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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Senior Romanov Arrives to Bury Past

ST. PETERSBURG -- Among the most anticipated guests for the tsar's burial Friday are the descendants of the Romanov dynasty, who since Sunday have trickled into St. Petersburg for the burial of Tsar Nicholas II, in what will mark the largest gathering of Romanovs since 1913, the year the dynasty celebrated its tercentenary.

Traveling from America, Europe and even Australia, many of the 50-odd descendants are visiting Russia for the first time in their lives.

Nikolai Romanov, 75, who is generally recognized as the most senior of the Romanovs, was clear about the importance of Friday's ceremony at the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral.

"What is significant for us is that we are not only burying the last emperor," he said in an interview Monday evening at St. Petersburg's Astoria Hotel. "With him we are beginning to bury a bloodstained moment of Russian history. That had to be started someday, and we have started now."

Nikolai may have a pure Russian pedigree, but he looks, sounds and behaves in a way that is utterly European. Born in France, he lived in Italy and Egypt before moving to Switzerland, where he now lives with his Florentine wife, Countess Sveva della Gherardesca.

While others glare and harrumph, this retired landowner has a relaxed graciousness which puts city officials in the shade, politely dealing with the hordes of journalists following his every move and shifting comfortably between English, Russian, French and Italian to accommodate his interviewers.

He even looks the part: tall and regal, with the thick, distinguished eyebrows befitting members of the aristocracy or retired sea captains.

Disappointingly, however, he bears no resemblance to Nicholas II.

The great-great-grandson of Tsar Nicholas I and a distant cousin of Nicholas II, Nikolai Romanov is considered by all but three members of his extended family to be the current head of the Romanovs. Leonida Georgyevna and her daughter, the tirelessly self-publicizing Maria Vladimirovna, prefer to think that Maria's 17-year-old son Georgy is the heir apparent to the Russian throne.

Decrying the ceremony's lack of pomp, they have refused to come to St. Petersburg for the burial, instead joining Patriarch Alexy II for a memorial service in Sergiyev Posad, a town outside of Moscow.

Nikolai criticized that decision. "They are wasting their time, damaging the reputation of the Romanov family," he said. "It is sad that [Maria Vladimirovna] has taken this line."

He added that he was not disappointed by the modesty of the burial, but in fact rather relieved that it would not be over the top.

"There's one thing I feared always, that the whole thing would become sort of a carnival, an exhibition of bad taste," he said.

As it is planned, he said, the burial suits "the real situation in Russia, a country which needs stability, where people are still worried because their wages are not coming in time." The Romanovs, he added, had all paid their own fares and hotel fees.

He was scornful about the lingering doubts over the authenticity of the remains, the reason the Russian Orthodox Church has officially given for not throwing its weight behind the event.

"Everyone has become an expert in genetics," he said. "People who had never heard about mitochondria or DNA all have things to say. But they've not actually read the papers."

"There'll be about 20 volumes of absolutely unreadable technical data on why every scrap of bone is properly identified. When that will be known, I can't imagine why anyone should have doubts.

"For us there is no doubt," he added. "These are the remains of the last tsar."