Sunday. Bloody Sunday

Ekaterinburg, Tuesday, July 16, 1918

We waited in the cellar. That hot, stifling cellar. It was the dead of night. How many times we checked our revolvers I couldn’t say. Nothing much was said. We were tense and nervous. It was just a matter of waiting, waiting in that cramped, hot room.

St Petersburg, Sunday, January 9, 1905

It was a beautiful winter’s day. Crisp and sunny, cold but fresh. The crowds had started gathering from first light. The good working class citizens of St. Petersburg wrapped up in ragged clothing were on the march. The procession was sombre but full of good spirits. We held banners, flags and religious icons. Men and women carried small children. I held the hand of my young wife, Nadya.

The human snake slowly worked its way through the city towards the Winter Palace. Snow was trampled underfoot. Rumour had it that the Tsar would be there, in the Winter Palace waiting to greet us. There was hope that he would receive our petition and listen to our pleas for improved working conditions in the factories. All we wanted was a better way of life. Less working hours and more pay. We had faith in the Tsar.

We marched on. But as we neared the palace, guards hurriedly assembled in front of the palace gates. A long line of armed palace guards in their thick coats, standing defiantly with rifles aimed at us. This caused some consternation in the crowd. Talk and whispers rippled down the line. Nadya whispered to me. What could this mean? Would the Tsar fire on his own people, his people who loved him? Surely not, I said.

At the front of the column was a priest, Father Gapon. A young saintly looking man who had the look of the Messiah about him. Despite the guards, Gapon kept on marching. We trusted him so we kept on inching forward.

Then it happened. The guards opened fire. No warning, nothing. Just the clatter of rifle fire. Bullets tore into the crowd. Women, children, men collapsed in the snow. Streams of red ran over white. Bullets kept on coming. There was panic and screams. Still the bullets kept on coming. Tearing into bodies, slicing into heads. Chaos as the crowd dispersed, screaming and yelling in all directions. Bodies sprawled in the snow. The protest was crushed, yet still the bullets ripped into the people. In the chaos I lost Nadya.

Then came the Cossacks, those devils on horseback, with their long sabres. They charged at us, scattering us and cutting down anybody who happened to be in their way. No mercy was shown. No mercy given. Bullets and Cossacks. Hundreds dead. Blood in the snow. They rode on, leaving bodies in their wake. One was Nadya, my wife of six months, dead. She lay on her back, her face and throat slashed by a sabre.

Ekaterinburg, Tuesday, July 16, 1918

At last we had word that they were on their way. Had we waited any longer I’m certain that none of us could have done what we were about to do. Such was the heat and the tension. But then it happened. A door opened, and, one by one, they filtered into the cellar. This small, box like room with no furniture.

The Tsar came in first holding his son. They were  followed by the four girls, closely followed by the Tsarina holding a dog, then a cook, a doctor and two servants. They filtered into the room and stood uncomfortably. They were confused as to why they had been summoned from their beds in the quite of the night.

That terrible room. The last of the Romanovs stood before us in this appalling prison of a house in the middle of Russia. Outside all was quiet.

The Tsar said something. I have a recollection that he wanted a chair. A chair? This is a man who had sat on the throne, the Tsar of all the Russians, and now in this poxy space he wanted a chair. The arrogance of the man.

Like the guards at the Winter Palace all those years ago we did not give a warning. There was no intention of giving one. Why should we give a warning to a butcher. The Romanovs probably guessed what was about to happen anyway. I’m sure they knew.

Slowly, we aimed our revolvers. I thought of Nadya and then I fired.

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