The Messed Up Truth About Cult Leader Pyotr Kuznetsov

The Apologetics Index defines a "doomsday sect or cult" as "a religious group whose teachings focus on an apocalyptic event (anything from a local disaster to earth's final destruction)." A divorced architect from Belarus named Pyotr Kuznetsov started just such a cult when he decided the Russian Orthodox Church wasn't conservative enough and founded the True Russian Orthodox Church, also known by cult members as Heavenly Jerusalem. As reported by The Guardian, Kuznetsov spent months traveling across Russia and Belarus talking of an impending apocalypse. He attracted several followers, and the group eventually settled in the Russian village of Nikolskoye. Fellow villagers considered the group to be simply "a group of eccentric Christian believers" who lived in abandoned houses and refused to use electricity. 

In October 2007, 29 members of the cult, including four children, one of whom was just 16 months old, moved from the village to an underground cave about 60 miles from the town of Penza. They barricaded themselves inside and refused to come out or accept visitors, explaining they planned to stay there until May 2008, the date Kuznetsov had told them the world was going to end. Kuznetsov was not among the members who went to the cave; in fact, authorities arrested him after the daughter of one of the missing members went to the police. When officers and a Russian Orthodox priest approached the cave, the people inside fired guns into the air and threatened to blow up a gas tank and commit mass suicide. 

Two of Kuznetsov's followers died within the cave

As reported by CNN, authorities asked for help from Pyotr Kuznetsov in convincing his followers to leave the cave after they arrested him, but the cult members refused, believing he was acting under influence of the Russian government. Kuznetsov underwent psychological examinations after he was charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. Per The Times Online, the cult leader was diagnosed with schizophrenia and held in a psychiatric hospital. Authorities brought him back to Nikolskoye to convince his followers to leave the cave, where he attempted suicide by hitting himself in the head with a log. He was in stable condition after an emergency operation. Local prosecutor Grigori Zhitenev told reporters that Kuznetsov's motives for attempting suicide included "that the end of the world has not come."

Per ABC News, small groups continued emerging from the cave throughout the winter, but nine cult members ended up staying in the cave for a total of six months, only leaving the cave after two people died and "the stench of rotting corpses threatened them with intoxication." The members were provided with a cow upon their exit from the cave, as they refused to drink milk from cartons with bar codes. Members of the True Orthodox Church reportedly considered bar codes to be satanic symbols. The Cult Education Institute reported that at the end of the investigation into the deaths of the two cult members within the cave, authorities blew up the cave to prevent locals and tourists from entering it.