The end is near. The world as we know it will end on December 21, when cataclysmic events will leave a trail of destruction and cause near-total human extinction on Earth.
At any rate, that's the belief held by some people worldwide based on interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar.
Despite the best efforts of scholars, officials, and religious leaders to debunk the theory, fears of an impending apocalypse have elicited panic, humorous spin-offs, and many shameless attempts to cash in on the rumors.
Perhaps nowhere has the doomsday craze taken hold more than in Russia and Ukraine, where prices for candles and other household staples have soared as families stock up ahead of December 21.
Panic-buying has been taking place across Russia, with people reportedly hoarding torches, matches, thermos flasks, and kerosene lamps. Oddly, the industrial city of Novokuznetsk has witnessed a run on salt.
In the Siberian city of Tomsk, what began as a gag idea to offer end-of-the-world survival kits has since turned into a profitable business venture.
"People have been talking about the end of the world a lot lately, so we decided to joke about it," Aleftina Popova, an employee at Marina Mendelson, the wedding agency offering the kits, says. "We came up with this kit to show people how to laugh about such things."
Popova says people from all over Russia have ordered the kit online
. "It's definitely been a successful project," she quips.
The kit, which goes for 890 rubles ($29), contains a length of rope, bandage, a notepad, vodka, a can of sprats, a bar of soap, and several other items deemed necessary to survive an apocalypse.
Russian officials, however, are not amused. A group of lawmakers in Russia's State Duma has written to the heads of federal television channels urging them not to disseminate "pseudoscientific information about the end of the world."
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov, and Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief health inspector, have felt the need to weigh in to discourage rumors about the Earth's pending demise.
In Italy, the Vatican's top astronomer has also sought to quell anxieties about December 21, describing the various doomsday scenarios based on the Mayan calendar as "not even worth discussing."
NASA, the U.S. space agency, has even taken the unusual step of publishing a fact sheet titled "Beyond 2012: Why the World Won't End."
Mayan priests hold a water-blessing ceremony at the Noc Ac cenote, a natural deep deposit of water, in Yucatan, Mexico, on December 15 within the framework of a cultural festival to celebrate the end of the Mayan calendar.
But one government head has put a fun spin on things. In a spoof video posted on the Internet early this month, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, looking grave, announced the impending apocalypse that "the world is about to end."
She continued: "Whether the final blow comes from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell beasts, or from the total triumph of K-Pop [Korean pop music], if you know one thing about me, it's this: I will always fight for you to the very end."
Meanwhile, efforts to capitalize on the current doomsday-mania are in full swing.
A number of companies, from automaker Chevrolet
to Shock Top
, a U.S. beer, have released Armageddon-themed commercials in a bid to boost sales.
In Serbia, hotels on the eastern Rtanj Mountain are being swarmed by tourists who believe it will be spared when the rest of the world turns to rubble on December 21.
According to popular belief, the mountain hides a pyramid structure left behind by aliens more than a thousand years ago that will shield it from destruction.
"We've seen frenzy here in the past 10 days," says Obrad Blecic, a manager of one of the local hotels. "People are calling us to book rooms, but we're already fully booked out. We are usually only 20 percent full. Two or three families from Austria contacted us as well as domestic customers from major cities in Serbia, including Belgrade. People keep calling us, and when we tell them we are full they ask if they can stay in the parking lot or in the restaurant."
At least two other mountain hamlets, one in France and one in Turkey, have also been touted by doomsday cults as safe havens and are experiencing an unprecedented tourist boom -- prompting locals to offer room and board at exorbitant prices.
A number of enterprising doomsday aficionados have preferred taking matters into their own hands.
A Chinese farmer, for instance, has built seven spheres from fiberglass and steel
that he hopes will allow their passengers to ride out the end of the world.
In the United States, developer Larry Hall has transformed a former rocket silo in Kansas into several luxurious survival condos. At least three of the units have already been sold, each for $2 million.
Amid the global doomsday craze, few have stopped to listen to what native Mayan communities have to say on the matter.
According to ethnic Mayans, the end of the ancient Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 does not herald any catastrophe -- simply the beginning of a new calendar.
They condemn the financial exploitation of their cultural heritage and plan to mark the day with private ceremonies at Mayan archaeological sites, far from the massive crowds expected to flock to Mexico and Central America for end-of-the-world concerts and fireworks.
RFE/RL Balkans Service correspondent Branko Vuckovic contributed to this report