Olivia Kroth: Lessons of Russian history – The last days of the last Tsar (Part IV)

Lessons of Russian history:

The last days of the last Tsar

(Part IV)

by Olivia Kroth

30 juillet 1914: le tsar signe l'ordre de mobilisation générale - L'Express

In May 1918, Nicholas II and his family had only two more months to live. In this perilous condition as a prisoner of the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg, the last Tsar continued with his habit of reading books. Until a few days before his death, he kept noting daily events in his personal diary, which was translated into French and commented by the editor, Jean-Christophe Buisson. The last Tsar’s «Journal intime» was published by Editions Perrin in Paris, 2020.

08.05./21.05.1918: «I read the fourth part of Lev Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, which I did not know yet» (Journal intime, p. 210). What did he learn from it? He made no further comments, drew no comparison between the Patriotic War of 1812 and World War I (1914-1918).

Tsar Alexander I had Field Marshall Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov (1745-1813), who drove Napoleon’s army out of the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, there was no equal personality helping Tsar Nicholas II to drive the enemies out. Alexander I was able to put Napoleon in his place, whom he considered to be a despicable ‘parvenu’.

Due to Field Marshall Kutuzov’s clever tactics and the grim, long winter in Russia, Napoleon lost nearly his entire army and had to retreat. He had set out with about 400.000 men to conquer the Russian Empire. Barely 40.000 of his men returned to France, with frozen limbs and tattered uniforms.

Russia’s Patriotic War of 1812 against the French invaders:

War and Peace (Война и мир) is a literary work mixed with chapters on history and philosophy, published in 1869. It is regarded as one of Lev Tolstoy’s finest literary achievements and has remained an internationally praised classic of world literature, until today.

The novel chronicles the French invasion and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families. The fourth part of this gigantic work, which the last Tsar was reading during his imprisonment in Yekaterinburg, deals with Napoleon’s final defeat and painful retreat from Russian soil.

In contrast to Tsar Alexander I, Nicholas II was not able to defeat the invaders of Russia. When «Willy», Kaiser Wilhelm II, after many telegramme exchanges with «Nicky», Tsar Nicholas II, declared war to the Russian Empire, on the 1st of August 1914, «Nicky» was devastated and lamented about his German cousin’s betrayal.

War and Peace (Signet Classics): Tolstoy, Leo, Dunnigan, Ann, Bayley, John:  9780451523266: Amazon.com: Books

Reading seems to have been a sort of escape for the prisoner in Yekaterinburg. After finishing Lev Tolstoy’s novel, he began reading another famous Russian author’s works.

13.05./26.05.1918: «I began to read the works of Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, which I found in the library of the house» (Journal intime, p. 213). 14.05./27.05.1918: «It was a mild day. I read a lot» (Journal intime, p. 213).

Mikhail Yevgrafovich Saltykov-Shchedrin (Михаил Евграфович Салтыков-Щедрин, 1826–1889) was a Russian writer and satirist of the 19th century. In his works he mastered both stark realism and satirical grotesque, merged with fantasy.

His novel ‘The Gentlemen Golovlyov» (Господа Головлёвы) was written in the course of five years.It became one of the major works of Russian Realism. Published in 1880, it depicts a family of country gentry. This novel is a merciless satire of Russian society under the Tsars.

According to D. S. Mirsky, it is «the gloomiest book in all Russian literature», and «this one book» places the author «in the very front line of Russian realistic novelists and secures him a permanent place among the national classics».

According to his biographer Maria Goryachkina, the author managed to compile the satirical encyclopedia of contemporary Russian life, targeting first serfdom with its degrading effect upon society, then, after its abolition, exposing corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, opportunistic tendencies in the intelligentsia, greed and amorality of those in power, but also the apathy, meekness and social immobility of the common people in the Russian Empire.

Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin (1826-1889):

In between his reading sessions, Nicholas II complained about the strict prison regime in the house of Ipatiev. 20.05./02.06.1918: «It is intolerable to be imprisoned in such a way. We cannot even go outside into the garden to take a breath of fresh air» (Journal intime, p. 215).

28.05./10.06.1918: «»In the hangar, where they have locked away all the trunks with our belongings, they open them at any given moment to take out various objects. They do not explain to us, why they need them. All of this makes us think that we will never see our possessions again. It is awful!» (Journal intime, p. 217). In fact, he was right. After his death, all the trunks in the hangar were sealed and sent to the Moscow Soviet.

09.06./22.06.1918: «We have been given permission to walk outside for 90 minutes. Today, while we were having tea, six men from the local Soviet came to look at our windows. Several times already, various people arrived to check the windows. This happened, while we were present. They did not speak a single word with us» (Journal intime, p. 220). 10.06./23.06.1918: «Today, we heard that our visitors yesterday were commissars from Petrograd» (Journal inime, p. 220).

