The Romanovs are in Tobolsk, in a remote part of Siberia. They aren’t allowed to walk about the town on their own and are usually confined to a fenced-off portion next to the house. They are allowed to venture under guard to church, though.
|Nicholas II with his five children on the roof of the Tobolsk house|
But just because the Bolsheviks had overthrown the Provisional Government didn’t mean they had total charge of Russia–there were factions that supported the tsar or at least the Provisional Government and they were gathering and fighting the communist forces.
|Grand Duchess Olga chopping wood|
Christmas came and went. 1918 began and with the deep Siberian cold, the Romanov children caught German measles, but it passed quickly. By March 1918, Lenin had negotiated a separate peace treaty–apart from the Allies–with the Germans in the Treaty of Brest-Litvosk, which Nicholas and Alexandra both thought was a terrible deal.
Around this same time, a new commissioner from Moscow showed up in Tobolsk–his name was Vasily Yakovlev, he was a committed Bolshevik, and nobody knew anything about him. Dude was mysterious. Apparently, he was rather polite to the family, even calling them “Your Majesty,” “Your Highness”–then he got to the real point of his new appointment.
|Vasily Yakovlev c. 1911|
He was going to take Nicholas away, he said. Alexandra seemed to believe Nicholas would be put on trial in Moscow or that the new government needed Nicholas’ okay for the Treaty (which, like, no Alexandra. The Treaty is done. They overthrew you. They don’t need your approval anymore) and she refused to let her husband be taken alone. (I mean, he was alone during the abdication so I guess it makes sense? She was definitely like, “I don’t trust him to make good decisions on his own.”)
Some historians think Yakovlev was going to take Nicholas to stand trial and/or face a death squad in Moscow and/or move the entire family or just keep Nicholas and get the family out of Russia–the details are super sketchy.
But there was a problem with moving the entire family from Tobolsk. Alexei was ill. Supposedly–according to one of his doctors’ daughters, who was living across the street and was not ever allowed to visit the Romanovs, one day, Alexei took his sled–which he’d been using appropriately, outside, on a snow mountain the children had built in their little fenced-off bit of the outdoors before the new soldiers came and took down the snow mountain. Alexei took his sled, climbed the staircase, and rode the sled down the stairs, crashing into a door or a wall, triggering a massive internal hemorrhage.
Dr. Botkin’s daughter Tatiana Botkina is the only source for this story. Alexei’s parents’ diaries don’t mention a sledding accident. They only mention that Alexei had been coughing hard for a few days and the coughing might’ve triggered a hemorrhage in his groin, which swelled and was very painful. Alexei was in bed, moaning about death. It was his worst hemophilia attack in several years.
Yakovlev said he’d let the children and some of the servants stay in Tobolsk until Alexei could travel. But he must take Nicholas.
Alexandra chose to go with her husband, leaving Alexei in the care of his older sisters, tutors, and one of his doctors. In addition, Alexandra decided to take Grand Duchess Maria. Along with the royal party came Nicholas’s aide-de-camp, the cook, two valets, and Alexandra’s maid, along with Dr. Botkin. They left Tobolsk on April 26, 1918, destined for points unknown.
If Yakovlev had intended swiftness or stealth, he wasn’t getting it.
|The tsar, tsarina, and their party leave Tobolsk. This photo was taken by the children’s tutor Sydney Gibbes.|