On a continent thousands of miles away, a Binghamton University doctoral student aims to uncover Soviet-era policies and their profound effects on the Siberian environment.
Mariia Koskina, a fourth-year Ph.D. student studying history, has traveled across the world for her doctoral research, which focuses on the “Green Race’’ between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s and the Russian struggle to balance economic development and prowess with environmental protection on the untouched Siberian landscape. Specifically, Koskina’s research took her to the city of Krasnoyarsk, home of a powerful hydroelectric dam on the Yenisei River. Her research investigates the effects of the aluminum factory powered by the dam, which has been linked to toxic smog and parts of the Yenisei River forever being unfrozen, despite the frigid Siberian temperatures dropping below -65 degrees Fahrenheit.
While Koskina admits the effects of the hydroelectric dam helped many locals feel more secure in terms of economics and safety, the more subtle, negative externalities are often overlooked.
“To an extent, the local population benefited from an unfrozen river, which brought the possibility of winter navigation, lowered the risks of spring floods and created better conditions for hydraulic engineering,” Koskina wrote in an email. “Yet, the anomaly affected the microclimate, dramatically changing the humidity and biological rhythms to which local ecosystems were accustomed. The soaring river is now a health and visibility hazard. The occurrence reminds us of the last decades’ warnings about melting glaciers, ice caps and permafrost, which is a harbinger of the imminent rise in world temperature.”
Koskina’s dissertation has been pivotal for environmental research, receiving various grants, including the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies Dissertation Research Grant. More recently, she received the Stanford United States-Russia Forum (SURF) fellowship, joining scholars from 11 countries whose research focuses on mutual policies between the United States and Russia.
The theme of environmental sacrifices for industry was a centerpiece in Koskina’s upbringing in Tula, Russia. Most of Koskina’s family income came from working in a metallurgical plant, which would cause the air and crops to be covered in soot and other pollutants. When she came to the United States, she found a renewed love of the environment, which became one of her main motivations to research this topic.
Heather DeHaan, associate professor of history, is Koskina’s doctoral adviser. DeHaan was a pivotal figure for Koskina’s academia and research, helping her in the early stages of her dissertation. However, as Koskina is now in the fourth year of her research, DeHann views her adviser role as a mutual learning experience rather than just a professor.
“While I still offer suggestions on her research, writing, grant applications and teaching, I am also learning from [Koskina’s] research — and frankly inspired by her ideas and findings,” DeHaan wrote in an email. “It is a delightful moment, where my main role as an adviser is to be a ‘good listener.’ When [Koskina] expresses as-yet-unprocessed thoughts and findings, I reflect back to her what I think I’ve understood about her work. Sometimes, I compare something she has shared to something I have read or come across in my own research. She then clarifies reflections, based on what I have said. In such conversations, we learn from one another.”
Stephen Ortiz, associate professor of history and collegiate professor of College-in-the-Woods, was there for the beginning of Koskina’s academic journey, teaching modern U.S. history when she was a graduate student. Ortiz was a patient support system to Koskina, as English was her second language, which allowed him to see her growth as a student and researcher.
“An underappreciated aspect of graduate student success — academic success, really — is how well someone can observe, listen and grow,” Ortiz wrote in an email. “[Koskina] is as smart as any graduate student I’ve had here, but she developed into the scholar she is now because of these absolutely vital skills. I am so happy to see [Koskina’s] academic successes. The accolades she receives couldn’t happen to a better person, either.”
Koskina believes her research is important, especially in today’s society, and hopes her research highlights the importance of environmental policies.
“From a global perspective, if you imagine our planet as a car that humanity drives, then it seems to me that, with all the technology that humanity possesses, we are now in full control, but we are rushing through all the red lights at the moment,” Koskina wrote. “Unlike cars, which get replaced all the time and make up an unthinkable amount of junk, we are risking to inflict irreparable damage to the environment. Not to be alarmist, but we are running out of time, and a comprehensive reorganization and rethinking of our industry and consumption practices are required as soon as possible so that we do not lose everything we love.”