Yekaterinburg, Russia


Ipatyev House, prior to its destruction

Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, straddles the border between Europe and Asia. It was founded in 1723 by Vasiliy Nikitich Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, and named after Peter the Great’s second wife, Yekaterina (Catherine) I. In 1796, it received town status. From 1924–91, it was renamed Sverdlovsk, after Bolshevik leader Yakov Mikhaylovich Sverdlov.

Old train station, Copyright magical-world / Vera & Jean-Christophe from Europe, source Flickr

Yekaterinburg grew to become a leading industrial centre of the Urals, with its rich deposits of natural resources. It also became a vital part of the development of the Urals as a whole, and an extremely important trade route. Its nickname is “The Window on Asia.”


Rastorguyev-Kharitonov Palace, Copyright Vera & Jean-Christophe, Source Rastorguev-Kharitonov mansion, Yekaterinburg

Because of its dizzying development and importance on the trade route, it attracted a fair amount of people with money. The city was fast becoming even more important to the Russian Empire during the Great War, but alas, everything changed when the Bolsheviks took over. After they conquered the city, they imprisoned, murdered, or chased away anyone from the upper- and middle-classes, and took all the money and natural resources for themselves.

With all these riches in the hands of a very few, the people of Yekaterinburg suffered greatly. In 1918, a famine broke out, and many people risked their lives to go to nearby towns and villages for decent food. This wasn’t easy, since this was also a period of insane hyperinflation and rationing. The working-class and poor, whom the Bolsheviks supposedly loved so much, were even worse-off than ever before.

Main building of Ural State Technical University, Copyright LordTroy

Yekaterinburg is the setting of the first six chapters of my alternative history, and later on, during Part IV, the four Imperial children of the new generation are sent to their surviving grandparents in Yekaterinburg ahead of the Nazis reaching St. Petersburg. The new Tsaritsa, Arkadiya, was born in Yekaterinburg in 1897.

In the West, Yekaterinburg is best-known as the place where Russia’s last Imperial Family were imprisoned and murdered in 1918. They were held at a former mansion, whose final owner was Nikolay Nikolayevich Ipatyev. In late April 1918, he was ordered to leave his house, and it was renamed “The House of Special Purpose.”

Border between European and Asian Russia, Copyright Jirka.h23

In the 1930s, Yekaterinburg became a centre of industry once more, and during the Great Patriotic War, many factories and technical schools were relocated there. In order to escape the Nazis, many people fled to the safety of Siberia, where the enemy could never reach them. Many of the collections of the Hermitage Museum were also relocated there.

Statue of Yekaterinburg’s founders

Today, the city is home to 16 universities, among them Ural State Technical University, Ural State University, Ural State University of Foresty, Ural State Pedagogical University, Ural State Agricultural Academy, Urals Academy of Architecture, Russian State Vocational Pedagogics University, Military Institute of Artillery, Ural State Mining University, and Ural State Academy of Medicine. The city is also an important stop on the Trans–Siberian Railroad, and has several airports.

Administrative building, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик (Vladislav Falshivomonetchik)

The city has become a mecca of culture in the Urals, with dozens of libraries, many famous theatres, a philharmonic orchestra, over 30 museums, a circus, unusual monuments (such as the Keyboard Monument), and a recording studio.

Sevastyanov House, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик

The city is surrounded by lakes and wooded hills. Very similar to Upstate New York, their winter lasts from October till mid-April. It’s not unheard of for winter temperatures to dip below zero. Summer only lasts about 65–70 days, with an average temperature of 64º F (18º C). Since it’s behind a mountain range, the temperature is nothing if not consistent in its inconsistency (just like Albany, NY).


Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Karapet

In 1977, Ipatyev House was ordered razed by Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (whom I have very mixed feelings about, but ultimately feel was a decent person). He didn’t want it to become a rallying-point for monarchists, but people continued to come anyway. (The Russian Orthodox Church has never made a secret of its desire for a restoration of the monarchy, something I also would support.) In 2003, construction of a church in that spot was completed. The altar is right over the spot where the Imperial Family were murdered.


