MOSCOW — At least 20 children have been discovered living in an underground bunker beneath a house in Kazan, in the eastern republic of Tatarstan.
Prosecutors say that many of the children have never seen sunlight because they weren't allowed to leave the bunker and that their parents are being investigated for possible child abuse.
Russian officials discovered the Islamist sect on the outskirts of the city, which is located about 800 kilometers west of Moscow. At least 70 adults and 20 children were living in an area beneath the building's basement.
Irina Petrova, an aide to Kazan’s prosecutor, described the living conditions as less than human.
"The premises consist of cells without natural light and ventilation dug into the ground," she said. "It is an eight-level anthill. Not only adults were living on these premises, but also children."
After the bunker was discovered, the children, many of whom were born underground, were brought to clinics to be checked.
"Children were in satisfactory condition. They were all fed, although they were dirty. Upon receiving them, we washed them," said Tatiana Moroz, head of Kazan’s in-patient children’s clinic, explaining that all of the children have been examined by a range of specialists. "Saturday the full analysis will be finished and we will give our final conclusion about the condition of their health."
Prosecutors reported that one of the girls found underground was 17 and pregnant.
Officials said that no one has been arrested in conjunction with the sect, but police have opened an investigation that could culminate in charges of child abuse. The youngest child found was 17-months old.
One former sect member who asked to remain anonymous said living with the group was not easy.
"The living conditions were spartan, everyone made do as he was able," the former member said. "We also put the beds together by hand; other things were found and brought — things like a metal bed. The children slept in these conditions. There were not enough clothes. Some people donated clothes. Some people took clothes from garbage bins and brought them."
The group’s founder, 83-year-old Fayzrahman Saratov, who declared himself a prophet, defended the sect and the fact that the group cut all ties with the outside world.
"I left my daughter, I left all my relatives," said Saratov. "[I] told them, if you want to live as a follower of Allah, you should come here. I will give you a place. We will feed you, give you clothes. Allah will provide clothing and if you are not going to follow Allah, go away from here."
The court system will decide whether the children remain with their parents. Meanwhile, prosecutors said they will make a request to have the underground bunker demolished.