Fears grow for safety of remaining Russian doomsday sect members

MOSCOW, March 31 (RIA Novosti) – Rescue workers in central Russia have pumped thaw waters out of the underground shelter where members of a sect have been holed up for five months, the deputy governor of the Penza Region said.

The doomsday sect went underground in November to “save themselves during the time of the Apocalypse,” which they say is due in May, and have threatened to set themselves on fire if any attempt is made to remove them by force.

Russia Today report, Mar. 29, 2008.

“All those underground are alive. However, soil is continuing to crumble [into the shelter]. Emergency service workers have deepened trenches around the shelter to keep away thaw waters,” said Oleg Melnichenko on Sunday evening.

On Friday evening, seven of the group emerged voluntarily from their hillside dugout, and were taken away to the home of the group’s founder, Pyotr Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov, who has been held in an asylum in Penza since November, was involved in negotiations. The woman, who are said to be in good health, had insisted on being allowed to stay at Kuznetsov’s home as a condition for coming to the surface.

Twenty eight sect members, including four children, remain underground.

Rescue workers had earlier announced that the shelter, dug out by the sect members over a period of one and half months, was in danger of collapsing entirely as thaw waters weakened the structure.

It has also been reported that a pipe has been inserted into the shelter to provide air for the sect members. A third of the dugout is thought to have already caved in. The roots of trees above the enclosure are believed to be keeping the roof from collapsing altogether.

The sect members earlier announced that they would come to the surface on April 27 (Orthodox Easter) or in early May.

Kuznetsov was declared mentally unfit to stand trial last Wednesday. He had earlier been charged with inciting religious and racial hatred. He has recently explained his decision not to join his followers in the cave by speaking of “another mission in life.”

Various groups had earlier spoken to the sect members without managing to secure a promise that they would come to the surface.

A local official earlier said that the main aim of the psychiatrists and religious leaders who had been negotiating with the sect was to convince the group to allow their children to leave the cave. However, he said the sect’s response was that, “The children have suffered enough in this world. You are talking about their bodies, but we are speaking of their souls!”

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This post was last updated: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 10:55 AM, Central European Time (CET)