Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Raving with the Romanovs….

Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovskaya oblast, Russia

Rudy and Oleg with Tingers, Yekaterinburg

A glaring anachronistic impossibility I know, but read on and all will make sense.

Jo and I are still in Yekaterinburg, where we’ve now been for four days. We didn’t quite mean to stay this long but since Russia is the first country we haven’t had to pelt through in a dash to make our visa and permit deadlines, we thought we needed to wind down for a day or two. TT is now happily fixed and purring like a pink pussy cat and we’ve got ourselves registered with OVIR, two essential chores we had to do here. Unfortunately the problem of the DV camera hasn’t been resolved and we’ve either got to wait here for three weeks while it is sent off to Moscow for a spare part, or see if I can get another one sent out from England. The latter option is far more likely.

Yekaterinburg is an interesting city, somewhere rarely frequented by foreigners and famous predominately for three things; the Romanovs were murdered here, Yeltsin was born here, and there was a spate of violent mafia killings in the early 1990’s. Furthermore, WWII turned the city into a major producer of arms and the city was closed to foreigners until 1990 because of is plethora of defence plants. Today the surrounding countryside around still hides a number of these plants – someone we met the other days father is the boss of one such place, which produces ground to air missiles from a factory deep beneath the ground outside the city.

With Jo engaged with her bevvy of BMW mechanics on Thursday, and my camera fixing errands over, I set off for a walk round the city to explore some of this history. The highlight was the grandiose Church of the Blood, built in 2003 on the spot where Tsar Nicholas II, his family and servants were horribly murdered by the Bolsheviks. The house where they died, Dom Ipateva, was destroyed by the then governor Boris Yeltsin in 1977, and today the exact spot is marked by a simple cross in the shadow of the gold-domed church honouring them.

The tale of the Romanov’s demise doesn’t make for pleasant reading. On July 16th 1918 the Tsar and his family were murdered by their Bolshevik guards, having been interned here for months in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution. For decades the question of what happened to the family after their death remained unanswered. Then in 1976 a group of local scientists discovered their remains near Ganina Yama, 16 km’s outside the city. So politically sensitive was this issue during the Soviet era that the discovery was kept quiet, and the remains not fully excavated until 1991 when the bones of the nine people found were tentatively identified as those of the Tsar, his wife Alexandra, three of their four daughters, the royal doctor and three servants. Absent were those of the fourth daughter, Anastasia, and their only son, Alexey.

In 1992, with the help of Prince Philip’s DNA (a grandson of the Tsarina’s sister) and the pioneering work of a British forensic team, it was established with 98.5% accuracy that these were indeed the Romanov remains. The full story of their ignominious end was then unfurled by a Russian enquiry.

According to this enquiry all five children had died with their parents in the cellar of Dom Ipateva. The bodies were then dumped in the aforementioned Ganina Yama, an abandoned mine shaft nearby, followed by several grenades intended to collapse the shaft and hide the evidence. The grenades failed, the bodies hauled out, and an acids expert summoned who, with 160 litres of acid at the ready, fell off his horse galloping to the spot, broke his leg and was unable to finish the job. The Bolsheviks, now in a bit of a pickle, decided to hide the bodies in a series of smaller mines in the area and pour the acid on them. But the lorry carrying them got stuck in a swamp forcing the bungling disposal team to bury them on the spot. They tried burning two of the bodies in preparation, then realized it would take days to burn them all fully, so opted in desperation to throw them all in a pit and cover them in acid. So badly did they do their job that the bones were still almost fully intact when unearthed 73 years later. What a gruesome end for Russia’s last Tsar and his family, who thankfully today have been sainted and buried at St’s Peter & Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg.

What I couldn’t understand on my walk was why within a km, both the Romanovs and Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, are remembered. Like many Russian cities the main thoroughfare here is called Prospekt Lenina, and an austere statue of Lenin dominates the main square. Yet it was his party, his revolution, which killed the Romanovs, whom the city have recently gone to great lengths to commemorate. I went to see Kevin Lynch, the British Consul General, here yesterday and put this question to him. He replied that of course the Russians are aware of the contradiction, but Lenin is an integral part of 20th century history and what happened in 1917-18 can not simply be wiped from the history books. A fair and valid point of course, but I would be intrigued to find out more about how Russians today view Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution.

Right, history lesson over…onto the raving bit.

Last night Jo and I hit the tiles for the first time in our nine week tukathon. We started at Tinkoffs for drinks with the British and American consulate’s gang, then headed off to The Snow Project with Oleg and Vadim (AKA Rudy…NOT Randy as I absent mindedly wrote before) Yet again, we’re very grateful for the help of the British FO, and thank you in particular to Kevin Lynch for his help and support – see you at the RGS on 12th December Kevin.

Jo and I obviously met the right boys in Oleg and Rudy, for we strolled into the uber-hip Snow Project at midnight waving the free VIP passes they had procured for us all - it normally costs 500 roubles to get in. I’d expected to go to a few clubs in Russia, and had heard that there were some decent ones, but never expected to find anywhere like this. After going though the obligatory metal detectors, everywhere here, and getting our UV stamps, we entered the most incredible main room, far more glamorous and better decked out than any British club I’ve ever been to. Girls with the most ridiculous pairs of legs danced on podiums and everyone was schnazzed up to the nines. Girls sashayed past in absurdly high heels, skirts they might as well not have bothered wearing, and make-up several inches thick. Enormous sunglasses and blingtastic jewels completed the look. And there were Jo and I in our jeans and trainers.

With Graeme Lloyd, from Turnmills in London, on the ones and twos, we all danced till 5 a.m, leaving as the sunrise was flooding the horizon red. Graeme spun some great tracks and we were introduced to him after his set where we had a quick chat before leaving him to two keen blondes. All in all it was a fantastic night out and Jo and I think we should make it the first of many nights out on the European leg of the trip.

Which takes me onto my next subject…Russian women. When on earth do they make the transition from tottering dollybird to doddering babushka? It must be overnight, for there doesn’t seem to be any transition between the two. Jo and I stick out like sore thumbs in Russia for the simple fact we lack three-inch heels, heavily dyed hair and a hefty helping of make-up.

I’d love to write more but we’re in a Wifi café now and the battery is running out, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a plug. Tomorrow morning we leave Yekaterinburg for Ufa, via the Urals. Tomorrow we will cross the divide into Europe, a strange thought. Home is almost in sight.

That’s all for now. Russia’s great and we’ll be very sad to say goodbye to Oleg and Rudy, who have looked after us like Princesses. Thank you guys. Xx Ants


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