Russian police stand guard last week on the hillside where cult members, who include four children, are hidden inside a snow-covered cave in the Penza region.
updated 11/21/2007 5:57:29 AM ET 2007-11-21T10:57:29

A Russian doomsday cult leader who sent his followers into an underground hideout to wait for the end of the world was brought to the site Wednesday to try to persuade them to release several children, a government official said.

Twenty-nine followers of self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov — including four children, the youngest aged 18 months — went into a cave near the village of Nikolskoye, about 640 kilometers southeast of Moscow, earlier this month and have threatened to blow themselves up if forced to leave. They say they believe the world will end in May.

Kuznetsov, who has agreed to seek the release of the children, was escorted by authorities to his followers' refuge and began talks with those inside, said a regional government official Yevgeny Guseynov.

Kuznetsov is now confined to a psychiatric hospital, and was charged last week with setting up a religious organization associated with violence.

Clerics from the dominant Russian Orthodox Church have sought unsuccessfully to persuade Kuznetsov's followers to leave their refuge, speaking to them through a ventilation hole.

Kuznetsov, 43, an engineer from a devout family, 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.

Kuznetsov 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, reports say.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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