The ubiquitous blue and yellow flags flown throughout an unusually united West reflect support of Ukraine's courageous fight against Russia's invasion. The flag itself reflects something too: blue skies over golden wheat fields, apt for the "breadbasket" of Europe.

Russia, too, has been blessed with fertile fields, and together the two nations account for about 30% of the world's wheat and barley, according to the United Nations, which this week issued a brief from the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance. "The war in Ukraine," the U.N. said, "is setting in motion a three-dimensional crisis — on food, energy and finance — that is producing alarming cascading effects to a world economy already battered by COVID-19 and climate change."

The world, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report, is "now facing a perfect storm that threatens to devastate the economies of developing countries. The people of Ukraine cannot bear the violence being inflicted on them. And the most vulnerable people around the globe cannot become collateral damage in yet another disaster for which they bear no responsibility."

And yet they soon will, assuming Russia continues its war — and war crimes, as the West now nearly unanimously consider Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutality. And the emptier breadbasket won't be just in Europe, but in other countries that have been big importers of Ukrainian and Russian grains.

The war "is creating systemic ripple effects through what we call the food-water-energy nexus," said Bram Govaerts, secretary general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Govaerts, speaking from India as part of a virtual Wilson Center panel on Tuesday titled "System Shock: Russia's War and Global Food, Energy and Mineral Supply Chains," added that the Ukrainian-Russian breadbasket exports traditionally go to North African and Middle Eastern nations as well as countries in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

"All of a sudden," Govaerts said, "we're going to be in a situation that the food that we eat is not going to reach those areas." For the food that is available, it becomes "an availability issue related to purchasing power, especially for those that are already at the verge of poverty or are food insecure," he said, adding that war-related fertilizer shortages and rising fuel costs will decrease yields, and increase hunger, globally. "Food-related issues," he said, were "one of the factors that catalyzed the Arab Spring." We "didn't see that one coming, or we weren't quite clear about it." Now, he said, "we cannot say we didn't know."

The International Crisis Group sees it coming, too. In a commentary issued on Thursday, the ICG said of the price spike in grain and fuel: "It is not implausible that the region witnesses another eruption of social unrest and even conflict as a result of economic hardship and governments' inability to adequately address it."

The world also cannot now say that it didn't know that parts of Ukraine itself are being "starved to death."

Because that's the repeated description David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, used in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday. Especially in Mariupol, where more than 100,000 Ukrainians are trapped by a Russian siege. The invaders haven't allowed in aid, but the aid group, Beasley said, "will not give up on the people of Mariupol and other people that we cannot reach. But it's a devastating situation: the people being starved to death."

It's not the first time Russian repression has starved Ukrainians.

In the early 1930s, a mass, man-made famine resulted in the Holodomor, which essentially means genocide by starvation, according to Ellen J. Kennedy, the executive director of World Without Genocide at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

The collectivization of agriculture, and a perceived need to extinguish any yearning of Ukrainian independence, let alone identity, led to the deaths of about 3.5 million (the world will never know the true toll of Josef Stalin's homicidal rule in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Soviet Union). At the height of the Holodomor, Kennedy said, Ukrainians were reportedly dying at a rate of 28,000 a day, 1,167 an hour and 19 every minute — and an estimated 30% of those starved were children under the age of 10.

"Stalin's genocide had two prompts," Kennedy said. "The starvation, killing and the deportation of Ukrainians, to get rid of any potential power of the Ukrainian people through those means." The second, she said, "through the forced migration of the ethnic Russians, particularly in the east," which reverberates today, particularly in the Donbass region — the site of regrouping Russian forces after their failure to capture Kyiv and other portions of Ukraine.

The consequences of the Holodomor are still being felt in the collective memory of Ukrainians who are steeled against yet another attempt to steal their nationhood.

"Stalin essentially ruined the breadbasket," Kennedy said. "Russia is ruining the breadbasket again, for its own ideological purposes."

Grigoriy Tkachenko, a farmer from northern Ukraine, told the New York Times that after working on Soviet-era collective farms he bought about 15 acres and seven cows in 2005. Since then, he expanded to 3,700 acres and 170 cows. "We built over decades," he told the Times. "They destroyed it over just a few days."

Tragically, it's not just Tkachenko's farm, but an entire agricultural system. And the impact goes well beyond the land of blue skies over golden wheat fields. The longer the war in Ukraine continues the higher the chance it becomes even more of a profound geopolitical event.

"Global systems — food, energy, mineral systems — are at risk. And we're watching a war that's already experiencing civilian atrocities and has the risk of escalation. This is an incredibly dangerous moment," Sharon Burke, a senior fellow in the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, said during Tuesday's panel. Burke, who served in both the State and Defense Departments, added that "ultimately, the number one solution is that we need Russia to agree to a cease-fire and to stop its attack on its neighbor."

Guterres rightly concurred on the first step away from further catastrophe when he said, "Above all, this war must end. We need to silence the guns and accelerate negotiations toward peace, now. For the people of Ukraine. For the people of the region. And for the people of the world."

We must, concluded Burke, "find a way out. But even given that there are ways that we can avert this system shock globally in this catastrophe, it's going to require all of us to act like everything's on the line, because it is."

John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.