Updated: Mar 18
Russia is a country that has been in the news quite a bit lately. At one point last year, it seemed like you couldn’t go a day without hearing words like “Russia-gate” or “collusion” — but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The Kremlin has been the seat of Russian government for centuries, but some of its most famous former residents may have never left. Let’s check out the hauntings at the Kremlin.
So in order to do this as efficiently as possible, I’m going to give a brief overview of the history of the Kremlin and Russia in general. If you’re not a history person, I’m so sorry. I’m going to try and keep it brief and only go over the details that are important to understand the hauntings.
So first off, what is the Kremlin? ‘Kremlin’ comes from the Russian word ‘kreml’ which means ‘citadel’ or ‘fortress.’ The Kremlin is an area in central Moscow, Russia’s capital city. The term is often used to refer generally to the government and government buildings of Russia, which are there. But it contains a lot more too, including churches, a bell tower, palaces, museums and offices.
The first building in the area was a fortress built in the 1100’s by Yuri Dolgoruki. Walls, towers and two churches followed in 1300’s. But it wasn’t until the rule of Ivan the Great that the Kremlin really began to grow.
By the time Ivan the Great, or Ivan III, was born in 1440, the area’s grand princes had been feuding and warring for decades — in fact, Ivan himself was born in the middle of a civil war. He ruled as Grand Prince of Moscow from 1462 until his death in 1505 and is often credited with laying the foundation for a centralized Russian state.
By the time Ivan took the throne, all of the conflict had caused the Kremlin to fall into decay.
He rebuilt a lot of the buildings that were already there, and added a lot of now famous ones, such as the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. (Can’t imagine where he got that name from!) He was also responsible for construction of the Cathedral of Assumption, built to be the Kremlin’s main church, and Terem Palace, which was the royal residence and now serves as home of the president.
But the history Russia, like a lot of countries, isn’t all sunshine and roses. Upon the death of Ivan the Great in 1505, his son, Grand Prince Vasily III, took over the throne. He died in 1533, leaving the throne to his three-year-old son, Ivan IV. Yelena Glinskaya, Prince Vasily’s wife and Ivan’s mother, ruled in her son’s place until she died in 1538. Ivan was eight at the time, but didn’t officially take over as Grand Prince until 1547 at the age of 16. He also became Russia’s first tsar, which was basically their version of emperors, a tradition that would continue for about four hundred more years. More on that later.
During his reign, or maybe even before, Ivan IV earned the nickname Ivan the Terrible, and from what I’ve read, it was well deserved. After his first wife died in 1560, Ivan went into a deep depression, became paranoid and started to believe she was murdered. He left Russia and threatened to renounce his title as tsar. He eventually agreed to come back but only if he was granted complete control of the region surrounding Moscow, as well as to be allowed to execute traitors and confiscate property of other criminals.
Ivan was also known for fits of rage, one of which caused the death of his own son and heir in 1581. He also caused his pregnant daughter-in-law to miscarry by kicking her in the stomach. He plundered cities — or got people to do it on his behalf — and often terrorized and killed citizens just because he wanted to. His victims’ severed heads would often be thrown at the feet of their families. Anyone who stood in his way was kidnapped or killed. The wives and children of members of his court were often killed in his palace, which is still in the Kremlin. He’s also said to have blinded the builders of the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral so they couldn’t build anything that beautiful again, but it’s not clear if this is true or just a legend. Over the course of his reign, Ivan the Terrible is thought to be responsible for the deaths of at least 450,000 people.
Ivan died in 1584 and was buried within the Kremlin, at the cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel. He was succeeded on the throne by his son Fyodor (sometimes spelled ‘Feodor’). Fyodor proved to not to be a good ruler either, and after his death in 1598, a political crisis known as the Time of Troubles began that eventually led to the start of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613.
So let’s skip ahead about three hundred years to the early 1900’s. Once again, Russia was in the midst of political turmoil. People weren’t too happy with imperial rule in Russia, which had become one of the most impoverished countries in Europe. Food shortages had led to strikes among industrial workers, and a new political party called the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, believed Russia should be ruled by workers and peasants. This is a gross oversimplification of what they believed, of course, but we’re here to talk about ghosts, not politics. Long story short, tsar Nicolas II and his entire family were killed in 1917, bringing an end to the over 300 year Romanov Dynasty. In 1923, the Bolsheviks, who were later known as the Communist Party, took over the country, which would then become known as the Soviet Union, the world’s first communist state. (another source said 1922)
In 1918, Lenin had survived an assassination attempt. Doctors operated to recover the bullet he’d been shot with, but after the operation he became ill and was left partially paralyzed and unable to speak. He made a partial recovery, but his health continued to go up and down until his death in 1924. Lenin was famously embalmed and buried in a mausoleum in Red Square, which is adjacent to the Kremlin.
Lenin’s body is still on display today, and his tomb is a pretty big tourist attraction. With a decent amount of upkeep, his body has managed to maintain its appearance, still looking relatively the same as it did when he died, almost 100 years ago. (Wow, can you believe it’s been that long? It seriously seems like 2000 ended like…yesterday.) I’m a little reluctant to show photos of Lenin’s body because I’m sure I have some readers out there who don’t want to see a dead body, even one that doesn’t look like one. But if you really want to see it, pictures are pretty easy to find with a simple search.
