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Members of Russian cult trickle out of cave

Image: Members of a doomsday cult in Russia
Members of a doomsday cult walk outside the house of their leader after returning from a 6-month stay underground in the settlement of Nikolskoye, Russia, on Tuesday.Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fourteen more members of a Russian cult that has been holed up in a cave 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, which included two children aged 8 and 14, were in satisfactory condition, 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, which was built in the Penza region, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow, last fall.

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

On 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, which is April 27, Melnichenko said.

Waiting for the end of the world?
A total of 35 people entered the cave in early November to await the end of the world, which they said would happen in May. They told authorities that they would detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.

Yeskin said the group that came out Tuesday handed over three rifles.

Authorities have repeatedly 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.

Some of the cultists had indicated last week they might leave the cave on Orthodox Easter.

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 brought Nikolskoye late last month to help in negotiations.

An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov, who goes by the title of 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.

His followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media have reported.