After the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, Russia quickly disintegrated into civil war. Negotiations for the release of the Romanovs between their Bolshevik (commonly referred to as ‘Reds’) captors and their extended family, many of whom were prominent members of the royal houses of Europe, stalled. The rejection of asylum from the United Kingdom sealed their fait.
The Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George preferred that the Russian Imperial Family went to a neutral country, and wanted the offer to be announced as at the request of the Russian government. The offer of asylum was withdrawn in April 1918 following objections by King George V, (first cousin of Nicholas II) who, acting on the advice of his secretary Arthur Bigge, 1st Baron Stamfordham, was worried that Nicholas’s presence might provoke an uprising like the previous year’s Easter Rising in Ireland.
Photo from 1913. Grand Duchess Anastasia stands next to her father with her arm around her brother, Tsarevich Alexei.
As the Whites (anti-Bolshevik forces, although not necessarily supportive of the Emperor) advanced toward Yekaterinburg, the Reds were in a precarious situation. The Reds knew Yekaterinburg would fall to the better manned and equipped White Army. When the Whites reached Yekaterinburg, the imperial family had simply disappeared. The most widely accepted account was that the family had been murdered.
This was due to an investigation by White Army investigator Nicholas Sokolov, who came to the conclusion based on items that had belonged to the family being found thrown down a mine shaft at Ganina Yama.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia
The “Yurovsky Note”, an account of the event filed by Yurovsky to his Bolshevik superiors following the killings, was found in 1989 and detailed in Edvard Radzinsky’s 1992 book, The Last Tsar. According to the note, on the night of the deaths, the family was awakened and told to dress.
They were told they were being moved to a new location to ensure their safety in anticipation of the violence that might ensue when the White Army reached Yekaterinburg. Once dressed, the family and the small circle of servants who had remained with them were herded into a small room in the house’s sub-basement and told to wait. Alexandra and Alexei sat in chairs provided by guards at the Empress’s request.
House in Yekaterinburg where the Imperial Family was murdered.
After several minutes, the guards entered the room, led by Yurovsky, who quickly informed the Emperor and his family that they were to be executed. The Emperor had time to say only “What?” and turn to his family before he was killed by several bullets to the chest (not, as is commonly stated, to the head; his skull, recovered in 1991, bears no bullet wounds).
The Empress and her daughter Olga tried to make the sign of the cross but were killed in the initial volley of bullets fired by the executioners. The rest of the Imperial retinue were shot in short order, with the exception of Anna Demidova, Alexandra’s maid.
Demidova survived the initial onslaught but was quickly stabbed to death against the back wall of the basement while trying to defend herself with a small pillow she had carried into the sub-basement that was filled with precious gems and jewels.
Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Anastasia and the dog Ortino in captivity at Tsarskoe Selo in the spring of 1917
The “Yurovsky Note” further reported that once the thick smoke that had filled the room from so many weapons being fired in such close proximity cleared, it was discovered that the executioners’ bullets had ricocheted off the corsets of two or three of the Grand Duchesses. The executioners later came to find out that this was because the family’s crown jewels and diamonds had been sewn inside the linings of the corsets to hide them from their captors.
The corsets thus served as a form of “armor” against the bullets. Anastasia and Maria were said to have crouched up against a wall, covering their heads in terror, until they were shot down by bullets, recalled Yurovsky. However, another guard, Peter Ermakov, told his wife that Anastasia had been finished off with bayonets. As the bodies were carried out, one or more of the girls cried out, and were clubbed on the back of the head, wrote Yurovsky.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna in captivity at Tobolsk in the spring of 1918