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Yekaterinburg ( formerly Sverdlovsk) is a major city in the central part of Russia. Situated on the eastern side of the Ural mountain range, it is the main industrial and cultural center of the Urals Federal District. It is Russia's fifth largest city. Between 1924 and 1991, the city was known as Sverdlovsk , after the Bolshevik leader Yakov Sverdlov.
Yekaterinburg is situated in Asia, 1,667 km (1,036 miles) east of Moscow, on the eastern side of the Ural mountains on the Iset river. It is surrounded by forests, mainly taiga, and small lakes. The winter lasts for about 5 months - from November until the middle of April and the temperature may fall to minus 45 degrees Celsius ( minus 49 Fahrenheit). The summer on the Urals is short and lasts an average of 65-70 days with an average temperature of 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit).
Yekaterinburg, still called by its Soviet name Sverdlovsk in rail timetables, is an important railway junction on the Trans-Siberian Railway, with lines radiating to all parts of the Urals and the rest of Russia.

The city was founded in 1723 by Vasily Tatischev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, and named after Saint Catherine, the namesake of Tsar Peter the Great's wife Empress Catherine I (Yekaterina). The official date of the city foundation, however, is November 18, 1723.

Tatischev and De Gennin, founders of Yekaterinburg                   Lenin

The city was named Sverdlovsk after the Bolshevik party leader and Soviet official Yakov Sverdlov from 1924 to 1991.

The Romanovs

The murder of the Romanovs
Soon after the Russian Revolution, on July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra, and their children Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Tsarevich Alexei were executed by Bolsheviks in this city.
The Romanovs were moved from Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg in April 1918. They were imprisoned here in a house belonging to a rich merchant named Ipatyev. Several attempts were made to save the royal family, still they were shot. The bodies were taken to the Four Brothers Mine, 40 km outside the city. It took some time before investigators found the mineshaft and some belongings of the family of the tsar.
This massacre in Yekaterinburg has been the topic for rumors for many decades. In Yekaterinburg and in some places outside the city, there are several places that remind of what happened here. The theory is that the entire family was killed by shooting, and that the bodies were burned and destroyed with concentrated sulphuric acid.
The discovery of their remains is rather bizarre. Not until 1991 there were found parts of bodies in the woods, not at the place mentioned above. Although the church has built (and is still building)  several churches at the holy place of the mineshaft, the remains found at another place seem to be the real remains. DNA testing at the Forensic Science Service laboratory in UK matched samples from the bodies with those from a blood sample provided by Prince Philip (Tsarina Alexandra's sister was Philips' maternal grandmother). The remains of the Romanov family are no longer in Yekaterinburg, but in St. Petersburg's Peter and Paul Cathedral. Yekaterinburg has the Church of the Blood, built at the place of the original building (Ipatyev House) where they were murdered.

Above: The place where the Romanovs arrived in 1918

The Church of the Blood

Near the mineshaft where the remains of the bodies were found

Several churches at the holy place

The other location where remains were found

The U2 Affair
This is not the only item, that plays a role in shaping Russian history. A next item was the so-called 'U2 Affair'. On May 1, 1960 an American U-2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers while under the employ of the CIA, was shot down over Sverdlovsk Oblast. The pilot was captured, put on trial, and found guilty of espionage. He was sentenced to seven years of hard labour, though he served only about a year before being exchanged for Rudolph Abel, a high-ranking KGB spy, who had been apprehended in the United States in 1957. The two spies were exchanged at the Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam, Germany, on February 10, 1962. Since the end of World War II, the Glienicke Bridge was the most popular captive-exchange place.


A nuclear accident.
The closed city of Sverdlovsk had been a major production center of the Soviet military-industrial complex since World War II. It produced tanks, nuclear rockets and other armaments. A major nuclear accident happened in this region in 1958, when a military reactor was damaged, resulting in the spread of radioactive dust over a thousand square kilometers. The biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk was built after World War II, using documentation captured in Manchuria from the Japanese germ warfare program.
The strain of anthrax produced in Military Compound 19 near Sverdlovsk was the most powerful in the Soviet arsenal ("Anthrax 836"). It had been isolated as a result of another anthrax leak accident that happened in 1953 in the city of Kirov. A leak from a bacteriological facility contaminated the city sewer system. In 1956, biologist Vladimir Sizov found a more virulent strain in rodents captured in this area. This strain was planned to be used to arm warheads for the SS-18 ICBM, which would target American cities, among other targets.
The produced anthrax culture had to be dried to produce a fine powder for use as an aerosol. Large filters over the exhaust pipes were the only barriers between the anthrax dust and the outside environment. On the last Friday of March 1979, a technician removed a clogged filter while drying machines were temporarily turned off. He left a written notice, but did not write this down in the logbook as he was supposed to do. The supervisor of the next shift did not find anything unusual in the logbook, and turned the machines on. In a few hours, someone found that the filter was missing and reinstalled it. The incident was reported to military command, but local and city officials were not immediately informed. Boris Yeltsin, a local Communist Party boss at this time, was denied access to the secret facility.
All workers of a ceramic plant across the street fell ill during the next few days. Almost all of them died in a week. The death toll was at least 105, but the exact number is unknown as all hospital records and other evidence were destroyed by the KGB.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (19312007)
Sadly and ironically, in 1918, Yekaterinburg became a grave to the last Russian Emperor Nicolas II and in 1991, the birthplace of the first President of the post Soviet Russia - Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin played a decisive role in putting down the coup by hardliners against Gorbachov. He was president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) 199091, and first president of the newly independent Russian Federation 199199. He directed the Federation's secession from the USSR and the formation of a new, decentralized confederation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), with himself as the most powerful leader. A referendum in 1993 supported his policies of price deregulation and accelerated privatization, despite severe economic problems and civil unrest. He survived a coup attempt later the same year, but was subsequently forced to compromise on the pace of his reforms after far-right electoral gains, and lost considerable public support. He suffered two heart attacks in October and November 1995, yet still contested the June 1996 presidential elections, in which he secured re-election, defeating Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Yeltsin resigned as president on 31 December 1999, relinquishing his power six months early to his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, in return for receiving guarantees of immunity from any future prosecution for any of his actions in the Kremlin.