After Lenin’s death a power struggle began in the Soviet Union. In 1929, leadership went to an administrator in the party, Joseph Stalin, another name you’ve probably already heard.
Stalin was notoriously horrible. He wanted control of the farms in the country since he thought that would help him get control of the economy. Of course, the farmers weren’t too thrilled about handing over their livelihoods to him, but those who refused to cooperate were killed or exiled. This also led to famine across the country and millions of people died.
Stalin’s practices also weakened the Soviet army during World War II, allowing Germans to easily invade, though they were eventually driven out. He also killed people he thought were political threats. He’s estimated to be responsible for deaths of 20 million people during his rule, a number that makes Ivan the Terrible’s reign look like nothing.
Stalin’s reign ended when he died in 1953. He was embalmed like Lenin and originally buried in Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square, but his body was later moved and reburied near the Kremlin walls, where it remains today.
The Soviet Union collapsed on New Year’s Even of 1991. Boris Yeltsin took over as president and remained there until he resigned in 1999 and handed over power to Vladimir Putin. Putin left office in 2008 but returned in 2012. And, of course, he is still Russia’s president today and, at least in my house, the subject of many, many fart jokes
So now that you know at least some of Russia’s history, at least the history relevant to this video, let’s talk about the supposed paranormal activity at the Kremlin. There are quite a few people buried there, of course, and a lot who died there as well. Some of those people have reportedly been spotted wandering the grounds, but nobody knows their names. And the three main people said to haunt the grounds are Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin.
Stalin is supposedly the ghost with the most sightings, though I couldn’t find any specific ones. He’s believed to appear during times of crisis in Russia and wants to re-establish order in the country. The room he’s in is said to get cold when he’s there — which is pretty common with ghosts in general.
People have claimed to see Ivan the Terrible’s shadow and hear his footsteps as they walk the halls. I’m not sure how they know it’s him, though — maybe he had a distinct shadow and walk? His ghost is also said to appear engulfed in flames though, again, it’s not clear why. There’s another famous legend that Ivan had ‘black books’ that detailed the names of everyone he tortured or killed. As the story goes, Ivan enlisted the help of a monk to put these books together…and then proceeded to bury him alive in the Kremlin, along with the books, in order to bind them together forever. Sounds like kind of a dick move to do to someone who helped you out…but we are talking about Ivan the Terrible, so it shouldn’t come as a shock.
But the most famous ghost story involving Ivan was his supposed appearance to tsar Nicolas II and his wife the night before Nicolas’s coronation. Years later, when Nicolas’s reign and legacy all went to hell, this ghostly visit was seen in hindsight as a bad omen.
So, the ghosts we’ve talked about so far — and most ghosts in general — have to die in order to appear as, you know…ghosts. But I guess Lenin was a special case, because he was appearing as a ghost before he even died!
The first reported otherworldly sighting of Lenin was by a security guard at the Kremlin in 1923. Lenin was still alive at this time, but in very bad health. Some sources said he walked with a cane, but I couldn’t confirm that. When the guard first saw Lenin, he just assumed it was actually him. But at the time, Lenin was actually in Gorky, a park at least 8 miles away from the Kremlin (depending on what area you go to and how you get there). Later on that night, other witnesses came forward and said they’d seen Lenin around the Kremlin that night as well. What’s more, the sickly Lenin who had trouble walking was said to be walking normally and appeared pretty healthy in general. He ended up dying a few months after this bizarre sighting.
Lenin’s ghost has been spotted in the hallways of various buildings after his death as well. Some people believe that Lenin’s ghost will continue to haunt the Kremlin as long as his body is in his mausoleum. In a 2017 survey, 58 % of Russians said they thought his body should be removed and buried elsewhere — though 32 % of those thought he should be buried at the Kremlin wall. Given these statistics, maybe one day his body will be moved — but since it’s been there for almost a century, I’m not counting on it.
There are some smatterings here and there of other ghost stories on the grounds. I’ve read sources that said the area where the Kremlin is today used to be a pagan healing ground, so I guess people think the involvement of pagans contributes to the paranormal activity. Personally, if the Kremlin’s ghosts are real, I think the country’s history and the violence that’s taken place in the surrounding area is more than enough to explain why some former residents have unfinished business.
I’ve also read that the grounds were haunted by another communist leader named Sergei Kirov. Kirov was assassinated in 1934, and there’s speculation that his assassination was ordered by Stalin, who saw him as a threat to his power. The source I read said Kirov was assassinated in the Kremlin, though he was actually assassinated in the city of Leningrad, which is now St. Petersburg. But he is buried at the Kremlin, so maybe he’s still hanging around.
The last thing I want to mention is UFO’s. A UFO was sighted over the Kremlin sometime in the 1800’s. The “strange object” stopped moving before a flash of light lit up the sky. Another UFO was sighted above the grounds in 2009.
So, do you think the Kremlin is really haunted? Have you ever been to the Kremlin? Let me know in the comments.
photo credits and sources
2nd Kremlin photo: A. Savin via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (link below)
graves in and near the Kremlin wall: Alex Zelenko via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported License (link below)
Lenin’s tomb: Staron via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
Boris Yeltsin: Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License