Defiant Russian cult holed up in cave for end of the world

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The Independent Online

Members of a doomsday cult that believes the world will end next May and that barcodes are a sign of the Antichrist are holed up in a cave in south-east Russia and threatening to blow themselves up if the authorities try and eject them.

Yesterday, priests and officials were trying to talk to the 29, mainly female, followers of "Father" Pyotr Kuznetsov, founder of the "True Russian Orthodox Church" sect. Inside the cave near Nikoskoye, a village about 400 miles south-east of Moscow, the cult has stockpiled food and 100 gallons of kerosene. There were also reports that when an approach was made a few days ago, gunshots came from the cave. Its inhabitants include four children, one only 16 months old.

Negotiations with the cult members seem to be distinctly one-way. On Thursday, black-clad Russian Orthodox monks carefully descended into a snow-covered gully near the Volga river to try to make contact with the cult. But members refused to speak with clergy, and instead exchanged letters with Mr Kuznetsov. He is not in the cave, but is undergoing psychiatric evaluation after being charged with setting up a "religious organisation associated with violence". His followers were, however, in contact with doctors and officials, who promised food or medical supplies if needed.

Mr Kuznetsov is a trained engineer from a deeply religious family, who declared himself a prophet several years ago, left his family and began writing books and recruiting followers. His group believe that, in the afterlife, they will judge whether others deserve heaven or hell. Followers are not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money. Mr Kuznetsov has been known to sleep in a coffin.

Russia is home to a bewildering array of sects, at least 10 of which have members living in isolation. Many of them are led by the most unlikely of characters, including one, in Siberia, headed by an ex-traffic policeman who has managed to persuade 5,000 devotees that he is the son of God.