Hundreds of Instagram users have recently posted from the “Siberian Maldives” in the middle of Russia, though the aqua blue water behind them is not a natural wonder but a man-made ash dump.

Residents of the city of Novosibirsk, in Siberia, live close to the Thermoelectric Center 5 – run by the private firm Siberian Generating Company – which burns brown coal to generate power for the area, though a body of water has recently become a hotspot for photos.

More than 2,000 Instagram posts have used the hashtag “Ash Dump” and hundreds more have tagged TEC-5 since the beginning of June, when the area was highlighted in a report by local journalist Darya Yanush and photographer Alexander Oschepkov.

“Local people knew about it for a long time, but after our article, there was mass interest… In the rough conditions of Siberia, blue water is unusual, to say the least. It seems like something from the Maldives, but two kilometers from dusty and dirty Novosibirsk”, he told the France 24 Observers.

Instagram users in Novosibirsk began posting under a hashtag for "ash dump" as well as the name of the nearby power plant.


News of the place spread widely, including in a video produced by Russia’s far-reaching state media channel Russia One, which showed how some Instagram users cast the blue water as a faux-tropical background for their photos.

“There are a million questions about what this wondrous place is and where it is located,” Instagram user Riga09 wrote on Instagram. “It is not a wondrous place and you categorically cannot swim here.”

Interest around the ash dump led the Siberian Generating Company to explain that the lake was man-made to hold water mixed with ash and slag from burnt coal, with calcium salts that create a blue color with depth. It said that the water had a high PH level and could cause skin reactions for those who touch it, though published videos with radioactivity detection equipment to show that the lake is not radioactive, as some online rumors suggested.

However, some scientists say that the ash dump is more dangerous to the public than the energy company lets on given a change in fuel type. Ecologist Viktor Alexandrov, a docent at Novosibirsk State Technical University, in December called for more studies into what effect the water in the dump may be having on the ground water. SGC said that it disagreed with his assessment and said that its new fuel, brown coal, causes fewer emissions.

The Siberian Generating Company began posting videos to dispel rumors suggesting that the water was radioactive.

Oschepkov told the Observers that there has previously been opposition against the power plant, with members of the city council blasting the fuel change as good for the finances of the company but bad for the environment of citizens.

“I think this is going to help (the opposition),” he said of the attention to the man-made lake caused by its social media fame. “The information has already reached the national level. This will put more pressure.”

“It’s becoming very popular. I’m glad that people are learning about the Siberian wilderness in Europe, albeit not in a very nice light.”

This story was written by Christopher Brennan.(@CKozalBrennan)