MOSCOW -- Early every morning across the Soviet Union, thousands of people rub the sleep from their eyes and sit in front of the television waiting to be healed. About 7:15 a.m., Allan Chumak appears on "120 Minutes," the Soviet equivalent of the "Today" show. Sitting behind a desk, the owlish middle-aged man with a mane of white hair stares at the camera and flings his hands about, as if he were petting an irritable cat. Five minutes of silent thrashing, and he is done. Chumak's followers -- and there are hundreds of thousands of them according to the telegrams, letters and bouquets of flowers he gets every day -- say they feel his "healing energy," even via videotape. They put bottles of water and open tubes of cold cream in front of his televised image, worshiping this Good Samaritan version of the czarist mystic Rasputin. Later in the day, they drink "Chumak-charged" water and rub the charged cream on themselves for further healing. "What I provide has never been offered in this country," Chumak says at his apartment in north Moscow. "I am in touch with another world, a kind of energy." Downstairs dozens of people, many of them invalids from distant cities and villages, wait in the hope that the healer will descend in the elevator and get in touch with them. "Sometimes," Chumak goes on dreamily, "I imagine the whole planet is watching me on television. I'm not a panacea for everything, but I can help them live better lives, without pain." Recently the government newspaper Izvestia reported that "practically every city now has its own popular extrasensory healer." But Chumak's only popular rival in the extra-medical profession in the Soviet Union is the Ukrainian hypnotist Anatoly Kashpirovsky. On television recently, Kashpirovsky showed how he had helped a woman lose more than 200 pounds through the power of suggestion. Using a video hookup between his home in Kiev and an operating theater in Moscow, Kashpirovsky also "guided" through open abdominal surgery a woman who could not use normal anesthesia. "Just close your eyes and sing 'The Poplar Tree,' " Kashpirovsky said. And so she did. Moscow talks of little else. At the end of his program, Kashpirovsky told his viewers, "Now all of you who watched me can go to the dentist and get a tooth pulled. There will be no pain at all. I assure you." Until recently, healers like Chumak and Kashpirovsky would have been guided, ungently, by their local police to the nearest jail or psychiatric hospital. Glasnost, miserable medical care and a certain naive belief in extrasensory powers have led to their remarkable success in the Soviet Union. Chumak especially has become a star, the subject of countless interviews and profiles in the Soviet press. Although his neighbors don't like it much, Chumak holds an occasional seance outside his apartment building. These are unannounced events, and people from all over the country manage to make their way to the capital to feel the energy at the house just off Prospect Mira. Taxi drivers demand 25 rubles from people wanting Chumak's address. "These people have pain in their lives and they come to me. How can I deny them?" says Chumak, a former journalist for state television. On a cool, late-summer evening recently, more than 300 people gathered in Chumak's parking lot. "I came here all the way from Kemerovo in Siberia," says Lyubova Gornaya, a 50-year-old woman suffering from asthma, bronchitis and a bad leg. "Doctors are worth nothing. With Chumak, I can feel his energy all through me. But now I want to get closer than television." "Allan Chumak is our last hope," says Klava Kholorolo from Rostov. "My granddaughter has an awful leg. She limps. So I brought her picture here with me. I know it will help." Chumak pulls up in a blue sedan at the scheduled hour. The crowd, mostly elderly or middle-aged, gathers around him, pressing small gifts and bunches of chrysanthemums into his hands. After a few minutes he mounts a set of concrete steps. "Comrades, I heal people, not diseases," Chumak begins. With a friend recording the session on videotape, Chumak stares out over the heads of all the men and the women and the children, his face taking on a look of utter gravity. Then he begins to wave his hands about, this time a bit more broadly, like a third-base coach flashing signals to a nearsighted runner. Some in the crowd hold up their bottles of water and tubes of cold cream. Others hold pictures of loved ones who were too ill to make the long trip to Moscow. They stand in silence, watching this, feeling it. Then it is over. Chumak drops his hands to his sides. "Comrades, thank you. What I would like you to do now is ask no questions, let's have no discussion. Just quietly, calmly, make your way home. Try to dwell on what you have just felt, and try to avoid the hurly-burly of your everyday lives." Upstairs in his apartment, Chumak is surrounded by family and admirers. The living room and kitchen are crammed with stacks of telegrams and letters, hundreds of thousands of them. One woman writes from Astrakhan in Central Asia that she has lost 240 pounds in three weeks on a diet of Chumak's tele-charged water. Others write that they have been cured of diabetes, tumors, backaches, detached retinas, partial paralysis, depression, allergies, kidney disease. Chumak pulls out one telegram at random: "SINCERELY GRATEFUL STOP HAD CHRONIC TACHYCARDIA AND GASTRITIS STOP DOCTORS COULDNT CURE ME STOP NOW THANKS TO YOU I LIVE WITHOUT MEDICINE STOP THANKS SERGEI OF NOVOCHERKASSK" "People even come to me from abroad," Chumak says. "From Romania, Argentina, West Germany." Eleven years ago, Chumak set out as a journalist for the Soviet press agency Novosti to "unmask" a faith healer. But while researching his article, he discovered that his own "aura," his own magnetic field, was a "phenomenon." He began curing people. The people around him, his mother included, thought he had "gone nuts." But after a while, he says, "they came to understand and believe me. I have a gift the way someone like Pushkin or Dostoevski had a gift. I have to use it." Chumak quit journalism, and now he works full time as a saver of body and soul. He says he does not accept money from people "except when they transfer it to my bank account with no return address or slip it under the door. What can I do?" He also conducts paid seances at factories. "That's more than enough to keep my family going," he said. At first the state producers who run "120 Minutes" took Chumak off the air. But after the mail poured in protesting the decision, he returned to his usual time slot, after rhythmic gymnastics and the morning headlines. Researchers at the Soviet Academy of Sciences have set up a collective called Image to investigate the "auras" of healers. Physicist Yuri Gulyayev says his team is interested in the "dynamic mapping of the physical fields and emanations that people make" and says such research has "colossal possibilities." Strange, but the healer chain-smokes and he doesn't seem to pay much mind to his weight. "Oh, yeah, it's true. I smoke and I like to eat," he says. "But you know what Jesus Christ said: It's the dirt in your soul, not in your body, that does you the most harm." Chumak, for his part, will not be content to heal the world. He also wants to change the weather, if need be, and help feed the Soviet Union. He claims to have scattered clouds in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas and is thinking about helping the country out of its miserable food situation. "Vast amounts of our farm produce just rots before it can get to the stores," he says. "Now we're doing an experiment to see if I can radiate the energy that will be a preservative and help store fruits and vegetables." A nation of empty shelves is waiting to find out.