Church on the Blood, built over the razed Ipatyev House, Copyright A viento

Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna



Grand Duchess Kseniya Aleksandrovna, 6 April 1875–20 April 1960

Grand Duchess Kseniya, usually called Xenia in English literature, was the fourth of Tsar Aleksandr III and Empress Mariya Fyodorovna’s six children. She was born at Anichkov Palace, and moved to Gatchina Palace after her parents assumed power in 1881. In the wake of her grandfather’s brutal assassination, and with the general instability of the Russian throne, Gatchina was felt to be safer than the Winter Palace. Perhaps because she had three surviving brothers and only one sister, Kseniya was a so-called “tomboy.”


Kseniya as a toddler, with her mother

Kseniya had a passionate attachment to her first-cousin once-removed Sandro (Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich) from a young age, even though he was nine years her senior. By the time Kseniya was 15, they ardently wanted to marry, though her parents didn’t really approve of Sandro. They only came around after Sandro’s father, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, intervened in the matter. After the engagement was finally approved, it took a long time for the marriage date to be set, which caused the couple no amount of grief. During their betrothal, they horrified Kseniya’s older brothers with their wanton passion. One time, they almost broke an Ottoman.


Kseniya and her husband Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich (Sandro)

Kseniya and Sandro married on 6 August 1894, at Peterhof Palace, and had to spend their wedding night at Ropsha Palace. On their way there, the carriage took a nasty spill in mud, and the newlyweds arrived looking quite undignified. In his diary, Sandro recorded how unhappy he was to have to wear a very heavy silver robe and other wedding night clothes dictated by tradition. The Imperial Family’s insistence on kowtowing to rigid, archaic rules even as the 20th century approached was yet another factor keeping Russia centuries behind the modern world.


Kseniya and Sandro at an 1894 ball

The unbridled passion Kseniya and Sandro displayed during their betrothal continued after marriage, in the form of seven children—Irina, Andrey, Fyodor, Nikita, Dmitriy, Rostislav, and Vasiliy. This was quite a thorn in the side of Kseniya’s sister-in-law Aleksandra, who could only wish she’d had six boys in a row, all of them healthy. The two sisters-in-law started out cordially, but over time, their relationship disintegrated.


Kseniya at the 1903 17th century costume ball at the Winter Palace

Kseniya was heavily involved in charities, for causes including poor and working-class children, widows and orphans of Navy men, and tuberculoid patients. In addition to keeping busy with charity work and raising seven children, she also recorded in her diary, with growing concern, the horrifying trajectory her brother’s reign was taking. Sandro was also upset with Nicholas’s inept rule, and fruitlessly tried many times to intervene and get him to show some backbone and common sense.


Kseniya, Sandro, and their seven children

Sandro had an affair during Kseniya’s final pregnancy, and a year later, Kseniya herself had an affair. Each admitted their infidelity, and their marriage began unraveling. They slept in separate rooms, lived separate lives, and spent much time outside of Russia. Kseniya refused to grant a divorce, though they eventually separated physically, not just emotionally. Sandro tried and failed to get Nicholas to relax the ridiculous House Laws forcing equally-ranked marriages on dynasts, though all of Sandro’s children married titled, non-royal Russian aristocrats anyway. All but firstborn Irina married without permission.


During the cataclysm of the Great War, Kseniya became even more concerned over the direction the Russian Empire was taking, her brother’s disastrous rule, and how much influence Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin had. Her father, Aleksandr III, might’ve been extremely reactionary and responsible for many pogroms, but at least he’d kept Russia strong and out of war. Under Nicholas II and his wife, the empire fell into tatters, and the tide of revolution wasn’t nipped in the bud with necessary reforms and an appropriately strong arm.


Kseniya and her surviving brothers as children. Mikhail is the little boy, Georgiy is standing, and Nicholas is on the right.

In 1917, Kseniya’s family fled to her Ai-Todor palace in the Crimea, where her mother and sister Olga already were. On 11 April 1919, minus Olga, they escaped the new Soviet Union on HMS Marlborough, sent by King George V. Olga escaped with her commoner second husband and their two little boys in February 1920. Though Olga and the Dowager Empress settled in Denmark, Kseniya made her home in England. Sandro settled in Paris.


