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The Guardian (UK)
July 15, 2003
Memorial fails to end row over tsar's remains
Nick Paton Walsh in Yekaterinburg

It is the site where a basement execution sealed the fate of the Romanovs. And now as Russia embraces its imperial history once again, it will be home to a 7m memorial church to open on Thursday, the 85th anniversary of the execution by the Bolsheviks of the last tsar and his family. But the founding of a memorial church and museum on the site of the Ipatiyev House - used as a covert shrine throughout the last decades of Soviet rule - will be marred by a row over where Nicholas II's remains are buried.

While the Russian Orthodox church believes that after their execution, the bodies of the tsar and his family were dumped in a mineshaft in Galina Yama, just outside Yekaterinburg, experts say they have proved that the bodies were again moved to shallow graves on a road back towards the town.

However, the church refuses to recognise the spot where many believe Nicholas's body really lies.

Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, four daughters, son Alexei and aides were executed at the height of the Russian civil war as the pro-tsarist white army marched on Yekaterinburg.

At 12.30am on July 17 1918, the family were beckoned from their beds to a basement.

"As soon as they arrived, Alexandra began asking why there were no chairs in the room," said Irina Sachkova, a local historian and museum worker. The reason soon became apparent. Some 30 minutes elapsed between the first and the last shots.

Amid the memorial church's marble floors and ornate paintings, a bare cross and box adorn the empty chamber which marks the basement where executioners took aim.

The bodies were taken to Galina Yama, where the killers threw a grenade down the mineshaft to disguise the identity of their victims. "They even put acid on the bodies," said Ms Sachkova on the site of the mineshaft, marked by an expensive memorial and surrounded by a monastery. "The world was not supposed to ever find out what they did."

Yet Alexander Avdonin, a local amateur archaeologist, used oral and archive evidence to unearth another burial site, not far from Galina Yama, at the old Koptyakov Road. He said the killers moved the bodies, fearing they had been seen.

In 1991, the remains were exhumed and sent for testing in Britain and the US. DNA from the British royal family - the last surviving close relatives of the Romanovs - was used to prove that all but Alexei and one daughter, Marie, were buried in Koptyakov.

Despite the church and a group of emigre scientists disputing the findings, the remains were buried in St Petersburg in 1998. Today the Koptyakov site is distinguished from the mosquito-infested swamp surrounding it by only a modest cross and some drooping flowers.

Boris Kosinsky, a spokesman for the local church, said the remains found at Koptyakov may have been innocents murdered so that their corpses could mask the whereabouts of the true Romanov graves. "If that is the case, they deserve a simple memorial for their tragic place in history," he said.

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