NIZHNY NOVGOROD, March 6 (RIA Novosti) – The cave that 35 members of a Russian doomsday sect have been holed up in since the fall of 2007 is not currently at risk from flooding, a local emergency services official said on Thursday.
The sect went underground in the central Russian Penza Region order to “save themselves during the time of the apocalypse,” which they say will come in May this year.
They have threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them to come to the surface. The group includes four children.
Russian emergency services officials said at the end of February they were ready to launch an operation to rescue the sect members in the event of the cave being submerged by underground waters in the spring thaw.
“Right now we are experiencing a temporary cold spell in the region,” said Dmitry Eskin, going on to say that, “The temperature is below zero. Dangers could be posed by underground waters, but given that the temperature has fallen that is fairly unlikely.”
He confirmed, however, that there were contingency plans in place to rescue the sect members if flooding occurred. Media reports earlier speculated that police and special forces were preparing to storm the cave. A police spokesman later denied these reports.
The cave is said to have been divided into five cells, with one large ‘room’ set aside for prayers. The prayer room is also, according to the sect’s founder Pyotr Kuznetsov, to be used for the eventual burial of the sect members. Kuznetsov is currently being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in an asylum in Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow.
Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs. The back pages of many Russian tabloid newspapers are full of advertisements for ‘healers’ and ‘magicians’ who promise to bring happiness in love, success in business, as well as a range of other services.
One of the most well-known sects in Russia has its base near the southern Siberian town of Abakan, where thousands of people, both Russian and foreign, worship a former Russian provincial traffic policeman, Sergei Torop, as the second coming of Christ.
There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.