Apr 1, 2008

14 more members of Russian cult emerge from underground cave

Mike Eckel, AP

San Diego Union-Tribune
April 1, 2008

MOSCOW (AP) – Fourteen more members of a Russian cult holed up underground for months awaiting the end of the world emerged Tuesday after melting snows caused more of their hillside cave to collapse, officials said.

The group – including two children ages 8 and 14 – were in satisfactory condition, Penza regional emergency spokesman Dmitry Yeskin told The Associated Press. They were moved to a nearby house where the group's leader, self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, has been living.

Yeskin said negotiators were trying to persuade the remaining 14 to come out of the underground hillside shelter built late last year in the Penza region, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow.

Vice Gov. Oleg Melnichenko said part of the cave collapsed around dawn Tuesday, and cult members told emergency officials they had a divine vision overnight that instructed them to leave.

Last Friday, seven other cult members emerged as melting spring snows caused part of the shelter to cave in, sparking fears that the entire structure could collapse.
The group will remain in a so-called prayer house in the nearby village of Nikolskoye until Orthodox Easter, April 27, Melnichenko said.
State-run TV showed women, dressed in long skirts and head scarves, being helped up a hillside by emergency workers and into a waiting bus. Footage taken inside the cave's catacombs showed different rooms, separated by small windows; and plastic bottles, glass jars, mattresses and a chess board strewn on muddy floors. Orthodox crosses were on the walls and the ceilings, along with what appeared to be a child's painting.
A total of 35 people went into the cave in early November to await the end of the world, which they said would happen in May. They told authorities they would detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.
Yeskin said the group that emerged Tuesday also handed over three rifles.
Authorities repeatedly had enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.
Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence, and officials later said they had seized literature that included what appeared to be extremist rhetoric. He had been confined to a psychiatric hospital since last November but was taken to Nikolskoye late last month to help in negotiations.
An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov – who goes by the title Father Pyotr – declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.
He reportedly told followers that in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell.
Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.

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