MOSCOW, Nov 19, 2007 -- Local officials and negotiators from the Russian Orthodox Church spent the weekend unsuccessfully trying to convince a group of doomsday cult members to come out of the underground bunker they have been holed up in for weeks.
The groups leader, Peter Kuznetsov, ordered followers to take refuge in the bunker last month to await the end of the world, which he said would happen in May.
Kuznetsov has been arrested and is undergoing evaluation at a psychiatric hospital.
Russian television showed part of an exchange between Kuznetsov and a hospital doctor that aired Friday.
"People come here with their own convictions," Kuznetsov was heard saying through an intrepreter. "Some got messages from Santa Maria, others got messages from our Lord, others ... from their relatives. Do you understand?"
Journalist Mikhail Chernov saw Kunetsov in the hospital over the weekend. He told ABC News that Kuznetsov is "logical and coherent in his thought patterns," but he described him as "a religious fanatic and much of what he said is based on fantasy and not fact."
Kuznetsov, a 43-year-old engineer, left the church several years ago and declared himself a prophet. He calls his group "the true Russian Orthodox Church."
A former neighbor told The Associated Press Sunday that Kuznetsov came from a devout family. "He is a very good chap, well-bred not spoiled as in other families. He did not indulge in wine [he] studied," the neighbor said.
State media has reported that officials have been communicating with the group through a ventilation pipe that links the bunker with the outside world. Chernov, told ABC News that officials said the talks have been calm and friendly.
Priests gathered over the weekend near the bunker in the remote Penza region of Russia to pray for the members of the cult.
Police guarding the area said they have no plans to storm the cave, which is located in the small village of Nikolskoe, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow.
According to Russian media, as many as 36 cult members have been living in the underground bunker since Oct. 24. Among the group are said to be four children, the youngest of whom is 18 months old. With outside temperatures plunging to 15 degrees Fahrenheit at night, concerns are growing about how long the standoff can go on before lives are put in serious danger.
Russian daily newspaper Izvestiya has published what it said is a map of the cave. It shows a fairly sophisticated setup with an area for eating, another for sleeping and a ditch for water, as well as an area designated for human waste. According to the illustration, the cave is sealed with heavy sacks, and in some places is more than 30 feet below ground. The soil is made up of thick clay and rocks.
ABC News has no way of verifying the authenticity of the diagram.
Media in Russia have made much of the reportedly calm state of mind of the cult members. Izvestiya published a transcript of a conversation that reportedly took place between a negotiator and an 8-year-old girl living in the cave, describing the girl's tone as confident and happy.
"How are you feeling?" the negotiator asked.
"Amazing," the girl replied.
"And what did you eat for breakfast?" he asked.
"Wheat kasha and bread with jam," she said.