Russia, here I come . . . again!

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The Church on the Blood, Ekaterinburg

I am very pleased to announce that I will be returning to Russia in September, where I will spend 10 days in Ekaterinburg and Tobolsk.

I have booked my flights on Aeroflot from Toronto-New York (JFK)-Moscow-Ekaterinburg, 19th – 29th September. This journey marks my 30th visit to Russia since 1986, my 4th visit to Ekaterinburg since 2012, and my 1st visit to Tobolsk!

The purpose of this journey is to complete research on my forthcoming book My Russia. Ekaterinburg. I began researching and writing this book in 2018, with plans to publish it prior to the centenary of the deaths of Nicholas II and his family. Instead, I delayed the publication, due to the fact that I attended the Tsars Days events held in Ekaterinburg in July 2018. In hindsight, I am happy that I made the decision to delay the books publication, as I was able to collect a lot of additional material for the book, as well as hundreds of photographs, many of which will be featured in my book.

I will spend 5 days in Ekaterinburg, revisiting the many places associated with the last days of the Imperial Family, including the Church on the Blood, the Novo-Tikhvin Convent, Ganina Yama, Porosenkov Log, as well as three museums dedicated to the Holy Royal Martyrs: Museum of the Holy Royal Family (Patriarchal Compound), Romanov Memorial Hall (Museum of History and Archaeology in the Urals); and Museum and Exhibition Center (Ganina Yama).

Once a bastion of Bolshevism, Ekaterinburg has slowly shed its status as the “capital of atheism”. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Urals has experienced a revival of faith, with Ekaterinburg at the into the center of Orthodox Russia in the Urals. Ekaterinburg has done more to honour Nicholas II and his family than any other city in Russia.

Thanks to my previous visits to Ekaterinburg in 2012, 2016 and 2018, it is a city which I have grown to admire and love.

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The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II, Tobolsk

From there, I will travel by train to Tobolsk – a 10-hour journey – and spend 3 days exploring this beautiful historic city and former capital of Siberia. The city is known for its 18th-century snow-white coloured Kremlin, Orthodox churches and many buildings dating from the Tsarist period, which have thankfully been preserved to this day.

My primary interest will, of course, be the former Governors Mansion, where the Imperial Family lived under house arrest from August 1917 to April 1918. Following the October Revolution, it was renamed the ‘House of Freedom’.

Today, the former Governors Mansion houses the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II. The museum was opened in 2018, the year marking the 100th anniversary of the deaths of the Imperial family. 

Thirteen rooms have been recreated in the building, many of which have preserved many historic elements and details from the time of the Imperial Family’s stay here. The museum features more than 900 artefacts, including memorial and personal items related to Nicholas II and his family.

Not only am I looking forward to meeting up with old friends and making new acquaintances in my favourite Russian city Ekaterinburg, I am also very much looking forward to exploring Tobolsk for the very first time. An added bonus to this journey, will be the opportunity to see the Urals decked out in the beautiful colours of autumn.

Upon my return from Russia, I will publish a summary of my visit in an issue of Sovereign, and put the finishing touches on my book My Russia. Ekaterinburg, adding additional text and photographs.

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My Russia. Ekaterinburg – front and back covers

The present draft of My Russia. Ekaterinburg, already contains an Introduction, plus illustrated chapters on the Churches of Ekaterinburg; a History of the Ipatiev House; the Church on the Blood; the Patriarchal Compound and the Museum of the Holy Royal Family; the Novo-Tikhvin Convent; the Romanov Memorial Hall in the Museum of History and Archaeology in the Urals; Tsar’s Days; Ganina Yama, the Monastery of the Holy Royal Martyrs and the Museum and Exhibition Center; Porosenkov Log; Alapaevsk; Tyumen; Tobolsk and the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II; helpful Visitor Information and much more.

With 250 pages, and richly illustrated with 300 black and white photos – many taken by me during my visits to the Urals – My Russia. Ekaterinburg  will be my largest publishing project to date. God willing, my book will be available before Christmas.

