NIZHNY NOVGOROD - Emergency service workers in central Russia have carried out an operation to prevent thaw waters reaching a cave where 35 members of a doomsday sect have been holed up for almost five months.
The sect, including four children, have been holed up in the cave in the Penza Region since the fall of 2007 waiting for the apocalypse, which they say will happen in May 2008. They have threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them out.
"Rescuers have dug special drainage ditches to prevent thaw waters from reaching the cave," said an official with the emergency services.
The official went on to say that there was little likelihood now of the cave being submerged by underground waters in the spring thaw, adding however that, "If a need arises, rescue workers will come to the site again to carry out any necessary work."
He also added that police officers on duty near the cave were monitoring the situation and that there were contingency plans in place to rescue the sect members if flooding did occur.
According to the sect's founder, Pyotr Kuznetsov, the cave is said to have been divided into five cells, with one large 'room' set aside for prayers. The prayer room is also to be used for the eventual burial of the sect members.
Kuznetsov is currently being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in a psychiatric hospital in Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow.
Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs in Russia and many other former Soviet republics.
There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.