(AP) - Seven women who are members of a Russian cult that has been holed up in a cave for months awaiting the end of the world have emerged and are being treated by emergency workers, regional officials said Friday.
More than two dozen members who remain inside the cave could come out as early as Saturday, said the official in the governor's office of the Penza region, about 645 kilometers (400 miles) southeast of Moscow.
He said four children, who were reportedly under the age of two, were among those remaining inside the cave.
Penza Vice Governor Oleg Melnichenko said in televised comment that the group's leader, self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, was brought from a local psychiatric hospital to help persuade the women to come out. He said the women -- six Russians, one Belarussian -- emerged voluntarily, carrying satchels with their belongings.
"They refused help and walked on their own for some 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) to a nearby prayer house," he was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti. "There is no reason to urgently hospitalize any of them."
He said officials feared that melting snow could eventually lead to the collapse of the cave, but there was no immediate threat to those who remained behind.
The cultists dug the cave near the village of Nikolskoye and a total of 35 people entered it in early November to wait for the end of the world, which they said would happen in May. They told authorities that they would detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.
Officials had repeatedly enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.
Earlier this week, Melnichenko told reporters that some of the cultists had indicated they might leave the cave on Orthodox Easter, which is April 27.
Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence. Earlier this week, officials said they had seized literature that included what appeared to be extremist rhetoric. He has been confined to a psychiatric hospital since last November.
An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov, who goes by the title of 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 television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.