© Paul Gilbert. 26 February 2020

The woman who photographed the Imperial Family in Tobolsk

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Maria Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova with her husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky

Few historians know about Maria Ussakovskaya the first woman photographer in Tobolsk. Through the lens of her camera, she photographed life in the provincial capital during one of the most dramatic periods of Russia’s history, leaving for posterity a noticeable mark in the biography of this Siberian city.

Incredible progress

Maria Mikhailovna Ussakovskaya, nee Petukhova, was born on 28th December 1871 (Old Style) in the family of a Tobolak native, state adviser M.M. Petukhov. She graduated from the Tobolsk girl’s school and, in 1893, married the official Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky.

Ivan was also a great lover of photography – a hobby that was fashionable and modern in Russia at the time. On the basis of her husband’s home laboratory, as well as money received in a dowry from her father, Maria opened a photo salon, which quickly gained popularity among the townspeople. It should be noted that in 1897 in Tobolsk, with a population of 20 thousand people, there were no less than nine photo shops! 

Maria kept up with all the new developments in photography. She ordered expensive Bristol cardboard for passe-partout, used interchangeable backs with different scenes, offered costume shots, and even performed photo montages. This was incredible progress for Siberia at that time.

Photographs by Ussakovskaya were distinguished by their artistic taste and original composition. These were real photo portraits, which is especially significant, because photography at that time was essentially a step into eternity to become a memory for years to come.

Unlike other female owned photo salons, Ussakovskaya perfectly mastered the techniques of photography herself. Her photo salon also began to publish postcards, which were in great demand. It is known that the famous Russian chemist and inventor Dmitry Mendeleev (1834-1907), during his stay in Tobolsk in the summer of 1899, bought a collection of art postcards with views of his native city from Ussakovskaya’s salon.

Maria continued to work after the revolution, but the portraits of young ladies in silk dresses were replaced with photographing labor collectives, fur farms, bone carving masters and ordinary workers. At the same time, the house was formally confiscated by the local Soviet, leaving Maria to rent her own photo workshop from a local farm in Tobolsk. In 1929, Ussakovskaya was deprived of suffrage. The photo salon had to be closed. In 1938, the Ussakovskys left Tobolsk for Moscow for fear of reprisals. Maria Mikhailovna died in 1947 and is buried in the Don Cemetery.

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Photograph of Rasputin taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

Witness of events

Maria was a witness to many historical events. Of particular interest in her biography are family traditions associated with the names of prominent people of that era and carefully preserved by subsequent generations of Ussakovsky. One of them is based on the visit by the famous strannik Grigori Rasputin.

The photograph of Grigory Rasputin made by Maria Ussakovskaya is today widely known. Moreover, the famous holy man, who was hunted by Russia’s finest photographers, presented himself at Maria’s salon. Maria’s great-grandson of Vadim Borisovich Khoziev, continues to tell the story of Rasputin’s visit to his great-grandmother’s salon in Tobolsk, as told to him by his grandmother Maria Ivanovna Ussakovskaya.

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One of Maria’s photos of the Governors House, where the Imperial Family lived under house arrest

Photographer of the Romanov family?

It is also of great interest,  that according to the Ussakovsky family, Maria repeatedly photographed the family of Tsar Nicholas II during their house arrest in the former Governor’s Mansion in Tobolsk. Sadly, however, in 1938, her daughter Nina, fearing arrest, destroyed all the photographic plates. One can only speculate, as to what these lost plates depicted? How close did Maria get to the Imperial Family? What were they doing when she photographed them? How many photographs did she take, and later destroyed? Sadly, we will never know.

Only photos of the faithful servants of the Imperial Family have been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk. It is interesting to add that members of their suite who enjoyed freedom to go about Tobolsk, made purchases of  postcards with views of Tobolsk, on behalf of the Imperial Family from Maria’s salon.