In my alternative history, Kseniya, like the Dowager Empress, isn’t shy about offering her opinions on the late Empress Aleksandra and what contributed to the dynasty’s overthrow. She also strongly disapproves of Aleksey’s unequally-ranked marriage with a morganatic princess, and how he all but throws out the Pauline Laws.

The Winter Palace



Copyright User:Matthias Süßen

Once upon a time, long ago and worlds apart, the Winter Palace was the crowning jewel among all the palaces of Tsarist Russia. This massive edifice was the Imperial Family’s official residence, and the location of court during “the season,” October–March. All of high society and the Imperial Court would turn out for lavish, decadent, extravagant parties, balls, and other society functions. Sadly, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Reds ransacked this beautiful seat of splendour. Priceless artwork, crystal, china, books, furniture, pictures, everything was destroyed or looted.


Malachite Room, painted by Konstantin Andreyevich Ukhtomskiy

The Winter Palace went through several incarnations, with the first built from 1711–12 for Peter the Great. He eventually bored of this small, humble abode, and the second Winter Palace was built in 1721. The third Winter Palace was finished in 1727, under the reign of the unmemorable Peter II. In 1730, under the reign of Empress Anna, the Imperial court was re-established at the Winter Palace. However, she didn’t care for the existing palace, and so commissioned a fourth Winter Palace in 1732. Construction continued under the reign of Empress Yelizaveta, and that final product became today’s Winter Palace.


St. George’s Hall (The Great Throne Room), painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

This immense triumph of Imperial power has 1,500 rooms, 117 stairwells, 1,786 doors, and 1,945 windows. In Tsarist days, it was painted red, but today it’s been repainted white and jade green. It takes up prime real estate between Palace Square and the Palace Embankment, along the majestic Neva River. A massive fire broke out in 1837, and the palace was almost immediately rebuilt.


Small Throne Room, Copyright Hajotthu

The ground floor contained mostly bureaucratic and domestic offices; the first floor (in the western wing) was for the Imperial Family; and the second floor was for high-ranking officials and senior courtiers. The eastern and northern wings were for state rooms. The palace’s four corners contained rooms for lesser members of the Imperial Family.


Gold Drawing Room, painted by Aleksandr Kolb

The Winter Palace boasts stunning examples of architecture, beauty, splendour, and decoration including the Jordan Staircase, Malachite Room, Arabian Room, Gold Drawing Room, Great Throne Room (St. George’s Hall), Concert Hall, Nikolay Hall, Great Antechamber, Armorial Hall, Grand Cathedral, Field Marshals’ Hall (where the 1837 fire began), Small Throne Room, Military Gallery, White Hall, Rotunda, Aleksandr Hall (new after 1837), and Apollo Room.


Concert Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The Great Throne Room was the site of the First Duma’s opening in 1906, the first time commoners had been inside the palace en masse. The members of the Imperial Family in attendance thought they saw hatred in the Duma’s eyes, and couldn’t understand it. The Imperial Family were staggeringly, mind-boggingly out of touch with how the masses of ordinary Russians lived, and insisted on upholding a severely outdated autocracy and ridiculously draconian house laws even in the face of their own relatives rebelling. So many things should’ve been done differently to prevent the Revolution.


Armorial Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Though the Winter Palace was the official home of the sovereign and his or her family from 1732 onwards, the last Tsar who really used it as his home was Aleksandr II. After his assassination in March 1881 (on the eve of his granting a constitution), it was judged to be too unsafe for the Imperial Family. Aleksandr III (an extreme reactionary whom I hate as a Tsar but like as a family man) moved his family to Gatchina Palace. Nicholas II (whom I also hate as a Tsar but like as a person) chose the Aleksandr Palace as his family’s primary residence.


