Moscow-based Instagram influencer Yekaterina Didenko is facing criminal charges after causing the deaths of her husband, Valentin Didenko, 32, and two friends, Natalia Monakova and Yuri Alferov, after a dry ice disaster at her 29th birthday party over the weekend.
The Instagrammer continued updating her followers with dramatic teary-eyed updates, while the Russian Investigative Committee confirmed a criminal investigation into Yekaterina’s conduct has been opened for “causing death by negligence.” Seemingly unaware of the poisonous effects of dry ice, the social media influencer and her husband unloaded 55 lbs of the substance into a pool at a bath house—where Yekaterina was celebrating her 29th birthday—in order to create a spectacular fog effect for a selfie video.
The social media influencer, who has over 1.5 million followers on Instagram, is a qualified pharmacist and mother-of-two who gives popular advice on home medicine, and has shared videos of chemical experiments with her young daughter in the past.
Over the weekend, however, Yekaterina’s chemical knowledge failed her. In sufficiently large quantities, dry ice—frozen carbon dioxide which comprises most of the “ice caps” of planet Mars and is often featured on YouTube science channels for its dramatic fog and rapid freezing effects—can be poisonous, causing headaches, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, and, in extreme cases, lung failure.
Although her intentions were only to impress her friends and family with an awe-inspiring fog show, the unloading of 55 lbs of dry ice into the water blanketed the party in a deadly cloud that immediately began causing chemical burns, breathing difficulties, and fainting.
The party, filled with the sounds of clinking glasses and laughter only moments earlier, swiftly turned into a scene of tragedy as high levels of carbon dioxide built up in the blood of partygoers in the confined, poorly-ventilated space. Natalia Monakova and Yuri Alferov were confirmed dead on the scene. Nine were rushed to hospital, among them Yekaterina, who was initially thought dead, and her husband, who died in intensive care later that day.
Yekaterina immediately took to Instagram to update her followers regarding the accident. “I am alive,” she said in an Instagram Story. “I am behind the doors of an intensive care ward […] I don’t know who died. Valya [Valentin] is in the intensive care. I don’t know what state he is in.” Yekaterina was unaware her husband had already died.
The next day, she returned to Instagram, crying. “Valya [Valentin] is not with us any more. Or Natasha [Natalia]. Or Yura [Yuri],” she began by saying. “I did not cry yesterday… today I just exploded. I thought it was not true, it was a nightmare. Nastya woke up today – “Where is daddy?” I do not know what to say to her… She is asking me: ‘Why are you crying?’ “
The heartbroken mother saw her followers triple since the accident on Friday night. News outlets and blogs have criticized her for continuing to post on Instagram and tastelessly exploit the publicity of the tragedy, labeling her “immoral.” Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda headlined its story “Hype on Blood.” Perez Hilton had softer words, only calling the accident “very sad.”
As a criminal investigation was opened into her negligence, Yekaterina told her followers she had “signed a ban to disclose any information.” According to Crime Channel 112, the “preliminary reason for the death of three [partygoers] was mechanical asphyxia because their airways were blocked.” The three victims jumped into the pool when the dry ice was released and could not breathe.