NIZHNY NOVGOROD, April 2 (RIA Novosti) – Negotiators have resumed attempts to persuade 14 members of a doomsday sect to leave the dugout in central Russia they have been holed up in for five months, a local government spokesman said on Wednesday.
The group, ‘Heavenly Jerusalem,’ went underground in the Penza Region in November to await the end of the world, which they say will come in May. However, 21 fellow sect members have emerged from the hideaway in recent days after most of the dugout’s roof collapsed due to thaw waters weakening the structure. Two young children are amongst those still underground.
“They prayed at night and resumed negotiations on coming to the surface in the morning. The negotiations are being carried out by Deputy Governor Oleg Melnichenko,” Anton Sharonov said.
The group had earlier threatened to set themselves on fire if any attempt was made to remove them by force.
Sharonov also said he hoped all the remaining members of the extreme Russian Orthodox movement would voluntarily come to the surface today. He also said no fresh damage had occurred to the shelter during the night.
Rescue workers have cleaned up and reinforced the entrance to the shelter following its collapse, clearing the way for the sect members should they wish to end their underground wait for the Apocalypse. A group of rescue workers is also on duty day and night near the shelter in order to provide assistance in the case of an emergency.
The group had earlier promised to come to the surface on April 27 (Orthodox Easter) or in early May.
The sect’s founder, 43-year-old Pyotr Kuznetsov, earlier said that the group had “spent one and a half months, often working nights,” digging out their underground shelter. “God gave us cover, and angels helped us,” he expounded, adding that the tunnel was “fifty meters in length, and the height of a man.”
Kuznetsov did not join his followers in the shelter, saying that he had “another mission in life.” He was earlier charged with inciting religious and racial hatred, but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial last Wednesday. He has been held in an asylum in Penza since November.
He is reported to have told his followers that they would be given the power to decide who would go to hell and who to heaven after the Apocalypse.
The sect members who came to the surface on Saturday and Tuesday turned down offers of medical help, authorities have said. Most of them are now staying in a nearby village.
Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw an avalanche of sects, mystics and self-proclaimed psychics. There are currently believed to be around 500-700 sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people. Many of these profess an extreme form of Russian Orthodoxy. Such groups, as was the case with ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ burn their passports, as they “contain the number of the Beast” and shun modern society.
There are also many other types of sects in Russia. One of the most famous of these 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, or Vissarion as he is known to his followers, as the second coming of Christ.