Following the February Revolution, the Romanov family and their loyal servants were imprisoned in the Alexander Palace before being moved to Tobolsk and then Ekaterinburg, where they were killed, allegedly at the express command of Vladimir Lenin. Despite being informed that "the entire family suffered the same fate as its head", the Bolsheviks only announced Nicholas's death, with the official press release that "Nicholas Romanov's wife and son have been sent to a secure place." For over eight years, the Soviet leadership maintained a systematic web of disinformation as to the fate of the family, from claiming in September 1919 that they were murdered by left-wing revolutionaries to denying outright in April 1922 that they were dead. They acknowledged the murders in 1926 following the publication of an investigation by a White émigré, but maintained that the bodies were destroyed and that Lenin's Cabinet was not responsible. The emergence of Romanov impostors drew media attention away from Soviet Russia, and discussion regarding the fate of the family was suppressed by Joseph Stalin from 1938.
The burial site was discovered in 1979 by an amateur sleuth, but the existence of the remains was not made public until 1989, during the glasnost period. The identity of the remains was confirmed by forensic and DNA investigation. They were reburied in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg in 1998, 80 years after they were killed, in a funeral that was not attended by key members of the Russian Orthodox Church, who disputed the authenticity of the remains. A second, smaller grave containing the remains of two Romanov children missing from the larger grave was discovered by amateur archaeologists in 2007. However, their remains are kept in a state repository pending further DNA tests. In 2008, after considerable and protracted legal wrangling, the Russian Prosecutor General's office rehabilitated the Romanov family as "victims of political repressions". A criminal case was opened by the post-Soviet government in 1993, but nobody was prosecuted on the basis that the perpetrators were dead.
Some historians attribute the order to the government in Moscow, specifically Yakov Sverdlov and Vladimir Lenin, who wished to prevent the rescue of the Imperial Family by the approaching Czechoslovak Legion (fighting with the White Army against the Bolsheviks) during the ongoing Russian Civil War. This is supported by a passage in Leon Trotsky's diary. An investigation led by Vladimir Solovyov concluded in 2011 that, despite the opening of state archives in the post-Soviet years, there is yet no written document found that indicates that either Lenin or Sverdlov instigated the orders; however, they did endorse the executions after they occurred. Lenin had close control over the Romanovs although he ensured his name was not associated with their fate in any official documents. President Boris Yeltsin described the killings as one of the most shameful pages in Russian history.
On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer a monarch and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government, surrounded by guards and confined to their quarters. In August 1917, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. There they lived in the former governor's mansion in considerable comfort. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter, and talk of putting Nicholas on trial grew more frequent. Nicholas was forbidden to wear epaulettes, and the sentries scrawled lewd drawings on the fence to offend his daughters. On 1 March 1918, the family was placed on soldier's rations, which meant parting with 10 devoted servants and giving up butter and coffee. As the Bolsheviks gathered strength, the government in April moved Nicholas, Alexandra, and their daughter Maria to Yekaterinburg under the direction of Vasily Yakovlev. Alexei, who had severe haemophilia, was too ill to accompany his parents and remained with his sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia, not leaving Tobolsk until May 1918. The family was imprisoned with a few remaining retainers in Yekaterinburg's Ipatiev House, which was designated The House of Special Purpose (Russian: Дом Особого Назначения).
All those under arrest will be held as hostages, and the slightest attempt at counter-revolutionary action in the town will result in the summary execution of the hostages.
The imperial family was kept in strict isolation at the Ipatiev House. They were strictly forbidden to speak any language other than Russian. They were not permitted access to their luggage, which was stored in an outhouse in the interior courtyard. Their brownie cameras and photographic equipment were confiscated. The servants were ordered to address the Romanovs only by their names and patronymics. The family was subjected to regular searches of their belongings, confiscation of their money for "safekeeping by the Ural Regional Soviet's treasurer", and attempts to remove Alexandra's and her daughters' gold bracelets from their wrists. The house was surrounded by a 4 metre (14 ft) high double palisade that obscured the streets from the house. The initial fence enclosed the garden along Voznesensky Lane. On 5 June a second palisade was erected, higher and longer than the first, which completely enclosed the property. One of the reasons for the construction of the latter was the discovery that onlookers outside could see Nicholas' legs over the palisade when he used the double swing in the garden.
The windows in all the family's rooms were sealed shut and covered with newspapers (later painted with whitewash on 15 May). The family's only source of ventilation was a fortochka in the grand duchesses' bedroom, but peeking out of it was strictly forbidden; in May a sentry fired a shot at Anastasia when she peeked out. After repeated requests, one of the two windows in the tsar and tsarina's corner bedroom was unsealed on 23 June 1918. However, the guards were ordered to increase their surveillance accordingly and the prisoners were warned not to look out the window or attempt to signal anyone outside, on pain of being shot. From this window, they could only see the spire of the Voznesensky Cathedral located across the road from the house. An iron grille was installed on 11 July after Alexandra ignored repeated warnings from Yurovsky not to stand too close to the open window. The guard commandant and his senior aides had complete access at any time to all rooms occupied by the family. The prisoners were required to ring a bell every time they wished to leave their rooms to use the bathroom and lavatory on the landing. However, strict rationing of the water supply was enforced on the prisoners after the guards complained that it regularly ran out. Recreation was only allowed twice daily in the garden for half an hour morning and afternoon. However, the prisoners were under strict instructions not to engage in conversation with any of the guards. Rations were mostly tea and black bread for breakfast and cutlets or soup with meat for lunch; the prisoners were informed that "they were no longer permitted to live like tsars". In mid-June, nuns from the Novo-Tikhvinsky Monastery also brought the family food on a daily basis, most of which was siphoned off on arrival by the captors. The family was not allowed visitors or to receive and send letters. Princess Helen of Serbia visited the house in June but was refused entry at gunpoint by the guards, while Dr Vladimir Derevenko's regular visits to treat Alexei were curtailed when Yurovsky became commandant. No excursions to mass at the nearby church were permitted. In early June, the family no longer received their daily newspapers.