Thousands of pilgrims walk to commemorate Russian tsar Nicholas II | World news

Holding aloft icons, crosses and portraits of Russia’s last tsar, tens of thousands of pilgrims have made a 13-mile walk near the Russian city of Ekaterinburg to mark the anniversary of the execution of Nicholas II.

In the early hours of Monday morning, the pilgrims walked to the spot where Nicholas and his family were executed 99 years ago.

This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and debates are surfacing about how modern Russia should view the events of 1917, in which the February Revolution overthrew the deeply unpopular Nicholas.

After the Bolsheviks seized power later in the year, the tsar’s family were kept under guard, and in July 1918, as the White Army were advancing on Ekaterinburg during the civil war, the royal family was executed.

The image of Nicholas II, whom historians have criticised as an ineffective leader –and who was demonised as the final ruler in a brutal, repressive system by Soviet ideology – is undergoing a renaissance, as the turnout for Monday’s pilgrimage shows.

The walk began at 3am from the centre of Ekaterinburg, accompanied by a children’s choir singing “God save the tsar”. Streets were closed off in the centre of the city to allow the column to pass.

The pilgrims walked for four hours until they arrived at the site of the executions, where a cathedral now stands. A religious service was held at the site.

A woman at the Ganina Yama monastery after a religious procession commemorating Nicholas II. Photograph: Donat Sorokin/Tass

In 2000, the Russian Orthodox church canonised Nicholas, his wife Alexandra and their children.

However, in a sign of how Russia is still dealing with the conflicts created by a tumultuous century of political change, Moscow still has a metro station named after Petr Voikov, the Bolshevik who arranged the execution of the family. There have been a number of petitions to change the name of the station.

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