Kiev waits for day after The End

IF, by the end of today the world has not ended, thanks should go to the vigilant cranks and distraught parents who have spent the past week shivering under a row of leafless maple trees outside St Sophia's Cathedral in the centre of old Kiev - among them a sun worshipper in a pink coat, an ESP buff, and a tubby Ukrainian babushka with rotting teeth, a battered Bible and sharp lawyer's eye for textual minutiae.

A fair portion of Kiev's security apparatus was also there, including dozens of plainclothes police - a calling pursued with particular zeal in Ukraine since the Soviet era. Television crews staked out the site. Burly riot police stood ready to fight back Armageddon with metal shields and clubs. But they had it easy, snugly billeted in shops and offices around the cathedral, centre of Slav Christianity since Yaroslav the Wise built it in 1037 and, more recently, focus of a doomsday cult called the Great White Brotherhood.

The sect, one of more than 100 to have found fertile ground in blighted lands of the former Soviet Union, has held Kiev in thrall since 1 November, the start of what countless posters and four tons of leaflets billed as the countdown to Konets Cveta: The End of Light, a final cataclysm to separate sinners from the saved. Thousands of converts, mostly teenagers, signed up for salvation. Some 800 have now been bundled into police vans and driven off to clinics and detention centres.

'His eyes turned to glass. I thought he was taking drugs,' said Valentina Tomstika, who had travelled from western Ukraine in the hope that her missing 18-year-old son might show up for The End. A doctor herself, she checked his arms for needle marks. 'There was nothing. It was all in his head. He was a zombie.' Three sessions with an extra-sensory healer did not help. He ran away four months ago. Mrs Tomstika now shuffles outside St Sophia's, weeping and parading his black and white passport photograph like an icon.

The cult's power extends far beyond Ukraine. 'I don't know what kind of influence she was under, it was so strong,' remembers Valentina Serebrikova, searching for a 19-year-old sister who ran away from home eight time zones away in the Russian town of Nakhodka on the Pacific. She worries about falling under the same mysterious spell.

The end of the world itself is something of a movable feast, fixed for 24 November and then rescheduled for today. Someone miscounted the requisite 1,265 days from the Brotherhood's birth. Then there was a further mishap: God was arrested and charged with hooliganism. She is Marina Tsvygun, mousy-haired former journalist, people's deputy for Leninsky district on the Donetsk city council, part-time waitress and, since a bungled abortion in 1990, occult messiah who prefers to go by the name Maria Devi Khristos. She is 33 - Jesus's age when he was crucified. Police picked her up after a brawl in St Sophia's Cathedral on Wednesday, but realised she was their Most Wanted Deity only when people started kissing her feet. Also seized was the sect's principal prophet, Yuri Krivonogov. A student of yoga and Indian mysticism, he is said to be a talented hypnotist who helped the Soviet military develop mind-altering weapons.

No time has been lost in trying to demystify the cult. 'Supposedly you can't imprison God, but here God is in jail,' scoffed the Interior Ministry spokesman. Maria's mother, Svetlana Matsko, has said her daughter was changed by an incompetent anaesthetist, not divinity. She slipped into clinical death during an abortion and came to, claiming to be God: 'Specialists have only one answer: she is crazy.'

Police add that while unhinged, God is eating heartily. A video shown on Ukrainian television shows her cursing her soft-spoken Interior Ministry interrogator in a high-pitched squeal. 'Should I call you Maria?' asks the official politely. 'My name is God,' she snaps back, her claims of omnipotence clashing with a modest taste in fashion: a conservative wool sweater over a white shirt with a dainty lace collar and cuffs. 'Okay, God . . .'

Metropolitan Filaret of the Orthodox Church condemns her as the Antichrist. Nationalists suspect a demonic Russian plot to revive the Soviet Union at a time when Ukraine faces disaster, its currency debauched, its industry collapsing, its nuclear weapons falling apart.

Outside St Sophia's, an old lady conducted a seminar examining dicrepancies between White Brotherhood texts and the Bible. Attacks on President Leonid Kravchuk as Pontius Pilate and claims that he and other politicians were servants of Satan contravened Romans xiii, 4, she explained.

The sect's cooky theology, though, has struck a chord. The end of Communism has not only left a void but also discredited professions that might have helped to fill it: the Ukrainian church is riven by feuds and factions; psychiatry is still recovering from Soviet abuses; politics has lost the idealism that accompanied independence, and, poisoned by corruption, it is brushed aside with contempt.

The List, page 28

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?