The fact that the Imperial Family used the services of the Ussakovskaya Salon was documented. In the financial report of Colonel Kobylinsky, security chief of the Romanovs, in addition to a few mentions of invoices for purchasing postcards, information is also provided on the account “for correcting negatives”. So Maria’s photos of the Imperial Family did in fact exist!.

The Imperial Family described their stay in Tobolsk in great detail in both their respective diaries and letters, however, there is no mention of an invitation of Maria Ussakovskaya nor the photographer in general. A visit by a female photographer would hardly go unnoticed. It is also not clear why the Romanovs would need to invite a photographer: they, as well as the tutor to Tsesarevich Alexei Pierre Gilliard, had their own cameras. Many photographs of the Imperial Family have been preserved, taken in Tobolsk by the Romanovs themselves or by members of their retinue.

Pierre Gilliard notes in his diary on 17th September 1917 that the Imperial Family were forced to have “ID cards with numbers, equipped with photographs.” Empress Alexandra Feodorovna made a similar note in her diary on 30th September 1917. Their respective entries may explain the photographer from the Ussakovskaya Salon, who was most likely Maria’s husband Ivan Konstantinovich Ussakovsky, who was invited for this compulsory photography for certificates. An invoice was issued by the salon.

Several passes to the “Freedom House” with photographs have been preserved, for example, the passes with a photograph of Dr. E. S. Botkin and maid A. S. Demidova. Their copies are also on display in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk.

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Photograph of the Imperial Family’s faithful servants taken at Maria’s salon in Tobolsk

“Faithful servants”

A wonderful photograph depicting *five faithful servants of the Imperial Family has been preserved to this day. The original of this photo is now in the collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum in Pushkin, a copy of which can be seen in the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II (opened in June 2018) in Tobolsk.

The faithful servants of the Imperial Family, who had not lodged in the Governor’s House, but in the Kornilov House, located on the opposite side of the street and, obviously, enjoyed greater freedom of movement, could visit the Ussakovskaya Salon, which was located nearby. The famous photograph, called “Faithful Servants”, was clearly taken in the salon. Five members of the imperial retinue pose against a backdrop with a view of Tobolsk, printed or painted on canvas, This background can be seen in other photos from the Ussakovskaya Photo Salon.

*NOTE: the photo above depicts – the gentlemen: Count Ilya Tatishchev, Pierre Gilliard, Prince Vasily Dolgorukov; the ladies, Catherine Schneider, Anastasia Hendrikova. With the exception of Pierre Gilliard, the other four faithful retainers of the Imperial Family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

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The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky in Tobolsk

The home and salon of Maria Mikhailovna and Ivan Ussakovsky which was located at No. 19 Ulitsa Mira, was illegally demolished in 2006. Requests to local authorities by a group of local historians to restore the building has fallen on deaf ears in Tobolsk. 

© Paul Gilbert. 24 February 2020

Imperial Family seen through the eyes of children

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Metropolitan Demetrius of Tobolsk and Tyumen with the winners of the competition

In December 2019, The Holy Royal Martyrs in the History of Siberia was held in Tyumen, as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Tobolsk Metropolis. The events included a competition of paintings by children depicting Emperor Nicholas II and his family. 

More than 40 children participated in the competition. The ceremonial awarding of the finalists took place on 10th December as part of the Christmas holiday for students of the Tyumen Orthodox Gymnasium. Organizers noted that the children submitted “colourful, creative work”, distinguished by each child’s skill and dedication.

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“The Imperial family out for a walk”

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“The Imperial family out for a walk in Tobolsk”

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“From Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg”

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“In One Prayer”

Diplomas and gifts were presented to the best 10 colorful works, in addition to several other participants. The names of the paintings speak of the children’s involvement in the contest theme: “The Imperial family out for a walk”, “The Imperial family out for a walk in Tobolsk”, “From Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg”, “In One Prayer”. 

Metropolitan Demetrius of Tobolsk and Tyumen took part in the award ceremony and thanked the young people of Tyumen for their participation in the competition.