Nicholas II, his family and servants in the house of Ipatiev:

Цареубийство – неразгаданные тайны

Since the beginning of July 1918, Yakov Yurovsky was reponsible for the surveillance of the Tsar’s family and employees. Nicholas II noted in his diary some further changes that worried him. 25.06./08.07.1918: «Our lives have not changed at all with Yurovsky’s arrival. We have new Latvian guards in the house but those outside are still the same as before. Half of them are soldiers, the other half workers» (Journal intime, p. 233).

28.06./11.07.1918: «This morning, three workers came and barred our windows from outside with iron bars. All of this happened without Yurovsky giving us a warning» (Journal intime, p. 223). The last Tsar’s personal diary ends with a short note aboute his hemophile son Alexis, who did not feel well. A few days later, the Romanov family was executed in the house of Ipatiev, at night.

At the end of June 1918, Vladimir Lenin had decided at the 5th Soviet Congress in Moscow that all of the Romanovs had to be eliminated. He did not want to run the risk that Nicholas II could be liberated or that he would flee abroad to agitate against the new Soviet Government from outside.

Yakov Yurovsky:

Probably Vladimir Lenin also had a personal, private reason for this harsh decision. His brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged on the order of Tsar Alexander III, the last Tsar’s father, in 1887. Vladimir Lenin’s brother had been a member of a revolutionary group trying to kill Alexander III but the attempt had failed.

It is a mistake to believe that the October Revolution of 1917 came out of the blue. The revolutionary fire had been simmering in Russia, since the middle of the 19th century.

Alexander Ilyich Ulyanov (Александр Ильич Ульянов; 1866 –1887) was born in Nizhny Novgorod, the second child and eldest son of schoolteachers Ilya Nikolayevich Ulyanov and Maria Alexandrovna Ulyanova. He graduated with honours from the College of Simbirsk, in 1883, and later attended the Saint Petersburg State University, where he majored in Natural Sciences and earned a degree in zoology.

While at university, he participated in underground meetings, often handing out pamphlets and making speeches to students and workers. In 1886, he became a member of the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) Party. He was one of the authors of the party’s programme. Acknowledging the working class as the «nucleus of the party», this programme affirmed the revolutionaries’ initiative of abolishing autocracy.

The Ulyanov family, in 1877, with Alexander standing in the middle and Vladimir sitting to the right:

Alexander Ulyanov was arrested, after the plan to assassinate Tsar Alexander III had failed. During his trial in court, he gave a political speech. Alexander’s mother Maria Alexandrovna wrote a petition to the Tsar, asking for clemency, and received permission to visit her son in prison. She urged him to ask for clemency himself. So Alexander Ulyanov wrote:

«I am fully aware that the nature and properties of the deed I have committed and my attitude towards it do not give me either the right or the moral basis to apply to Your Majesty with a request for indulgence in the form of alleviating my lot.

But I have a mother whose health has deteriorated greatly, in recent days, and the execution of my death sentence will put her life in the most serious danger. In the name of my mother and my younger brothers and sisters, who, having no father, find their only support in her, I have decided to ask Your Majesty to replace my death penalty with some other punishment.

This indulgence will restore the strength and health of my mother and return her to the family for which her life is so precious, and save me from the painful consciousness that I will be the cause of the death of my mother and the misfortune of my entire family.»

Alexander Ilyich Ulyanov (Александр Ильич Ульянов; 1866 –1887):

However, clemency was not granted. On the 8th of May 1887, Alexander Ulyanov was hanged at Shlisselburg and buried in a mass grave behind the wall of the Oreshek fortress, on the shore of Lake Ladoga in the Leningrad Region.

Alexander’s execution drove his younger brother Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) to pursue the Russian revolutionary struggle even more fervently. He finally succeeded to eradicate the Romanov reigning clique, to abolish tsardom in Russia, once and for all, in order to give his home country a new economic, political and social direction.

Although Alexander Ulyanov’s attempt to free Russia had not been successful, his memory lived on in the hearts and minds of the Soviet people, in the 20th century. Streets were named after him in Saint Petersburg, Tver and Donetsk. A USSR postage stamp of the Ulyanov Family was issued, in 1962.

In 1965, the film «A Mother’s Heart» was filmed, directed by Mark Donskoy. It told about the execution of Alexander Ulyanov and how his mother Maria Alexandrovna experienced this event. In 1970, the ship «Alexander Ulyanov» was launched from the docks of the shipyard in Rostock, German Democratic Republic. In 1972, the minor planet (2112) Ulyanov received his name.

