Russian doomsday sect in talks with relatives and friends

PENZA, April 10 (RIA Novosti) – The members of a Russian doomsday sect still remaining underground in central Russia have begun talks with friends and relatives amid reports that two of the group have died.

Twenty-four members of the group, which went underground in November to wait for the end of the world, which they say will come in May or June, have left the dugout in the Penza Region in the last two weeks after most of the shelter’s roof caved in following heavy rain.

The other 11, who have been described as “the most radical” by Russian authorities, resumed talks with negotiators on Thursday morning after an almost week long break. On Tuesday, one of the sect’s members now above ground told reporters that, “During our stay, two people died. They are buried there. One of them died of cancer and the other after fasting too intensely.”

Local authorities have not confirmed the deaths.

The friends and relatives of the sect members arrived at the dugout to try to convince the group to come to the surface. The Penza Region’s deputy governor, Oleg Melnichenko, welcomed the development. He also said that if any of the sect members decided to come out of their shelter they would be allowed to leave the area and would be issued with temporary documents. The sect members are known to have burnt their passports before going underground.

The sect’s leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, 43, was admitted to hospital last week after an apparent suicide attempt. Russian media initially reported that Kuznetsov, who did not join his followers underground, had been beaten by the emerging sect members after taking part in negotiations to persuade them to leave their shelter. He had been held in an asylum in Penza about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow, since November.

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Despite one member of the sect claiming on Thursday that the group is an offshoot of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the sect has generally been considered part of a wave of extreme Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and some former Soviet republics. Adherents of this radical form of Christianity refuse to own passports, as they “contain the number of the Beast”, and will not handle money or consume products packaged in containers bearing ‘Satanic’ barcodes.

Russia has seen a great number of sects throughout its history. One of the most famous of these was the Skoptsy, who castrated themselves to avoid sexual temptation and sin. The sect was first reported in the 18th century and is known to have still existed in the 1920s.

Another notorious sect was the Khlysty, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Khlysty believed that the way to salvation lay through the repentance of sins. The greater the sin, the greater the repentance, the Khlysty reasoned, and following this logic they rejected conventional doctrines of ‘right and wrong’, indulging in sins that they could later confess to, being in this way ‘pleasing to God.’ Grigory Rasputin, the mysterious monk who had a malign influence on the Tsar and the Tsarina prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, is believed to have had links the group, which was active from the 17th century to the early 20th.

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RIA Novosti, Russia
Apr. 10, 2008

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This post was last updated: Apr. 11, 2008