Stench of rotting corpses drives Russian doomsday group from cave

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The last remaining members of the Russian doomsday group True Russian Orthodox Church emerged from a cave outside Penza Friday, after enduring the toxic stench of rotting corpses from two deceased members of their group. Interfax quoted authorities who said that fumes from the corpses in the cave threatened the nine remaining members of the group with poisoning and intoxication. Members entered the cave in November 2007 under instruction from their leader Pyotr Kuznetsov, and were under the belief that the world was coming to an end in May of this year.

A historic street in Penza, Russia
Image: Konstantin Dorokhin.

Thirty-five members of the group entered the underground cave, 650km (400 miles) south-east of Moscow, in November in order to wait for the end of the world. The group members threatened mass suicide by igniting gasoline canisters if authorities attempted to intervene and remove them.

When Russian Orthodox priests were brought in to negotiate in November, the group members refused to speak with them. The group's leader Kuznetsov, a trained engineer, instructed his followers not to listen to the radio or watch television. True Orthodox Church is a splinter group of the Russian Orthodox Church. Members believe that bar codes are Satanic symbols and refuse to eat processed food.

In November Kuznetsov, 43, was arrested and charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. In March, Kuznetsov attempted to commit suicide by banging his head with a log, after the spiritual leader realized he was wrong about his prophecy of apocalypse. After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation, Kuznetsov was determined to be schizophrenic. "It was an attempted suicide. Pyotr put his head on a tree stump and started hitting his head with a log," said Oleg Melnichenko, deputy goveror of the Penza region. According to local prosecutor Grigori Zhitenev, Kuznetsov attempted to commit suicide because "the end of the world has not come".

We could smell the stench through ventilation holes. As we pulled out the dead bodies, we suggested the others leave and they agreed.

—Vladimir Provotorov

When the roof collapsed approximately a month ago, 24 members including four children left the cave. A male member of the group who had previously left the cave told Russia Today TV that one female member died of malnutrition while fasting, and another female member died of cancer. Both of their bodies were buried in a hole in the cave. Emergency workers discovered the bodies while trying to shore up supports in the cave which previously underwent partial cave-ins due to melting snow. The bodies of the two dead women were exhumed after the nine members of the group left the cave, and forensic tests were conducted on the bodies.

"We could smell the stench through ventilation holes. As we pulled out the dead bodies, we suggested the others leave and they agreed," said local official Vladimir Provotorov in a statement quoted by Interfax. Provotorov said authorities believed the remaining members of the group would be poisoned by the toxic fumes of the decomposing bodies of the two dead females. There was "a real threat of poisoning from toxic corpse fumes," said Provotorov. Oleg Melnichenko said the stench of the corpses drove the remaining members out of the cave. According to the International Herald Tribune, the Penza regional Prosecutor General's Office confirmed the Interfax report.

We are examining the bodies to see if we will open a criminal case.

—Tatyana Ostrovskaya

A physician is examining the eight women and one man that emerged from the cave on Friday, and prosecutor's office spokeswoman Tatyana Ostrovskaya said authorities are in the process of deciding whether or not to pursue criminal charges related to the two dead women. "We are examining the bodies to see if we will open a criminal case," said Ostrovskaya. The majority of the members of the True Russian Orthodox Church still believe that the world will soon end, and await the apocalypse in the village of Nikolskoye in a cottage owned by their leader Kuznetsov.


Wikipedia Learn more about True Russian Orthodox Church and Pyotr Kuznetsov on Wikipedia.