The nine remaining members of a Russian doomsday cult holed up underground for months awaiting the end of the world abandoned their cave on Friday after authorities removed two rotting corpses from it.
The nine were the last of a group of 35 men, women and children that had dug into a hillside near the Volga region town of Penza in November and threatened to blow themselves up with gas canisters if authorities tried to forcibly remove them.
The elaborate structure — complete with sleeping rooms, a makeshift kitchen and religious altars — suffered a series of partial cave-ins earlier this year caused by melting snows. The cave-ins prompted most of the group including self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov to leave.
The last nine inhabitants emerged on Friday after the bodies of two women who died in the cave were removed, a police officer said.
The officer did not say why the group left, but Russian news agencies cited authorities as saying they left after being warned they could be poisoned by fumes from the rotting corpses.
“We could smell the stench through ventilation holes,” a local official involved in the negotiations, Vladimir Provotorov, was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying. “As we pulled out the dead bodies, we suggested the others leave. They agreed.”
Cult members who left the cave earlier told local journalists the women had died from cancer and exhaustion.
The bodies were found by accident, an unidentified spokesman for the local prosecutor was quoted as telling RIA-Novosti.
“A part of the cave collapsed and Emergency Situations Ministry officials tried to strengthen the supports of the cave,” the spokesman was quoted as saying. “During the strengthening work the bodies of two women were found.”
The police officer said the bodies would be examined at a local morgue.
Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. Last month, he was hospitalized after authorities said he tried to kill himself.
An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov — who goes by the title 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.
He reportedly told followers that in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell. Followers were not allowed to watch TV, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.
Meanwhile, a sound recordist with national TV network NTV was beaten early on Friday by two law enforcement officers who were guarding the entrance to the cave, the Life.ru portal reported.
Yevgeny Gorin had been asleep in a tent near the cave when two men approached and asked him to leave, the Web site said. Without waiting for an answer, they knocked him to the ground and began punching and kicking him, the site said.