'In these complicated times': An environmental history of irrigated agriculture in post-communist Ukraine

Brian Kuns
Department of Human Geography, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden; brian.kuns@humangeo.su.se

ABSTRACT: This paper examines irrigation in post-communist Southern Ukraine, mapping the continuity of late Soviet investments in centre pivot irrigation technology in the post-Soviet period, but also situating this large-scale irrigation in a regional context where there are significant, but uneven, changes in water access. Framing irrigation change within long-term environmental history, this paper argues that post-Soviet developments are the consequence of a collapsing modernisation project. An Actor Network approach is used to explore the ontological politics surrounding possible alternative uses of irrigated farm fields, as well as the 'agency' of centre pivot irrigation technology, which 'acts' to undermine landowners’ rights. This is noted as ironic, because the technology was originally imported from the United States during the Cold War, while post-communist land reform was influenced by the Washington Consensus. Uneven water access near the area with centre pivot irrigation is explored. Understanding this uneven geography puts post-Soviet agrarian change in Ukraine in perspective, identifying the disappearance of collective farms as a factor driving changing water access. The paper concludes that 20th century Soviet investments in irrigation are potentially more sustainable than comparable investments in other countries – as in the American West – complicating the conventionally negative view of Soviet environmental management.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, agrarian change, environmental history, Ukraine, USSR