Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mission Accomplished: the Hunt for Nicholas II

The other day, Iain and I were hanging out in the teacher's room at school and discussing things we wanted to do while we are both still here in Mytishi (Iain is also headed to a camp, in Bulgaria, for the summer).

A few months ago, I had heard a rumour that there is a statue of Nicholas II (Николай Второй по-русский), the last tsar of Russia. Nicholas was the final ruler in a long line of Romanovs, the Royal Family who had governed Russia since 1613, when 16-year old Mikhail Romanov was elected tsar. In 1917, the over-300 year reign of the Romanovs came to an end with the February Revolution, which saw the abdication of Nicholas...and, in 1918, the execution of both him and his young family - his wife, Alexandra, and their five children - at the hands of the Bolsheviks. This is where the Anastasia legend arose - Anastasia was Nicholas' youngest daughter, who was just seventeen when she was killed (but DON'T get me started on that ridiculous animated "Anastasia" historically inaccurate!).

Anyways, Iain had also heard about this statue, and also that the Communists had periodically tried to blow the statue up over the years but they had never succeeded. Why might they want to blow up a statue of Nicholas II? Well, they WERE trying to rewrite history, after all. And what better way to gloss over the Romanov reign by destroying any reminder of it? Nicholas wasn't exactly a popular fact, his detractors used to refer to him as "Bloody Nicholas" (If you're interested in learning more about him - he really is fascinating! - I highly recommend the biography "Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert K. Massie).

I keep distracting myself with history here, so I'll stop and get back to the story at hand. We decided that on Saturday we would go on a hunt to find the statue. Iain had the brilliant idea (after all, he went to Trinity College in Dublin, whereas I only went to Playboy's #4 party school in North America, the University of Western Ontario, so brilliant ideas are not my forte although Sledgehammer Bingo apparently is) that the statue would be near a church, because Nicholas II and his family have been made saints by the Russian Orthodox Church.

So we set off yesterday evening with Ilya in our mission to find the statue. After wandering around in what could have easily passed for a set for a movie about Vimy Ridge (picture: mud, mud, and more mud. And desolation) we came across a little old babushka with...willow branches in her hand!

Alarms went off in our heads. Today (Sunday) is Willow Sunday, which is the same as Palm Sunday for Catholics...the last Sunday before Easter when people wave willow branches/palms in memory of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Willow branches in hand = coming from church? Ilya asked her and it turned out that she had indeed come from church and could point us in the right direction. A short while later, we glimpsed this:

The Church of the Anunciation

Here are some more pics of the Church - the front of it was VERY cool - different from any other Orthodox Church I've seen here. It seemed very Eastern/Arabic but I am no expert in architecture so I really am not sure.

The gravesite of Tihon, a monk.

Construction being done on the side of the church

And then we saw this:

The statue! We hurried over there...but ran into this guy first...

You might have to look closely, but that is a man in a bathrobe coming out of his shack to peer at us suspiciously. "Is that the keeper of the statue?" Iain wondered. Luckily he didn't stop us from getting up close and personal with Nicholas II:

The plaque reads: Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II

The statue was very impressive and HUGE (although we had to wonder, don't most martyrs look a little pain? I guess when you're a Tsar-Martyr you have to maintain your regal air) and looked like it had withstood Soviet attempts to blow it up rather well. As someone who LOVES the history of the Romanovs, I really enjoyed seeing this statue. It was absolutely gorgeous out too - a perfect evening for a walk. Lots of new trees have been planted around this area, and fresh soil had been laid for gardens. I'll have to come back in 20 years or so to see the effects; I'm sure it will be a lovely, peaceful place!

We headed back to the main drag in Mytishi, stumbling across some people in the park who were grilling up some shashlik:

And this statue of a cosmonaut, decorated with flowers for the recent Cosmonaut's Day:

This is a billboard warning crazy drivers to pay attention to the "zebra crossings" for pedestrians (hah! Like that will happen!):
Right around the corner from this billboard is another statue, this one commemorating flight (and, fittingly, it can be found on Lyotnaya Street, which means flight!):

And for my final photo in what has turned out to be a photo-heavy post, here is the charming, handsome and not-at-all-creepy Stas Mihailov, who will be staging a concert at the arena across from my flat on June 2nd. Oh, I'll be in camp by then? Rats. Guess I'll have to miss Stas:

If this face doesn't give you nightmares, what will??


  1. Thanks for the story! It (yet again) reminds me that we are living in a totally weird place. Religious babuskas, Tsar-Martyrs, cosmonauts, suspicious people wearing bathrobes and boots and living in a greenhouse (a gardener in his shed probably?) all in one place. I'm still don't getting why are you so afraid of Stas Mihailov (looks only mildly unpleasant to me), but it's fun to see all the oddness through the foreigner's eyes :-)

  2. hahaha thanks Andrei! Ahh I seriously love Russia so was such an interesting walk! And there's just something about Stas Mihailov's pose and those eyes - it's like he's watching me! :)

  3. Nice monument, well deserved by the Nicolas. Few appreciate how mighty Russia stood before the end.

  4. The billboard with the zebra and the people does not warn the drivers but ask the pedestrians only to cross the road where there is a "zebra".