|Pyotr Kuznetsov was held for psychiatric evaluation.|
MOSCOW - Doctors and rescuers are trying to coax more than two dozen doomsday cult members into leaving their forest hide-out near the Volga River, where they were awaiting the end of the world with the coming of spring.
The cult members have threatened to blow themselves up with about 100 gallons of stockpiled gasoline if authorities forced them out of what officials described as a cave or bunker near the village of Nikolskoye, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow, said regional spokesman Yevgeny Guseynov.
"Any forceful action is dangerous," Guseynov said Friday, but he added that doctors and rescuers were nearby and trying to persuade the cult members to leave.
Pyotr Kuznetsov, a self- declared prophet who established his True Russian Orthodox Church after he split with the official church, has not joined his followers. He was undergoing psychiatric evaluation Friday, a day after he was charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence, Guseynov said.
Russian state television broadcast footage of Kuznetsov speaking at the clinic where he was being examined. He said that cult members initially aimed to dig small refuges where they could spend a day or two in prayer. But later, "we had the idea of making a big dugout for all of us to go to and stay there, just to avoid acts of hooliganism by the local population," Kuznetsov said.
The 29 people - including four children, one only 18 months old - had stocked the cave with food and other supplies.
Kuznetsov said in the footage on the Rossiya channel that he had not gone into the cave himself because "I had to meet others who were yet to arrive."
On Thursday, black-clad Russian Orthodox monks carefully descended into the snow-covered gully to try to make contact with the cult, but members refused to speak with clergy. They were exchanging letters with Kuznetsov, however, and were in contact with doctors and officials, who promised food or medical supplies if needed.
Kuznetsov blessed his followers before sending them into the cave earlier this month. Most of the adults were women, Russian newspaper Izvestia reported.
Kuznetsov, 43, a trained engineer from a religious family, declared himself a prophet several years ago, left his family, and settled in Nikolskoye. He began writing books, borrowing from a mix of beliefs, and visited monasteries in Russia and Belarus, recruiting followers, Guseynov said.
Alexander Dvorkin of the Moscow-based independent Center of Religious Studies said Kuznetsov's followers were in serious danger and "any wrong move" by authorities could cost lives.