsheviks in Arkhangelsk [2]. There is one version which claims that the British were secretly organizing the assassination of Lenin, however, despite years of research, any evidence of such a plot has never been found.

Soviet historians write that diplomat Lockhart called the assassination of Lenin “the primary and most important task.” To this they added that the ambassadors of France and the United States were also involved in the conspiracy. However, Lockhart’s own reports say nothing of the kind, only about the arrest, but not the murder of the Bolshevik leader.

PHOTO: polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930)

The third plan was desperate

By August 1917, any opportunity to rescue the Imperial Family was looking more and more dismal. The provisional government, trying to somehow ensure the safety of the Tsar and his family, sent them away from radical revolutionaries in Petrograd into exile to Tobolsk in Siberia. This significantly complicated the task for British military and intelligence officers. Now they not only had to devise a plan to take Nicholas out from under the noses of the Bolsheviks, but to also overcome thousands of kilometres with him along the vast expanse of the Russian land. However, the officers did not give up.

The head of the Secret Service, Mansfield Cumming, began developing a new plan to rescue the Romanovs. This time the stake was made on Norwegian businessmen and travelers.

It is known that the British turned to the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) for help. This scientist attracted the attention of British intelligence because he knew well not only the main Siberian roads, but the waterways along the Yenisei, which could be very useful in the evacuation of the Tsar. The British also brought in the merchant Jonas Leed to develop the new plan. He often traveled to Siberia, representing the interests of Norwegian companies in the wood and coal mining industries.

Very little is known about the details of the plan involving Leed and Nansen. All that is known for certain is that Leed dined several times with representatives of the Secret Service, as well as with the head of intelligence of the British Navy.

Captain Stefan Ellie may also have been one of the participants in this new plan to save the Tsar. He spoke Russian fluently, since his family had lived in Russia since the 1870s. Ellie is one of the few British people who stayed to work in Russia even after the evacuation of the British embassy in late 1917.

Many details of Ellie’s mission remain unknown. But in 2006, his relatives found a notebook among his belongings. One of the spreads showed a hand-drawn map of the area in and around the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg, where Nicholas II was transferred in April of 1918, and a description of the house.

According to declassified data, on 24th May 1918, Ellie reported to London about his readiness to carry out an operation, during which “seven important persons” would be taken to Murmansk[3]. In the report, he listed the names of six people who were supposed to take part in the operation. Ellie noted that they were all fluent in Russian and could impersonate local residents. The scout also asked for £1,000[4] “due to increased operating costs.”

Researchers agree that this plan could not have been worked out without the prior approval of the British government and King George V.

PHOTO: Captain Stefan Ellie’s notebook helped learn details of MI6’s latest plan to rescue the Imperial Family

From recently declassified documents, it becomes clear that British intelligence had evidence that Germany was also preparing a plan to take the Imperial Family out of Russia. Technically, the Germans had a chance to do this, since a significant number of their military and equipment were already in Russian territories due to their participation in the First World War.

European royal historian and researcher Karina Urbach, who has access to German archives, confirms that there was a plan to “kidnap Nikolai Romanov” from the German special services. Information about this plan was gradually leaked to British intelligence officers.

Despite the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm II was at war with Russia, but was also the godfather of Tsesarevich Alexei and sincerely wanted to save him. Urbach notes that after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, it was Germany that objectively had the best opportunity to rescue the Tsar and his family.

Berlin could have done this with the help of its own spies or, with much more success, through diplomatic negotiations. Researchers believe that Germany could have raised the issue of the “extradition” of the Romanovs as one of the conditions for signing a peace treaty with the Bolsheviks.