Memorial plaque for Alexander Ulyanov at the place of his execution on the wall of the Oreshek Fortress:

The French editor of the last Tsar’s diary, Jean-Christophe Buisson, gives further details of the Romanov execution in Yekaterinburg:

«On the 16th of July 1918, while the Romanov family dined, Yakov Yurovsky and his Chekhists counted the revolvers they were going to use. All in all, they had 12 revolvers of the type Browning, Mauser and Nagan. At 22:30, the last Tsar and his family went to bed. Less than two hours later, they were woken up by Jakov Yurovsky who told them to get dressed and go downstairs. He led them into a windowless room of the basement with a size of 30 square metres» (Journal intime, p. 249).

Nicholas II asked for chairs. The Chekhists brought three chairs. The Tsar, his wife and Alexis sat down, the girls remained standing. The family was accompanied by their doctor, cook, maid, valet and pet dog. The maid brought two cushions for the Tsar’s wife Alexandra. Later, the Chekists found out that her most precious jewels had been sewn into them.

At three o’clock in the morning, Yakov Yurovsky entered the basement again with ten of his men. He told the last Tsar: «Nicholas Alexandrovich, your friends wanted to liberate you but they failed. Now we are obliged to kill you.» The entire Romanov family and their attendants were shot. In this way, the reign of the Romanov dynasty ended, and a new epoch of Russian history began.

The last Tsar and his family were shot in the basement of the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg:

Ipatiev House and the execution of the Romanov family - Abandoned Spaces

To be continued: “The last days of the last Tsar” (Part V) will be published in July 2022.

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Russia. Her blog:


This text was also published in THE DURAN:

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Writer, journalist: The Duran https://olivia2010kroth.wordpress.com
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64 respuestas a Olivia Kroth: Lessons of Russian history – The last days of the last Tsar (Part IV)

  1. elvira797mx dijo:

    Wow! Dear Olivia, a wonderful, interesting and great post! You do an excellent work as always.
    Have a lovely and blessing day!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  2. Thank you for the compliment, dear Elvira. I just managed to post this today, I had so many other things to do these past weeks. They were very busy.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  3. elvira797mx dijo:

    You are welcome, dear Olivia. I hope you have time for tea. Keep well.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  4. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, I never miss that. It sustains life, doesn’t it? I hope you also take your time to drink coffee and tea, dear Elvira. The lovely photos on your blog show that you have perfected the coffee and tea ceremonies in your home. That is very good. Take care, stay happy and healthy! I am sending you a big hug over there, to Mexico.

    Le gusta a 3 personas

  5. elvira797mx dijo:

    Exactly, dear Olivia, coffee in the morning, always.
    And tea the rest of the day, I love both.
    I appreciate a lot that you like my ceremonies.
    Thank you so much for your kind wishes.
    Another big hug! To Moscow!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  6. Your blog is wonderful, dear Elvira. I love the photos, your comment section too, and your text as much as I understand it.

    Unfortunately, I have not been able to follow you daily these last few weeks for lack of time – but you know that I will always come back, for sure.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  7. elvira797mx dijo:

    Aww! Dear Oliva, that means a lot for me, thank you so much for your warm words.
    Don’t worry, you can come any time.
    I am so glad with you!
    Nice day!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  8. A nice day for you, too!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  9. elvira797mx dijo:

    Nice day for you and nice night for me.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  10. Thank You so much Olivia!I actually didn’t know much about Russian history. And I haven’t even read War and Peace, but I always hope to catch up!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  11. Day and night, sun and moon, yin and yang …. Dear Elvira.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  12. You will need plenty of time to read «War and Peace», dear Claudia. It is a very, very thick book!

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  13. almerighi dijo:

    La caduta dei Romanov è un periodo molto interessante della storia, perché ha poi condizionato le vicende di quasi tutto il XX secolo, saluti dall’Italia.
    The fall of the Romanovs is a very interesting period of history, because it then influenced the events of almost the entire twentieth century, greetings from Italy.

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  14. So true, dear Flavio. Like you, I think that this event, the fall of the Romanovs, had worldwide reverberations, and the end has not come yet. Thank you very much for this interesting comment and your visits on my blog. I appreciate them greatly. Ciao!

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  15. I understand … how many pages?

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  16. elvira797mx dijo:

    Dear Olivia, makes me smile, yin and yang, sounds like a song.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  17. @buhanova937 dijo:

    Здрввствуй Оливия мне понравилась твоя запись и я рад что не забываешь русские традиции а то многие забыли откуда произошли и какой ценой досталась наша жизнь в которой мы сейчас живём отличная запись Андркй

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  18. I cannot remember right now, I would have to look it up.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  19. Yes, dear Elvira, this could be the text for a song.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  20. Здрввствуй Андркй,
    я рада, что тебе понравился мой текст. Традиции всегда интересны, они характеризуют народ.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  21. Well, that is quite a lot!

