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The members of a doomsday sect who quit on Friday
The members of a doomsday sect who quit on Friday the dugout in central Russia where they had been waiting for the end of the world for around six months are to pack their bags and leave for home with the planet still intact.

"Documents are being prepared by immigration officials to allow those [three] sect members who are from Belarus to return to their homeland," said Alexander Provotorov, the head of the Bekov District in the Penza Region.

"The rest, Russian citizens, also plan to go home. They have all agreed to leave the area voluntarily," he added, also saying that none of the sect members were from the Penza Region.

The story has gripped Russia since 35 members of the sect went underground in November to wait for the end of the world, which they initially claimed would come in May. The group's leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, is reported to have said that they would be given the power to decide who would be sent to hell and who would go to heaven after the Apocalypse. The sect pledged to commit mass suicide if any attempt was made to force them to come to the surface.

Following the collapse of the dugout's roof after heavy rain in late March, 24 members of the group quit the shelter. It was subsequently revealed that two members of the sect had perished in the dugout, one from malnutrition brought about during fasting, and another from cancer. Both bodies were buried in the shelter.

The remaining nine sect members then said they would come to the surface after a religious holiday in mid-June.

The end of the sect members' wait for the End came on Friday as the stench from the dead bodies led to them agreeing to rescue workers' proposals to remove the corpses. As the corpses were being pulled out, rescuers suggested that the sect members also come to the surface, and they agreed.

After spending some six months underground, the sect members are, surprisingly, said to be in good health.

"After leaving the dugout, they [the sect members] were examined by a doctor. They have no health problems. They also have no eyesight problems, something that doctors had been worried about," said Provotorov.

Kuznetsov, who did not join the group underground, speaking of "another mission in life," remains in an asylum in Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Despite one member of the sect claiming that the group is an offshoot of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the sect has generally been considered part of a wave of extreme Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and some former Soviet republics. Adherents of this radical form of Christianity refuse to own passports, as they "contain the number of the Beast", and will not handle money or consume products packaged in containers bearing 'Satanic' barcodes.

Russia has seen a great number of sects throughout its history. One of the most famous of these was the Skoptsy, who castrated themselves and cut off women's breasts 'to avoid sexual temptation and sin'. The sect was first reported in the 18th century and is known to have still existed in the 1920s.

Another notorious sect was the Khlysty, an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Khlysty believed that the way to salvation lay through the repentance of sins. The greater the sin, the greater the repentance, the Khlysty reasoned, and following this logic they rejected conventional doctrines of 'right and wrong', indulging in sins that they could later confess to, being in this way 'pleasing to God.' Grigori Rasputin, the mysterious monk who had a major influence on the Tsar and the Tsarina prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, is believed to have had links to the group, which was active from the 17th century to the early 20th.

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