In 2015, a new investigation was launched into the murder of the Royal Family—Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, and their children and servants. This was instigated by the “Ekaterinburg remains”, which some are convinced are those of the Royal Martyrs. The Church has not yet come to a final conclusion, and the detective work goes on.
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The new film, “Regicide. A Century of Investigation”, premiered in the evening of November 24, 2019, on the “Russia” TV channel. The day before we met with its creator, Elena Nikolaevna Chavchavadze, and talked on what this film is about, how it was created and what revelations it has led to.
—“Regicide. A Century of Investigation” is your new film. Why did you decide to make it?
—We have been interested in this subject for a long time. Galina Alexeevna Ogurnaya, the director of this film, and I have worked on this very difficult and tragic period of our history for many years. And the theme of the atrocity in Ekaterinburg has always been present in our work in one way or another. And when the work of the new Church committee on the examination of the Ekaterinburg remains together with the Investigative Committee began and a new investigation was initiated, we showed keen interest in this theme, and the “Russia” TV channel gave its consent to our work on making this film.
—What is this film about? What new things will the viewers learn from it?
—It should be noted that the investigation is still going on. And, beginning our work, we understood that we couldn’t make final conclusions because neither the Church nor the Investigative Committee in the person of Colonel of Justice Marina Viktorovna Molodtsova, who is conducting the new investigation, has expressed their position yet.
We thought and suddenly realized that no one had ever reconstructed the consecutive phases of the investigation. That is why we didn’t give our film the short title, “Regicide”—that is, we didn’t intend to reconstruct the series of events because we still don’t know them thoroughly; what we did was set ourselves the task of showing all the investigation phases up to this day.
Thus the complete picture of the investigation is opening up before us; and it should be said that it didn’t start with the investigator Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov, as many believe. First, local peasants found and learned something, and then they got in contact with a former officer, who was hiding from the Bolshevik forces, and showed him the objects they had found at Ganina Yama, which he at once identified as those belonging to the Royal Family. It was Lieutenant Sheremetievsky. And later, when the Siberian army forces… And they were not White—there is great confusion here—they can only conditionally be called White; in reality it was an army consisting of Russian officers and voluntary groups, including Czechs. When they occupied Ekaterinburg, they got the investigator Alexei Pavlovich Nametkin involved, and then the investigator Ivan Alexandrovich Sergeev who carried on the bona fide investigation. It should be said that by that time the atrocity in Alapaevsk became known and the investigator Sergeev went there for the most part. So it was naturally impossible for one person to look into everything—there was not enough strength or time.
You can often find allegations in the press that in November 1918, when Admiral Kolchak was elected the Supreme Ruler of Russia, Sergeev was suspended from the investigation for certain reasons… In reality he was not suspended—he began to conduct the investigation under the direction of the investigator Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov, who appeared and was introduced to Kolchak as late as the beginning of 1919.
Sokolov saw his primary task as verifying all the facts and materials that had already been collected by Nametkin and Sergeev. It was they that established the fact of the murder.
—When you started shooting your film inquiry, did you hold to any particular version of the chain of events?
—No, we by no means hold to any particular version! True, I have been studying this subject for years. It will suffice to say that in the late Soviet years, the writer and film director Geliy Trofimovich Ryabov (1932—2015) would come to our place—in those years he already wanted to make public the discoveries he had made in his time. We recount this in the film at length.
But, to my shame, I then yielded to the general opinion that this man was politically committed and was executing someone’s order and I didn’t really believe his stories. Now that many years have passed and we have reconstructed many events and seen the progress of the investigation, we realized that Geliy Ryabov is not the kind of person portrayed by our “Orthodox” journalism and others. And I personally regret having joined the general chorus of those who suspected him of dishonesty. But that’s my personal attitude.
I will repeat: We have by no means meddled in the investigation. It is a very important point: almost no modern historians I have spoken with have ever worked with the volumes of the investigation. All of them confined themselves to reading the book by Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov, which he wrote in emigration, under constrained circumstances, after the numerous “miraculously saved royal children” had appeared—apart from false Anastasia there was “the miraculously survived” false Alexei in Spain. The Bolsheviks launched that disinformation campaign almost immediately after the atrocity in Ekaterinburg. It is clear what object they pursued: above all to conceal their role, the role of the Bolshevik ruling elite in this.
—What did you think you needed to show in the film?
