(dpa) - Two members of an extreme Orthodox sect that holed up in a cave to prepare for the Apocalypse died and were buried during the cult's half-year underground vigil, a sect leader said Wednesday.
Vitaly Nedogon, a cult member who led 14 of his brethren out of their dug-out last month, told news channel Russian Today that authorities were keeping secret the news of the two women's deaths.
"Two people died while in the bunker. They are buried there. One woman called Tamara died of cancer, the other woman from Belarus died while fasting," Nedogon told Russian Today.
Local officials in the Penza region about 460 miles south-east of Moscow say they will not confirm the deaths until they can inspect the bunker, where 11 cultists have remained barricaded.
Security forces have been guarding the fields above the cave around the clock since a media frenzy broke last November when 35 cultists were discovered to have barricaded themselves underground.
The sect, who anticipate the Apocalypse this spring, stockpiled food, gas and kerosene for their winter hibernation and threatened to blow themselves up if authorities tried to remove them.
After months of negotiations most of the sect emerged from the cave apparently believing that breaches in their subterranean lair provoked by the spring thaw were a divine sign.
Cult leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, 44, who did not join his followers underground, was released from a state psychiatric ward to help coax the cultists back above ground.
The cult is a Russian Orthodox splinter group that claims to be the "true" church and rejects modernity. Kuznetsov forbid members from paying taxes and buying products with a bar code, calling these identification codes satanic numbers.
The Russian Orthodox Church and the government have worried over the rapid growth of religious groups since the fall of the Soviet Union.