Judging by the declassified correspondence of the British Foreign Office, on 28th May 1918, diplomats discussed for the last time whether they should raise the issue of evacuating Nicholas II’s five children during negotiations with Leon Trotsky, who at that time was chairman of the Supreme Military Council. During the discussion, they came to the conclusion that even if Trotsky agrees, the Romanovs will need to be guarded on the way to Murmansk. However, the Bolshevik guard was unreliable, and it was feared that the presence of a British guard could provoke attacks on the Imperial Family along the way. As a result, the British found themselves in a vicious circle – their intervention would only further harm those whom they were trying to save.

Historian Andrew Cook believes that telegrams with details of the evacuation plan for Nicholas II, sent by Major Ellie to London, could have been intercepted by the Bolsheviks. Perhaps this was the reason for the increased security of the Ipatiev House and the Imperial Family in the summer of 1918.

On 17th July 1918, Nicholas II with his wife, their five children and four faithful servants were all brutally murdered in Ekaterinburg—there were no survivors.

Less than a year later, the British battleship Marlborough rescued Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, along with other Romanovs with their families to the British naval base in Malta.

NOTES:

[1] Locker-Lampson became somewhat entangled in Russian politics at this time. He said later that he had been asked to participate in the 1916 assassination of Rasputin. It is also alleged that in September 1917 he was involved in Kornilov’s attempted coup against the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky.

[2] The city resisted Bolshevik rule from 1918 to 1920 and was a stronghold of the anti-Bolshevik White Army supported by the military intervention of British-led Entente forces.

[3] Murmansk, Russia’s first ice free port was founded in 1916 by Nicholas II and named Romanov-on-Murman.

[4] In terms of today’s money, this is approximately 50 thousand British pounds (66 thousand US dollars or 4.9 million rubles).

© Paul Gilbert. 18 December 2021

Why didn’t the “right” defend the monarchy in 1917?

PHOTO: Demonstration of the Black Hundreds in Odessa shortly after the announcement of the Manifesto on 17th October 1905[1]

The crisis of the Russian monarchy lasted more than a dozen years. It began during the Revolution of 1905-1907, which forced Nicholas II to make concessions, and ended in 1917, when he was forced to abdicate.

The February 1917 Revolution did not meet any organized resistance at all, neither from the Black Hundreds[2], nor from the military elite, nor from officials or the “moderate right”. Few of Russia’s military elite stood by Nicholas II, including Count Fyodor Arturovich Keller[3] (1857-1918); Alexander Pavlovich Kutepov[4] (1882-1930) and Commander of the Guard Cavalry Corps Huseyn Khan Nakhchivanski[5] (1863-1919) defended both their Emperor and the monarchy. In 1917, the conservative forces in Russia either left the political scene or were forced to “play by new rules.”

It is clear that by 1917 the Black Hundreds had greatly thinned out, were split and even in the Duma itself no longer had any particularly influence in the state of affairs. It is clear that the military could not leave the front and storm the insurgent Petrograd. It is clear that representatives of the military elite, industrialists, “moderate rightists”, even some monarchists like Vasily Vitalyevich Shulgin[6] (1878-1976) took an active part in the revolution itself.

Nevertheless, a number of features of “February” made the resistance of the pro-monarchist elements complicated and senseless. How so?

Circumstances led to a situation in which the Russian monarchists had to become “greater royalists than the Tsar himself.”

It was their belief, that as Nicholas II himself had abdicated the throne, it meant that he freed the rest of his supporters from any obligations to the monarch. Researcher A.A. Ivanov notes an important difference between the Revolution of 1917 and the Revolution of 1905:

“Taking into account past mistakes, the leaders of the liberal opposition managed to play the patriotic card, depriving the right of their main trump card – the monopoly on patriotism. Patriotic rhetoric allowed the liberal opposition (in contrast to the times of the first Russian revolution) to establish close contact with the highest ranks of the army and attract them to their side … thus, leading to the rapid defeat of the right in 1917.”

PHOTO: Meeting of the Local Council of the Orthodox Church in the Moscow Diocesan House, which existed from August 1917 to September 1918 (!). The Patriarch was elected in November 1917, already de facto under the Bolsheviks.