—It was important for us to show all the stages of the investigation and the sequence of events, which many people often misunderstand. We double-checked everything with the investigator we shot. To be more precise, Marina Viktorovna would confirm that one or another fact had really taken place.
—It consists of two parts. In the first part we pay tribute to a wonderful Russian man—there were multitudes of such people in Russia—a man from the backwoods, an investigator whose level of professionalism, responsibility, and understanding of the significance for our future history of the work he was doing are really astonishing. Of course, I mean Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov.
The truth was the first priority for him. In his inquiry he double-checked everything that had been done before him; but he carried out enormous work himself and questioned a huge number of eyewitnesses. And he would have most probably discovered everything himself and reconstructed the chain of events in 1919 but for the evacuation order. We also pay homage to him because he continued the investigation till the final days of his life. He left a wealth of witness evidence that he took into forced emigration in France and Germany. The first part is a symbolic wreath on Nikolai Alexeevich’s grave. All the more so since 2019 marks the 100th anniversary since the beginning of his investigation.
I want to emphasize that the investigation didn’t finish after his evacuation. The key point was that he went outside the Ganina Yama pit, questioned the watchman Yakov Lobukhin with his son and in fact described the bridge at Porosenkov Ravine. But fate decreed that he would not finish his investigation on the scene. And he continued it in emigration; and what is more important, in his investigation Sokolov came to no final conclusions!
Nikolai Alexeevich was in a very difficult situation because, firstly, GPU1 representatives hunted for him aiming to steal his investigation. And secondly, the Tsar’s relatives often didn’t show him understanding, and he saw that they didn’t want to recognize and accept what had happened. Some of them even didn’t want to know the terrible truth that the entire Royal Family had been executed by a firing squad—this is what Sokolov spoke about. He found himself between two fires. It was not without reason that Pavel Bulygin, his faithful teammate, dedicated some of his poems to Sokolov in which he stressed his loneliness as a human being and a professional. His duty and truth were above all else for him. He died like a soldier on duty without finishing his investigation.
—And what is the second part of the film about?
—The second part is dedicated to the finds that are associated with the names of Geliy Trofimovich Ryabov and the geologist Alexander Nikolaevich Avdonin. And it’s a great blessing for us that a direct participant in the events of the 1970s and 1980s who agreed to share everything is still alive; it is Gennady Vasilyev. The Investigator Marina Viktorovna Molodtsova found him. He is the third person who took part in the excavations. He related in every detail the story of discovering what came to be called “the Ekaterinburg burial site”. And, I will repeat, we have by no means meddled in the investigation. We are just showing how the events developed, for which we tried to find all the participants. Eduard Ergartovich Rossel, ex-Governor of the Sverdlovsk region (1995—2009), gave us an excellent interview. We also talked with Fr. Alexander Shargunov, who was very close to (if not a spiritual father to) Geliy Trofimovich Ryabov. We talked with Ryabov’s widow, after which many things became clearer. Though it wasn’t included in the film, we filmed interviews with very many people in order to form a better understanding, which enabled us to restore the maximum available fuller picture. We don’t claim to have made a comprehensive study. But we did try to reconstruct the chain of events in our film.
—Do I understand correctly that you have made a historical examination of the events relevant to the investigation?
—Definitely, it’s a historical study.
—Can you tell us more about the people you got involved in the filming? With whom did you meet?
In the Church of St. Job the Long-Suffering —It was so interesting to meet with the researchers and historians from the Gorny Shchit (“Mountain Shield”) club from Ekaterinburg who made a great contribution to the discovery of the Ekaterinburg remains. They received no support from the higher-ups and did their work at the call of the heart. There was also Vitaly Shytov who worked in Ipatiev House. He wrote a serious book chronicling this entitled, Ipatiev House. Of course, it is always more interesting to work with people in the field because they are not indifferent and know nuances.
We remember the previous investigation, when the same people gave interviews and the work of the committee caused many questions to be raised. As we know, the Church was not allowed to be fully involved in the work of the state committee. I personally was among those who rejected the conclusions made by the same people, including the murdered Boris Nemtsov.
—How did you overcome your rejection, your subjective view of events?
—Our aim was to examine everything independently, casting away various stereotypes and myths of our own. We put ourselves in the place of our viewers for whom it is important to track the chain of events from the very beginning.
