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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Imperial Remains Begin Final Journey




YEKATERINBURG, Ural Mountains -- The remains of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, children and servants were placed into small wooden coffins Wednesday to be taken on their long-awaited trip to St. Petersburg for burial.


But as this city, where the imperial family was killed in 1918 by a Bolshevik firing squad, prepared to say farewell to the remains, many expressed indifference for a funeral which has become bogged down in theological disputes and political squabbles.


After a thorough inventory, the bones of the nine people were taken out of the glass cases in Yekaterinburg's forensic laboratory where they have been stored since they were exhumed in 1991. They were then placed in coffins and sealed in front of the members of the regional commission in charge of preparations for the burial.


At 6 p.m. local time, prosecutor Vladimir Solovyov, who conducted the official investigation into the killing of the royal family, chairman of the Yekaterinburg regional government Alexei Vorobyov and the federal master of ceremonies, Georgy Vilinbakhov, signed the protocol that officially transferred custody of the remains from the prosecutor's office and regional authorities to the federal government.


The procedure was viewed by Prince Dimitry Romanoff, the late emperor's distant nephew, who arrived from Copenhagen, and byregional Governor Eduard Rossel, who had fought to have the imperial remains buried in Yekaterinburg. Culture Minister Natalya Dementyeva led a delegation sent by


the federal government.


Nine small caskets at 120 centimeters long --they are shorter than is customary so they fit into their tomb -- lined a wall in a newly completed wing of the regional forensic laboratories building. Soldiers of the Urals military district's Guard of Honor stood to attention behind them.


The coffins of Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, were covered with golden and black imperial standards bearing the double-headed eagle. The tsar's coffin was also decorated with a saber and miniature icons placed along its length.


The caskets will be loaded onto an aircraft at Yekaterinburg's airport Thursday from where they will be flown to St. Petersburg. After a low-key ceremony at the city's St. Peter and Paul Fortress, they will be laid to rest.


As elsewhere in Russia, the farewell ceremony for the royal remains in Yekaterinburg will be distinctly low-key.


Rossel, an independent-minded governor who has frequently clashed with the Kremlin in the past, is angry at the decision to bury the remains outside his region, and has effectively washed his hands of the funeral. He will follow Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, President Boris Yeltsin and most of Russia's political elite in boycotting Friday's funeral in St. Petersburg.


"I was the only person who was against a burial in St. Petersburg," Rossel said, accusing the government of a premeditated plan to pass over his city. "I am categorically opposed [to the funeral arrangements]," he said. "Today I am even more convinced that it should not have been done and the remains should have been left here."


He said he would carry out the government's order to send the remains to St. Petersburg, but only reluctantly. "Today and tomorrow we'll do everything by the book, and my conscience will be clean," he told a news conference.


Over the past few days, the city has witnessed hasty preparations for the ceremony. A new wing of the forensic laboratories building on the outskirts of the city was completed earlier this year.


But the yard of the ugly concrete construction, which has been the Romanovs' resting place for the past six years, was still being paved Tuesday as the local military conducted their drills.


And in a mark of the general scaling-down of ceremonies, the caskets are to be carried not on gun carriages as was originally planned, but in humble Russian-made Gazel minivans.


Dimitry Romanoff, 72, is the only member of the extended Romanov family to be present Wednesday as the remains were placed in coffins. He will accompany them to St. Petersburg on Thursday where he will be joined by about 50 members of the Romanov family.


"It is perhaps the most important day in my life," said the tall man with aristocratic features, who wears a gold ring with a Romanov coat of arms. "What is inside me is so hard, so difficult, that it is impossible to explain."


Romanoff refused to make a judgement about the decision of Alexy II and the president not to attend the funeral. He said, "It was not the business" of the Romanov family to interfere in the affairs of the church and Russian politics . "We are taking part." he said "For us, this is the most important thing."


Romanoff was perhaps the only person in Yekaterinburg this week who was enthusiastic about the upcoming funeral. For most of the residents of this Urals city, the ceremony and the debate surrounding it are way down on their priority lists.


"People do not talk much about it -- they have to worry about where their next meal is coming from," said Sergei Luchko, a police officer who has not received his meager salary of a little over $100 for the past three months. "As for the [imperial family] -- of course they should be buried in a Christian way." he said.


Others have more radical opinions."I would have burned them together with Lenin and spilled the ashes over the Neva River, so that neither monarchists nor communists have their shrines, " said Vasily, 40, a worker building a new monument on the site of the Romanov murder. "People who work have nothing, and others are making cash out of this."


Yekaterinburg representative of the Russian Nobility Assembly Sergei Kolotvinov, who took part in the preparations, was bitter this week over the lost grandeur of the funeral ceremony. "But maybe it is providential," he said. " The emperor was a very humble man."


//BLOB// Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who headed the government commission on the imperial remains, announced Wednesday that he would be attending Friday's funeral in St. Petersburg. Newly-elected governor of Krasnoyarsk region Alexander Lebed also said he planned to be there.