Coal depot in the Kemerovo Oblast.
Coal depot in the Kemerovo Oblast. SPUTNIK / Alamy Stock Photo

When you think of Siberia, it’s not hard to conjure images of permafrost valleys or picturesque frosty mountain tops. It’s ideal imagery for the cover of a postcard. But in the cities of in Prokopyevsk, Kiselyovsk, and Leninsk-Kuznetskyin in the Kuzbass region, the snowy landscapes now resemble a scene from a dystopian novel instead.

Also known as the Kemerovo Oblast, the Kuzbass region is located in the western part of Siberia, and is home to more than 2.5 million people. Between the months of November and March, the average daily high temperatures in the region are often below 23 degrees Fahrenheit, so residents expect to deal with harsh arctic conditions and heavy snowfall.

What isn’t expected is for the snow to be black in color and littered with toxins. The region accounts for more than half of all Russian coal production with valuable coal deposits spanning for more than 10,000 square miles. According to The Guardian, activists in the region say that coal dust from open-pit mines is causing the problem. Once these particles hit the air, they mingle with the snow creating its black hue.

“There is a lot of coal dust in the air all the time. When snow falls, it just becomes visible,” said Vladimir Slivyak, a member of the Ecodefense environmental group, to The Guardian. The black snow, along with the open pits, are putting the residents living in the Kuzbass at serious risk.

Coal dust particles contain a murderer’s row of harmful agents, such as lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, mercury, antimony, and arsenic, to name a few. Tuberculosis rates in the Kuzbass region are almost twice the national average. Kuzbass is also home to some of the highest child cerebral palsy rates in Russia. For years, activists have pointed to the pits and factories as the source of these problems, but they say the government has shown little concern. In fact, in December 2018, after a similar sighting of black snow, several reports emerged from the Kemerovo region of residents finding snow that had been painted white by Russian officials.