Our Work and Partnerships in Belarus
The Republic of Belarus is situated between Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine. 40% of Belarus is covered by forests. There are also 11,000 lakes and large areas of marshland.
This fertile land produces grain, potatoes, sugar beets and flax, but the southern part of the country was contaminated with the fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Over 60% of the fallout from the disaster fell in Belarus, making agriculture a huge challenge here.
The capital city of Belarus is Minsk located in the Minsk hills. Founded in 1067, the city is situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers and is surrounded by forests. The population of the city proper is 1.8 million, but the urban area which surrounds Minsk includes 30 satellite cities increasing the population to about 3 million.
During the German occupation (1941-1944) the local population was treated harshly by Nazi invaders. Many were forced into slave labour, homes were requisitioned for German forces and communist sympathizers were killed or imprisoned. Minsk also housed one of the largest Nazi run Jewish ghettos during WWII housing over 100,000 Jews.
The city of Minsk is a well developed industrial centre with several large factories. There is also a well developed public transit system, including the only underground subway in Belarus. It is also at the centre of the railway system connecting Russia, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania.
Belarus has a population of 10.3 million, 71% of which is urban. Ethnic Belarussians constitute 81.2% of the population, but there are also Russians, Poles and Ukrainians living in the country. It is estimated that 62.8% of Belarussians speak Russian as their first language. Belarus currently has a declining population with a death rate exceeding their birth rate. The population is also aging and by 2050, the median age will be an estimated 51 years. Up to 80% of the population follow the Eastern Orthodox religion with the other 20% made up of Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim people.
Belarus has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Russia and Belarus, signed a series of treaties outlining a union of currency, citizenship and common foreign and defense policy. In 2007, reports held that a new Russian-Belarussian state has been proposed.
Belarus was first settled by Slavic peoples in the 6th century AD. By the 9th century Varangians (or Vikings as they are known is western Europe), began to venture into this area and eventually formed and ruled the state of Kievan Rus’ throughout what is now Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
In the 12th Century, the Mongols invaded and ruled this area.
Later, many areas of Belarus were incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, Lithuania joined with Poland to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Tsarist Russia, led by Ivan the Great began to invade Belarus and Ukraine in an attempt to gain control. In 1795, the union between Poland and Lithuania ended and its territories were divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. Belarussian land was incorporated into Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great.
In 1939, The Soviet Union invaded Poland, taking the remainder of Belorussian territory. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and it remained under Nazi control until 1944. The Nazi’s destroyed 209 out of 290 cities. After the Second World War, Stalin implemented a policy of Sovietization, including limiting use of the Belorussian language. In 1988, mass graves were discovered near Minsk containing the bodies of 250,000 Belorussians executed between 1937 and 1941 – proof to the Belarussians of the Soviet governments desire to exterminate them.
As communism was crumbling, Belarus was among the first to declare its independence by issuing a declaration of sovereignty July 27, 1990. By August of 1991, they had changed their name to The Republic of Belarus.