Arabian Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The last hurrah for the Winter Palace was a February 1903 17th century costume ball, in which Nicholas and Aleksandra dressed as Tsar Aleksey the Meek (another Tsar I hate) and his first wife, Mariya Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya. The photograph of the decadent celebrants in the Hermitage’s theatre was the final photograph of the entire Imperial Family together.


Aleksandr Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Following Bloody Sunday in January 1905, the Imperial Family used the Winter Palace even more rarely than they already did. In 1914, war was declared from the balcony, and the palace was turned into a hospital for the war wounded, rechristened the Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich Hospital.


Garage, Copyright Tura8

In my alternative history, the Winter Palace is used as the Imperial Family’s home during part of the winter, and for celebrations like weddings, but isn’t restored as the official residence. In 1944, during the rescue of Hungarian Jewry, all the palaces are used to house the refugees.


The Winter Palace in the 19th century, prior to being painted white and jade green

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley


His soul with tired wings
Will fly up, murdered, to the Creator.

All that used to interest me formerly, those brilliant ballets, those decadent paintings, that new music—all seems dull and tasteless now. I seek the truth, the real truth, the light, and what is good…


Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley, 28 December 1896/9 January 1897–18 July 1918

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley was the firstborn child of his parents’ relationship, though each had children from previous marriages. His father, Grand Duke Pavel Aleksandrovich (a son of Tsar Aleksandr II), was married to Princess Alexandra of Greece and had a girl and a boy, Mariya and Dmitriy. “Greek Alix,” as his first wife was known, died shortly after Dmitriy’s premature birth, but miraculously, Dmitriy survived without any apparent health issues.

Prince Vladimir’s mother, Olga Valerianovna Karnovich, was married to Erich Gerhard von Pistohlkors, and had four children, Aleksandr, Olga (died in infancy), a second Olga, and Marianna. In 1893, Olga and Grand Duke Pavel became acquainted, and they began an affair while she was still legally married to her first husband.

The ridiculously out of touch Nicholas II typically refused to approve their morganatic marriage (since the draconian House Laws crafted by an inept Tsar in 1797 were working out SO well for the Imperial Family), so they moved to Paris. Vladimir, called Volodya, was born in 1896, and his sisters Irina and Natalya were born in 1903 and 1905, respectively.


Young Volodya, far right, with his parents and sisters

In 1902, Olga and Grand Duke Pavel married in Livorno, Italy, and in 1904, Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria created Olga and Vladimir Countess and Count of Hohenfelsen. Grand Duke Pavel was severely punished for marrying for love and not kowtowing to the House Laws, and was removed from all his military commissions, had his assets and properties seized, and lost custody of his older two children to his brother, Grand Duke Sergey (the anti-Semitic governor of Moskvá, who was later assassinated).

At age thirteen, Volodya became a poet, and showed great talent, skill, depth, and creativity. Everything spoke to him in poetry, no matter how seemingly silly or insignificant, like the scent of a flower or the way the sunlight fell across the grass. He loved Nature, and transmitting that love into poetry. Volodya was also very gifted in music, art, and languages. He published volumes of his poetry in 1916 and 1918, wrote several essays and plays, and translated The King of the Jews, a play by Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich the elder, into French.


Eventually, the family got permission to return to Russia, and in 1915, Vladimir and his mother were created Prince and Princess Paley, with the style Serene Highness. His little sisters were also created princesses. Though he was really a Romanov, he was forbidden to use his own family name because his parents’ marriage was morganatic.

Volodya entered the esteemed Corps des Pages military academy attended by most other male Romanovs, and in December 1914 entered the Emperor’s Hussars regiment. He served bravely in the Great War, and his poetry turned to the ugliness, suffering, devastation, and destruction of war, the deaths of his friends, and the kindness of the nurses. Volodya became a lieutenant and was decorated with the Order of St. Anne.


Volodya as a baby, 1898

He and his family were briefly under house arrest in summer 1917, after he wrote a poem about Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy. Then, in March 1918, he fell into Bolshevik hands. Volodya could’ve been spared because he was morganatic, but he bravely, wordlessly refused Bolshevik orders to deny his belovèd father. During his captivity, he lost interest in all the things he’d previously enjoyed, like ballet, music, and art, and focused only on his faith and the real things in life.