Following the example of the liberal opposition, the Bolsheviks also began using patriotic rhetoric to further their cause. Lenin would scream out slogans, such as “The Socialist Fatherland is in danger”, etc. Patriotism is a powerful tool, especially when used correctly and the right words are chosen.

Many future White generals in their memoirs write about the mistakes of the Provisional Government. And they themselves sometimes answer the question of why they didn’t intervene: they would have intervened, “had it not been for the war against the Germans, it’s impossible to turn it into a Civil War, and the Tsar had abdicated”.

Patriotic rhetoric and the formal “voluntary” abdication of the Emperor turned the hypothetical attempts of the right to change the situation into a rebellion against the will of the monarch, in a situation of war with an external enemy.

“The weakness and fragmentation of the monarchist forces, the self-elimination of the government, the “voluntary” abdication of the Tsar and the national character of the revolution, which met with the widest support in all strata of Russian society, deprived the political struggle for the restoration of autocracy … ” added A. A. Ivanov.

A few words must be said here about the Church[7]. After all, de facto, these are the main “pillars” of any monarchy – military power and religion. Russia has never been an exception in this regard. In 1917, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church promptly changed the texts of oaths (ordination to the clergy) and prayers (“now we pray for the Provisional Government”), their actions thus recognizing the new shift in power. Those who disagreed were dismissed (as in the army). They even recommended that monarchical literature be removed from the parishes.

There is also a point of view according to which the church was interested in February, since the fall of the monarchy allowed it to free itself from the “excessive tutelage of the state” (which will also later play against them, as in the case of the liberal opposition).

In any case, in 1917, both the military and civilian “right”, simply had nothing to rely on. Foreign policy, the balance of power, brute force, ideology – everything now worked against them …

NOTES:

[1] The Manifesto was issued by Nicholas II, under the influence of Sergei Witte (1849–1915), on 30 October [O.S. 17 October] 1905 as a response to the Russian Revolution of 1905. Nicholas strenuously resisted these ideas, but gave in after his first choice to head a military dictatorship, his first cousin once removed Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (1856-1929), threatened to shoot himself in the head if the Tsar did not accept Witte’s suggestion. Nicholas reluctantly agreed, and issued what became known as the October Manifesto, promising basic civil rights and an elected parliament called the Duma, without whose approval no laws were to be enacted in Russia in the future.

[2] The Black Hundreds, was a reactionary, monarchist and ultra-nationalist movement in Russia in the early 20th century. It was a staunch supporter of the House of Romanov and opposed any retreat from the autocracy of the reigning monarch.

The Black Hundreds were founded on a devotion to Tsar, church and motherland, and lived by the motto: “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality”. Despite certain program differences, all of the Black Hundreds organizations had one goal in common, namely their struggle against the revolutionary movement.

[3] Keller was military leader of the Russian Imperial Army and cavalry general. He was one of the leaders of the White movement in the South of Russia in 1918, a monarchist. He remained loyal to Nicholas II until the end of his life.

On 6th March 1917, Keller sent a telegram addressed to Nicholas II, in which he expressed indignation on behalf of the corps and himself against the troops that had joined the rebels, and also asked the Tsar not to leave the Throne.

The intercepted telegram came to the attention of General Mannerheim, who made an attempt to persuade Keller to submit to the Provisional Government, or, at least, to persuade him to refuse to influence his subordinates in this regard. However, the count did not make concessions, refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government, saying:

I’m a Christian and I think it’s a sin to change my oath.”

[4] Kutepov was a Russian military leader, general from infantry (1920), pioneer, active participant in the White movement, and a devout monarchist. Between 1928-1930, he served as Chairman of the Russian General Military Union (ROVS).

During the February Revolution, Colonel Kutepov, who was on a short vacation in Petrograd , was the only senior officer who tried to organize effective resistance to the insurgents.

