MOSCOW: Psychologists were helping negotiate Friday with members of a Russian doomsday religious cult who have sealed themselves in a cave in a Volga River region threatening to blow themselves up if authorities intervene.
Doctors and rescuers stood near the entrance of the cave, located in a snow-covered forest in the Penza region about 650 kilometers (400 miles) southeast of Moscow, where 29 cult members and their children are waiting for the end of the world.
Members of the so-called True Russian Orthodox Church claim they will ignite canisters filled with 400 liters, or about a 100 gallons, of gasoline if authorities try to force them out, said regional administration spokesman Yevgeny Guseynov.
The group’s leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, established the group after falling out with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Kuznetsov, who blessed his followers before sending them into the cave but did not join them himself, was undergoing psychiatric examination Friday, Guseynov said. Kuznetsov was charged Thursday with setting up a religious organization associated with violence.
Among those barricaded in the cave are four children, one as young as 18 months. Members of Kuznetsov’s group believe that the end of the world will occur this spring and they have laid in supplies of food to last until then, news reports said.
Guseynov said the cult members were in contact with officials and doctors but were refusing to talk to the official orthodox clergy. They were also exchanging letters with Kuznetsov, he said.
Authorities plan to continue talks with the cult members and will provide them with food and medicines if required, Guseynov said.
“Any forceful action is dangerous,” he said.
Kuznetsov, a trained engineer, did not let his followers watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, reports said.