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  22. elvira797mx dijo:

    Yes, it could be, you are great, dear Olivia.
    Lovely weekend!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  23. A nice weekend for you too. Here in Moscow, preparations are going on for the great military parade on the 9th of May, Victory Day (in World War II).

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  24. elvira797mx dijo:

    Thank you very much, dear Olivia.
    Have a wonderful holiday!
    Enjoy your tea time!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  25. Thank you very much, dear Elvira. First it will be morning coffee, with milk and cinnamon. Later tea …

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  26. elvira797mx dijo:

    Oh! Sorry I forget the coffee time. Exactly what I do first in the morning, wow, milk and cinnamon. Delicious! Cheers!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  27. It is eight o’clock now in Moscow, time for the first cup of coffee. Have a good Saturday, dear Elvira.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  28. elvira797mx dijo:

    Thats great! For me exactly 12:02 past midnight. Time to sleep.
    Enjoy your coffee ☕🥞☕

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  29. Sleep tight, good night!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  30. elvira797mx dijo:

    Thank you! Lovely day! 🫖☕🧁☕

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  31. elvira797mx dijo:


    Le gusta a 1 persona

  32. While you are sleeping, I am having my second cup of coffee with cinnamon and writing … It is 10:00 in the morning and I can hear the planes flying overhead. They are exercising for the great airforce show on the Day of Victory, which will be celebrated on Monday, here in Moscow.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  33. elvira797mx dijo:

    Wow! Thats great! Dear Olivia, enjoy your coffee or tea and the sound of the airforce. Happy weekend! 🫖☕🧁

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  34. Well, it is a thundering sound overhead, rather frightening, to tell you the truth. I am glad that the Russian Air Force is doing only training flights, to prepare for the big parade, on Monday.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  35. elvira797mx dijo:

    Oh! Well, enjoy a tea, listenig music.
    Lovely time! Keep well, dear Olivia.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  36. I am watching videos of former Victory Parades, dear Elvira. Here is one which I like a lot. You can see the Russian Air Force in some segments.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  37. elvira797mx dijo:

    Wow! Beautiful uniforms, I am struck by the way they walk perfectly aligned. Thanks for share, dear Olivia. Enjoy your weekend.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  38. The Russian Armed Forces are very disciplined – always were and always will be.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  39. elvira797mx dijo:

    Yes, I can see it. Impresive.
    Happy time!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  40. For you too, a happy time, dear Elvira. Have a good Sunday.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  41. elvira797mx dijo:

    Thanks, dear Olivia.
    You as well. Nice Sunday.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  42. elvira797mx dijo:

    Dear Olivia, thank you for sharing.
    But I cannot see it. It is not available.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  43. I placed a video here, now it is «not available,, it is private».
    Tough luck.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  44. elvira797mx dijo:

    Oh! Don’t worry be happy, dear Olivia
    Nice Friday!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  45. Wishing you a nice Friday too, dear Elvira. We will be happy without the video. Whoever owns it, may watch it privately.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  46. elvira797mx dijo:

    Thank you, dear Olivia,
    Exactly, happy with tea.
    Have a lovely weekend!

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  47. Yes, we will both have a good weekend, I am sure.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  48. elvira797mx dijo:

    Yes! We will, dear Olivia! Thank’s.

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  49. 💓💓💓 Paz 💓💓💓 Salud 💓💓💓 Saludos 💓💓💓

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  50. elvira797mx dijo:

    💖Paz💖💖 Salud 💖💖Saludos💖

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  51. Maybe Inaki’s ears are ringing? Now we all use his famous greeting.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  52. elvira797mx dijo:

    Yes I think so, ha,ha,ha.
    He is so nice and now famous.
    Thank you! 🤗💖

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  53. elvira797mx dijo:


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  54. Interessante la Storia della Russia, dai primi del novecento a oggi con tutta l’evoluzione subita e tutti i cambiamenti avvenuti, tu, Olivia la racconti benissimo e ci rendi partecipi della storia di questo immenso paese. Ti ringrazio di ciò. Ho letto con interesse e piacere il tuo post, molto esplicativo. Ti auguro un sereno sabato, Grazia!🌹🌹🌹

    Le gusta a 1 persona

  55. The history of Russia is truly interesting, with all its ups and downs. Thank you for the visit and support, Grazia, I appreciate it. Wishing you a good Sunday, too.

    Le gusta a 2 personas

  56. Привет Станимир!

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