On 26th January 1930, Kutepov was kidnapped in Paris by Soviet intelligence agents. Documents about the circumstances, place and time of his death are still secret and inaccessible to historians.

[5] A Muslim by religion, Khan Nakhchivanski remained loyal to the Russian Orthodox emperor and refused to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government.

When in the winter of 1917 the February Revolution began in Petrograd, he sent a telegram to the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief to offer Nicholas II the use of his corps for suppression of the revolt, but Nicholas II never received this telegram.

It is presumed by a number of historians that Khan Nakhchivanski was executed in February 1919 together with four Romanov Grand Dukes in the Peter and Paul Fortress. However the exact circumstances of Khan Nakhchivanski’s death and his burial place still remain unknown.

[6] Shulgin was a Russian conservative monarchist, politician and member of the White movement. Shulgin opposed the revolution, but he was opposed to the idea of an absolute monarchy in Russia. Together with Alexander Guchkov (1862-1936) he persuaded Nicholas II to abdicate the throne since he believed that a constitutional monarchy with Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (1878-1918) being the monarch was possible, and that this or even a republic, if a strong government was established, would be a remedy for Russia. For the same reason he supported the Provisional Government and Kornilov’s coup. When all hope was lost he moved to Kiev where he participated in the White movement.

[7] Click HERE to read my article How the Orthodox Church supported the overthrow of the monarchy, published on 8th March 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 14 December 2021

ROC Metropolitan blames Nicholas II for February 1917 Revolution

PHOTO: Revolutionaries burning a portrait of Nicholas II on 5th March 1917
Artist: Ivan Alekseevich Vladimirov (1869-1947)

On 23rd February (O.S.) 1917, workers unrest and mass demonstrations began in the capital of the Russian Empire, Petrograd. Thus began the February Revolution, which brought an end to the monarchy and lead the country into chaos.

On 2nd March (O.S.) 1917, Russia’s last emperor Nicholas II, betrayed by the elites, members of his inner circle, generals and even members of his own family abdicated the throne. Although historians continue to argue about the authenticity of the renunciation manifesto, it was then, at the Pskov railway station, that the Imperial Family’s journey to Golgotha ​​began.

On the recent 104th anniversary of the events which proved fatal for Russia, Metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Shevkunov)¹ talked about the drama and lies of the Russian Revolution during a discussion on the YouTube channel “Seraphim”.

Metropolitan Tikhon said that the last Russian emperor Nicholas II was responsible for the February Revolution of 1917, since he was the supreme ruler of the country and failed to discern the impending threat.

“The first person is always to blame for the troubles that befall the country. Always!” – said Tikhon. He explained that Nicholas II was glorified in the person of the saints in a special way – as a passion-bearer², in connection with the tragic circumstances of the deaths of the Imperial family.

At the same time, Tikhon recalled an article by Winston Churchill (1874-1965) in the Illustrated Sunday Herald about the revolutionary events in Russia, where the British politician spoke positively about Nicholas II and emphasized the inevitability of the victory of the Russian Empire in World War I, if not for the revolutionary events.

PHOTO: Metropolitan of Pskov Tikhon (Shevkunov)

“Nicholas II was one of the most successful and yet one of the most tragic leaders of our state,” said Metropolitan Tikhon, referring to the rapid growth of the empire’s population, the economic and industrial boom during the reign of the last emperor. “This is evidence of his caring for the Russian people and the ever-increasing standard of living,” he added.

According to Metropolitan Tikhon, during his 22 year reign, although he was a decent and even selfless person, Nicholas II “bored” Russian society, and “could not see the terrible situation which was developing”. He went on to say that “the aristocratic and noble monarchy,” played a fatal role in the fate of the Russian Empire.

NOTES

¹ Tikhon is the Metropolitan of Pskov and Porkhov and Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church. He is often referred as the personal confessor of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

² Nicholas II was glorified as a saint by the ROCOR in 1981, and as a passion-bearer by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000

© Paul Gilbert. 23 March 2021

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