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Way In

Not with a bang...

The end of the world never seems to go out of fashion. Global warming adds a new spin to a tradition that has been endlessly updated, from nuclear armageddon to Y2K. But the True Russian Orthodox Church of Nikolskoye in western Russia has revived the classic apocalyptic formula.

Fixing the date for May 2008 (or April according to other reports - sorry if this doesn't give you much notice), members have hidden themselves in a cave until the day of the Lord. The earth shall be shaken, the hills be laid low, and the mountains fall into the sea, but the caves will be all right, by the sound of it.

29 believers went in there in November though their leader Pyotr Kuznetsov stayed behind, saying that God had 'other tasks' for him. He has since been arrested and given psychiatric treatment.

Unfortunately, after braving it through the Russian winter, half the group members were forced to leave at the start of April. While the earth continued to all appearances pretty robust, their cave - a 100-year-old system of tunnels dug into a hillside - started to collapse under the spring rain.

The group denounces tax numbers, barcodes, credit cards and passports as the marks of the beast. Members are banned from watching TV or handling money. ­

Nevertheless, they have been willing to take food from the doomed outside world, as latterly their supplies ran low. But they have refuse processed food, a satanic corruption that they shun. A local official, Alexander Yelatontsev, said they had asked for a cow.
Yelatontsev has been negotiating with the underground sect through an airhole, trying to persuade them to leave, or at least send out the children. He brought their leader Kuznetsov to help persuade them, but his followers threatened to blow themselves up if anyone tried to force them out.

The latest reports are that the ones who left are maintaining their vigil in their church, while the remaining 15 are praying for a sign from God that they should leave - beyond the appeals of their leader and the collapse of their cave.