We discovered many things afresh or from another perspective; because there were certain stereotypes, which developed in the Orthodox environment too. I deem it my personal duty to bring myself to give up and admit that some of my views were wrong. I honestly admit having made many errors that prevented me from understanding the driving forces and motives of some people involved in the second stage of the investigation.
To overcome myself I had to do a lot of work with the material, which is so plentiful that it is sometimes frightening to imagine how much Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov did. He copied his volumes so many times… Some of them were stolen during a raid on the apartment in Berlin where the investigative case materials were kept. Later, in the post-Soviet era, they came to the surface in an archive in Moscow… Many volumes were sold at auctions separately. The reposed Stanislav Sergeevich Govorukhin told us how many years ago he had done his best to ensure that the volumes would be brought to Russia in exchange for the Prince of Liechtenstein’s archive.
—You’ve said that you personally reconsidered all that had happened and had to regret many things…
—In the film we see the people who took direct part in finding of the Ekaterinburg remains. But we know that very many people (like you some time ago) are guided by certain stereotypes and myths. They are not represented in the film.
—I want to repeat that we don’t meddle in the investigation. We set ourselves the task of showing how things developed and who participated in these events. It was important for us to show the motives mainly through the evidence of direct participants in these events which took place about 100 years ago.
—Your work will most probably receive criticism. What will be your reaction? What should be said?
—I always say that any criticism can only be covered with truth. True, we can state that everybody has their own truth. But in this case for us the truth is the reconstruction of the chain of events to the fullest possible degree. Our task was to show the events verified from different perspectives with maximum thoroughness.
I am not afraid of criticism. Each new film of ours provokes plenty of responses, both positive and very condemnatory. That’s not our business. As the saying goes, “Accept both praise and insults with equal composure.” As my spiritual father said to me: “The truth of God is the most important thing.”
We have tried to reconstruct the chain of events as we saw them on the basis of the facts and our talks with direct participants. And it’s not a film where we have dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s. It just shows the main stages of the investigation progress. Our modest mission is to show the truth we accept ourselves. Some will have their own truth—let them do as they please.
—Do you think that reconciliation is impossible here?
—I will take risks and repeat because I have already said this in one interview. There can be no reconciliation. We Orthodox know that there are those who crucify and those who save. There are people who err involuntarily and those who err with an evil intent. The latter try to tempt others with their “truth” rather than err themselves. Others pose questions that cannot be answered. What does “reconciliation is impossible” mean? There will always be people who don’t want to be reconciled. In fact only finding the truth and its acceptance on a voluntary basis can reconcile.
It is not to say that we are the bearers of truth. Certainly not. We will wait for the voice of the Church and the Investigative Committee’s conclusions.
Thanks to Nikolai Alexeevich Sokolov we have invaluable evidence. If it were not for this testimony, the world would probably have never known what they had committed, as Voikov2 himself used to say. But it was revealed to the world. And each new generation will continue this investigation. In my view, an investigation that has lasted a century won’t be finished by the new investigation initiated in 2015. There are always some things to grasp; perhaps new materials will come to light. Don’t forget that a bundle of documents, including Sokolov’s final volumes, are located outside of Russia. We tried to get to the Ford Foundation, but they said that though we could come, we wouldn’t be allowed to film or make photographs there. In that case it would have made no sense for us to go there. If we had copied something by hand, who would have believed us?
—So a very thorough examination of the documents is needed.
—Yes, a thorough examination and understanding. No one, with few exceptions, has ever worked with Sokolov’s investigation. These are huge volumes. Sometimes they repeat themselves, sometimes they don’t. No one has made a complete analysis of his legacy yet, and now the new investigator Molodtsova has undertaken this work… Just some abridged versions and opinions are reprinted: someone said such-and-such a thing, and someone else made such-and-such a statement. But take care to sit for a few months only to become familiar with what Sokolov left for us. We can’t confine ourselves to the book he wrote under certain circumstances which can’t be ignored. In any case, the investigation will continue.
—Will there be a sequel of the film?
—We have filmed plenty of material. If people need this and if there is the will of God, we will continue.
—In conclusion, what would you wish to the viewers who will watch the film? How should they watch it? What should they get ready for?
—Watch it without bias. If you feel your responsibility before God, then you shouldn’t pass any judgment before you are convinced of the truth yourself and hear the voice of the Church in this case. This is something we are waiting for, too.