March 30, 2008 — -- Russian authorities succeeded on Saturday in coaxing out seven women who were part of a cult holed up inside a cave for about five months, but more than two dozen members remain inside and have refused to come out.
The Christian cult members, — followers of self-proclaimed profit Pyotr Kuznetsov — sit inside a cave near the village of Nikolskoye, 400 miles southeast of Moscow.
Kuznetsov, who is being held in a psychiatric hospital, convinced his 35 followers the world would end this May and promised them they'd decide who would get to go to heaven and who would end up in hell during the afterlife.
The troupe entered the deep, dark cave system in early November in order to wait for the apocalypse, and have threatened to blow themselves up if police enter the dwelling.
For five days, law enforcement authorities tried to convince the cult members to come out of the cave before they finally had some success Saturday. When the seven women voluntarily left the cave, they carried out satchels with their belongings. So far, melted snow already has caused a third of the cave to collapse, and time may be running out. Authorities worry the entire cave could collapse and are working furiously to convince the remaining members to come out.
The majority of the cult followers are women and four people younger than 2 years old are inside the cave.
Police had the charismatic engineer Kuznetsov help to convince the seven women to leave after he was temporarily released this week. Authorities have allowed the women to stay in isolation at Kuznetsov's former home, where they are praying for those they left behind.
But for the families of those waiting inside the cave, the experience is stressful.
"What kind of religion is it, which makes people give up their families, and crawl into caves?" questioned the mother of a sect member, who left her husband and child, and is inside the cave.
The Russian government said it expects the members will come out of the cave soon and without any major injuries.
According to government spokesman Oleg Melnichenko, the remaining people in the cave, "after living underground for five months, they're alive and well, and don't need medical assistance."