PENZA, April 2 (RIA Novosti) – A member of the Russian doomsday sect that has been holed up in an underground shelter in central Russia for five months came to the surface on Wednesday, bringing with her two young children.
One of the children is under two years of age. The two other children held by the sect were brought out of the shelter on April 1. A total of 21 sect members have left the dugout since March 29. The move came as the shelter, in the central Penza Region, began to collapse due to thaw waters.
There are now 11 members of the sect left underground. All of them are adults.
“Early in the morning, a further cave in occurred at the shelter. This acted as a sign for the sect members and they decided to come to the surface after this,” a member of the negotiating team told journalists.
The woman and the two children are now at the home of the group’s founder, 43-year-old Pyotr Kuznetsov, in the nearby village of Nikolskoye. There is currently no information on the state of their health.
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, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow, since November.
Rescue workers had earlier cleaned and reinforced the entrance to the shelter following a collapse, clearing the way for those sect members wishing 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, ‘Heavenly Jerusalem,’ went underground in the Penza Region in November to await the end of the world, which they say will come in May. Kuznetsov is reported to have told his followers that they would be given the power to decide who would be sent to hell and go to heaven after the Apocalypse. They earlier threatened to set themselves on fire if any attempt was made to remove them by force.
The sect members earlier promised to come to the surface on April 27 (Orthodox Easter) or in early May.
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’ frequently 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.