Wed Jul 16, 2008 12:21am IST
By James Kilner
YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Christians prayed at icons while soldiers set up soup kitchens on Tuesday to prepare for crowds expected for the 90th anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
In the city of Yekaterinburg at a church built on the site where Bolshevik soldiers shot the family in July 1918, dozens of Orthodox Russians prayed, chanted and kissed icons of Russia's last imperial leader, his wife, four daughters and son.
"He is like a God," said 32-year-old Larisa Sheveleva, wearing a headscarf after leaving the Church on the Blood.
The Romanov family ruled Russia through divine right for three centuries before World War One triggered economic collapse and social upheaval, igniting two revolutions in 1917 and forcing Nicholas II to abdicate.
Their communist Bolshevik captors moved the family to Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains after a civil war with royalists broke out.
When in July 1918 the royalists appeared to be closing in on the family, soldiers shot them in a dirty basement and hastily disposed of their bodies.
But since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russians have steadily revived the legacy of Nicholas II. The Russian Orthodox church has canonized them as martyrs and given the family -- except for the son and one daughter who were still missing -- state burials in 1998 in cathedrals in St Petersburg.
Russia has recovered from the chaotic post-Soviet 1990s through energy and commodity export wealth and increased political stability, boosting Russians' patriotic pride in both their future and their past.
ICONS, SOUP KITCHEN
"He was the imperial leader of Russia. How can the imperial leader of Russia not be great?" said Roman Novochenko, a 24-year-old engineer outside the church.
He was not going to attend Wednesday's religious services but still interested in the tsar. Novochenko's dress -- slicked back hair, jeans and expensive shirt -- contrasted with the mostly elderly and humbly dressed churchgoers.
Black and white family photos showing the bearded Nicholas and his family dotted the outside of the church. A statue depicted the tsar cradling his son in front of an Orthodox Russian cross surrounded by his wife and daughters.
At one side of the church soldiers built a temporary soup kitchen for Wednesday's anticipated crowds.
Vacheslav Serikov, 62, stood and watched women in headscarves kiss icons of the Romanov family inside the church.
"I had to come to the church today," he said. "There are people coming from everywhere tomorrow and you just will not be able to get inside.
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