“It is gratifying that many participants reflected the most important essence, which is inherent in the title of the contest: the family of the last Emperor Nicholas II, the Royal Martyrs in the history of Siberia. Children approached the task responsibly, invested their souls, reflected the high moral and spiritual values ​​inherent in Nicholas II and his family,” noted Vladyka Dimitri.

© Paul Gilbert. 16 January 2020

Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

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The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened in Tobolsk on 26 April 2018

NOTE: All of the articles pertaining to Nicholas II and his family which were originally published in my Royal Russia News blog, have been moved to this Nicholas II blog. This article was originally posted on 26 April 2018 in my Royal Russia News blog – PG

Watch the VIDEO (above), to see the interiors of the museum and it’s many exhibits. The commentary is in Russian, however, do not not allow that to prevent from watching if you do not speak the language. The museum is indeed a beautiful tribute and memory to the Imperial family during their 8 months in Tobolsk.

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On 26th April 2018, the long awaited Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened its doors in the Siberian city of Tobolsk. Governor Vladimir Yakushev called the event “significant not only for the region, but for the whole of Russia.”

The guest of honour at the opening of the museum was Mrs Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky, a well-known Russian public figure, and widow of Tikhon Nikolayevich Kulikovsky, the eldest son of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, nephew of Nicholas II and grandson of Alexander III. In addition, descendants of the tutors of the Tsesarevich Alexei, who accompanied the Imperial family to Tobolsk, arrived from France and Switzerland.

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Mrs Olga Nikolaevna Kulikovsky

Mrs Kulikovsky said that she liked the museum, and noted the excellent work of its employees. According to her, it is impossible, however, to add the original atmosphere of the time when the family of Nicholas II lived in the house, Olga Nikolaevna, undoubtedly the museum was made with love. When asked what kind of feeling the museum created for her, she said: “Longing for the times when the Imperial family lived here.”

The museum is the first museum in Russia, dedicated entirely to the family of Emperor Nicholas II. The museum is housed in the former governor’s house, where the Imperial family lived from 6th August, 1917 to 13th April, 1918. The mansion became a prison for the Imperial family before the Bolsheviks sent everyone to them all to their deaths in Ekaterinburg.

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During the past year historians have collected their personal belongings: furniture, icons, Alexandra Feodorovna’s gospel, and Alexei’s “magic lantern” – the prototype of a modern projector. In addition, the new museum will temporarily feature exhibits from the Central Museum of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Russian National Museum of Music, which include porcelain Easter eggs of 1912 with the monograms of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, and a balalaika made in the studio of the court master Franz Paserbsky.

After the Revolution, the Governor’s house was renamed the “House of Freedom”. During the last 50 years, the former Governor’s mansion at Ulitsa Mira, 10 was occupied by the district administration. Historians had argued for many years that a building with such a history should be utilized as a museum dedicated to the Imperial family.

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In the museum’s exposition there are unique items related to the period of the Imperial family’s 8-month residency: Imperial porcelain, napkins with monograms, silver appliances. One of the most precious exhibits is Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s silk shawl. The Empress gave the shawl to the wife of the doctor in gratitude, who had treated the Tsesarevich Alexei.

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The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in the former Governors Mansion, Tobolsk

© Paul Gilbert. 12 December 2019

Virtual Tour of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

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CLICK on the ticket for a virtual tour of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II 

The Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II opened on 26th April 2018 in the Siberian city of Tobolsk.

The museum is the first museum in Russia, dedicated entirely to the family of Emperor Nicholas II. The museum is housed in the former governor’s house, where the Imperial family lived from 6th August, 1917 to 13th April, 1918. The mansion became a prison for the Imperial family before the Bolsheviks sent everyone to them all to their deaths in Ekaterinburg.

CLICK on the ticket above to take a virtual tour of the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II in Tobolsk

NOTE: it may take a few minutes to download. Simply follow the arrows into the former Governor’s Mansion, and tour the rooms and their contents. As you enter the house, make a left to follow the arrow up the stairs to the upper floor, where the exhibition rooms are located – ENJOY!

© Paul Gilbert. 23 November 2019