Why Russia is digging up the remains of the last Tsar Nicholas II

A new investigation will explore the 1918 killing of the emperor, his wife and their five children by a Bolshevik firiing squad

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Russia has said it will reopen the criminal investigation into the deaths of the last tsar and his family, and has exhumed the remains of Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra.

New tests and evidence will be used to explore the circumstances surrounding the killing of the imperial family in 1918. Tsar Nicholas, his wife and their five children were reportedly lined up as if for a family photo and shot dead by the Bolsheviks holding them prisoner.

 A criminal case was first opened into the deaths in 1993, after body parts identified as those of the emperor, his wife and three of the children were unearthed in a mass grave in the Urals.

Remains thought to be of the two other children, Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria, were found at a different site in the Urals in 2007, throwing doubt over the original DNA results.

Nonetheless, officials had planned to bury the two newly-discovered bodies along with the rest of the family in a St Petersburg cathedral – until the Russian Orthodox Church objected.

The church has canonised the family, and as such worshipping false relics would be sacrilege. It does not consider the other remains authentic.

In a statement issued by the Russian Investigate Committee, spokesman Vladimir Markin said the new remains would be tested again against the DNA of the bodies of Nicholas II and Alexandra.

In case further evidence was needed, samples will also be tested from the bloodstained uniform of Alexander II, Nicholas’s grandfather, who was killed with a bomb thrown by a revolutionary in 1881.

Markin said documents from the so-called “White Guards Investigation” conducted between 1918 and 1924 into the family’s death, which were only found in 2011, will also be reviewed.

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