Volodya was initially held in Yekaterinburg and then moved to nearby Alapeyevsk, along with Princes Ioann, Igor, and Konstantin Konstantinovich; Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich and his secretary; and the Tsaritsa’s sister Ella and one of her nuns. On 18 July 1918, the day after the Imperial Family’s murder, the Alapayevsk prisoners were taken to an abandoned mineshaft full of water, blindfolded and hands bound, and thrown in alive. Most of them died of starvation and their injuries.


After the White Army came too late to Alapayevsk and discovered the bodies, Volodya and the others were buried in an Orthodox cemetery in Beijing. Sadly, the cemetery was bulldozed during the Cultural Revolution, and now a parking lot is on top of it. Only Ella and Sister Varvara were spared this fate, having been moved to Jerusalem.


Volodya, second from right, with his family, about 1914

In my alternative history, the Alapayevsk martyrs are rescued, and Volodya becomes Grand Duchess Tatyana’s husband.

Uzbek cuisine


Patyr bread, Copyright Shuhrataxmedov

In my alternative history, the newlywed Imperial couple eats by an Uzbek restaurant on Nevskiy Prospekt after shopping for new Christmas ornaments in the historic department store The Passage. In lieu of going to one of the established cafés (which include the café at which Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin ate his final meal), they decide to try something a little more exotic. Arkadiya, the new Tsaritsa, is so impressed, she hires some foreign cooks for more variety in the palace menu.

Uzbekistani cuisine is a beautiful reflection of how the nation has historically been at the crossroads of many empires and trade routes. The Uzbeks are a Turkic people, but there are also strong influences from Russia, Persia/Iran, Afghanistan, and several of the Central Asian republics. In addition, there’s also Bukharan cuisine, of Uzbekistan’s unique Jewish community.

Manti (dumplings), Copyright Ramón from Llanera, España; original source Mantı

Like many other peoples in this part of Asia, the Uzbeks too frequently eat mutton and goat. However, they also eat meats most Westerners would consider taboo—horse and camel. This isn’t a particularly vegetarian- or vegan-friendly cuisine. Many of the most common, popular dishes contain some type of meat. There are also many noodle-based dishes, foods made with yoghurt, oshi toki (stuffed grape leaves), shakarap (tomato and onion salad), and dholeh (risotto).

Shurbo dushpera (dumpling soup) with obi non bread

The signature Uzbek dish is plov, a rice pilaf made with meat, carrots, chickpeas, raisins, fruit, and onions, and cooked in a qozon, a large iron pot. Other common, popular dishes include naryn (noodles and horse meat), dimlama (a stew made with meat, vegetables, onions, potatoes, and sometimes fruits), shurpa (soup made of fatty meat and vegetables), various types of dumplings, kebabs, and green tea. Teahouses are very common in Uzbekistan. In modern Tashkent, black tea is preferred to green, though both varieties are typically served sans sugar or milk. Every guest is automatically given a glass of hot tea.

Ayran (a cold yoghurt drink mixed with salt), Copyright Mavigogun

Dessert typically consists of fruit, compote, halvah, and nuts, with more green tea. Uzbek cuisine doesn’t have lots of pastries and baked goods like Western cuisines. One of their sweeter desserts is chak-chak, which can be found around much of the former Russian Empire. It’s of Tatar origin, and made of unleavened dough rolled into small balls which are deep-fried in oil, stacked in a mound, and drizzled liberally with hot honey. Hazelnuts and fruit may also be added to the mixture.


Sumalak (sweet paste made from germinated wheat), Copyright Myone63

Uzbekistan’s traditional bread is called patyr or obi non, and baked as a flat circular loaf, with a thin, decorated, depressed centre and thick rim around the perimeter. The decorated side faces up when it’s served. The bread is baked in a tandir, a clay oven. Depending upon the region and the occasion, the bread may be decorated differently, or prepared with a different recipe.

Uzbek gâteaux, Copyright Ji-Elle