26 interesting facts about Belarus

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The most interesting facts about Belarus, from Europe’s last dictatorship to a festival where soldiers smash bricks with their heads.

An aerial view of Minsk at sunset
Interesting facts about Belarus include its historic capital city (Egor Kunovsky/Unsplash)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Belarus
Population: 9.4 million
Area: 207,600 sq km
Capital city: Minsk
Major languages: Russian, Belarusian 
Major religions: Christianity
Time zone: UTC+3 (Moscow Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Belarus

1. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

2. Belarus was formerly known as Belorussia or White Russia.
– Source: Britannica

3. Belarus was one of the earliest places to be inhabited by Slavs, who settled in the region between the 6th and the 8th century AD. Belarus has since been ruled by Lithuania, Poland and Russia.
– Source: Britannica

A map of Belarus in Europe
Belarus borders Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine (TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0)

4. Belarus was also occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War between 1941 and 1944, when 2.2 million people died, including most of the large Jewish population.
– Source: BBC News

5. In 1919, the Russian Red Army conquered eastern Belarus (the west remained part of Poland) and established communist rule. In 1945, the entirety of Belarus became part of the USSR, eventually gaining independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
– Source: BBC News, Britannica

6. The flag of Belarus is horizontally striped red and green with a vertical stripe of red with a white embroidery pattern typical of designs found on peasant blouses and shirts. The red represents communism and the green represents the fields and forests of the country.
– Source: Britannica

A digital image of flag of Belarus
The flag of Belarus (Дмитрий-5-Аверин, CC BY-SA 3.0)

7. Belarus is known as Europe’s last dictatorship as President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, using repression and Russian support to maintain control.
– Source: The Economist

8. The name of the country is a combination of the Belarusian words “bel” meaning white and “Rus” which is an Old East Slavic ethnic designation. The words form the meaning White Rusian or White Ruthenian.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

9. Belarus bids farewell to winter and welcomes spring with the seven-day Maslenitsa festival where traditional games are played, pancakes are eaten and soldiers demonstrate their strength by smashing flaming bricks with their fists and heads.
– Source: BBC News

Belarus soldiers break blocks that are on fire
Belarus soldiers during the Maslenitsa festival (BBC)

10. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty.
– Source: Amnesty International

11. There have been five Nobel prize winners from Belarus: Simon Kuznets for Economics in 1971; Menachem Begin for Peace in 1978; Shimon Peres for Peace in 1994; Zhores Alferov for Physics in 2000; and Svetlana Alexievich for Literature in 2015.
– Source: Nobel Prize

12. The European bison, Europe’s heaviest wild animal and largest land mammal, can be found in Belarus.
– Source: The Independent, Lonely Planet

Two European bison in a field
European bison (Valène Aure, CC BY-SA 3.0)

13. The UNESCO-listed Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park (Bialowieza Forest) is the oldest wildlife refuge in Europe. The park is home to at least 55 mammal species, including deer, lynx, boar, wild horse, wolf, elk, ermine, badger, marten, otter, mink, beaver and bison.
– Source: Lonely Planet, UNESCO

14. While Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, took place in Ukraine, up to 70% of the nuclear fallout fell in Dronki in Belarus. Once home to over 20,000 people, around 2,000 sq km of irradiated land now forms an accidental nature preserve which is one of Europe’s largest wildernesses.
– Source: Lonely Planet

15. The world’s biggest dump truck is produced in Belarus. The Belaz 75710 is capable of moving 450 tonnes in one go, as long as two double-decker buses, six times as powerful as Formula 1 racing cars, weighs more than a fully-loaded Airbus A380 passenger plane, has 4m (13ft) tall tyres and costs around $10 million.
– Source: BBC Future

A car parked next to the dump truck
Interesting facts about Belarus include the world’s biggest dump truck (Max Bubnovsky, CC BY-SA 3.0)

16. While Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine all make the same claim, the geographic centre of Europe is located in the city of Polotsk in northern Belarus.
– Source: Condé Natse Traveler, Atlas Obscura

17. Belarus is a flat country with the highest point, Dzyarzhynskaya Hill, just 346m (1,135ft) high. The country’s mean elevation is only 160m (525ft).
– Source: Britannica, The Telegraph

18. The Pripyatsky National Park in Belarus is known as “the lungs of Europe” due to its biodiversity emanating from the park’s pristine marshes, swampland and floodplains. The park also contains over 250 bird species, 800 types of plants and around 50 mammal species, including approximately 100 bison.
– Source: Lonely Planet

An aerial shot of Pripyatsky National Park
Pripyatsky National Park (Viktar Palstsiuk, CC BY-SA 3.0)

19. The UNESCO-listed Struve Arc, a chain of survey triangulations stretching through 10 countries and over 2,820km (1,752 miles) from Norway to the Black Sea, passes through Belarus. The survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by the astronomer Friedrich Struve, helped to establish the exact size and shape of the Earth.
– Source: UNESCO

20. Belarussians are the world’s third heaviest smokers with the average person smoking 2,911 cigarettes a year.
– Source: The Tobacco Atlas

21. One of the most famous landmarks in Belarus is Brest Fortress. Built between 1833 and 1842, the fortress was the site of a legendary battle during the Second World War where a small band of Belarussian soldiers held off a superior Nazi force for a month.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Brest Fortress and its red walls surrounded by snow
Brest Fortress (Polina Lukianets/Unsplash)

22. Another famous site in Belarus is the UNESCO-listed Mir Castle Complex. Originally built at the end of the 15th century, the impressive castle combines a mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles and has “a long history of political and cultural confrontation and coalescence”.
– Source: UNESCO

23. The Belarussian capital, Minsk, has suffered numerous disasters over the centuries including destruction by fire, raids by the Crimean Tatars in 1505, occupation and damage by French troops in 1812, German occupation in 1918, Polish occupation in 1919–20, and most recently, almost complete destruction in the Second World War.
– Source: Britannica

24. As such, Minsk has only a few buildings remaining from the pre-war years and instead has many modern buildings such as the diamond-shaped futuristic National Library of Belarus building. As well as books, the library contains over 20,000 vinyl records, art galleries and early editions of a Bible printed in the early 16th century.
– Source: Lonely Planet1, Lonely Planet2

The diamond-shaped National Library of Belarus
The National Library of Belarus (Adam Jones, CC BY-SA 3.0)

25. Belarus has the world’s eighth-highest rate of depression. According to a 2017 report, 5.6% of Belarussians suffer from depressive disorders.
– Source: World Health Organisation (WHO)

26. Several well-known celebrities have Belarussian roots including TV and film stars Lisa Kudrow, Scarlett Johansson, Harrison Ford, Michael (and father Kirk) Douglas, and fashion designer Ralph Lauren.
– Source: BBC News, The Guardian, IMDB1, IMDB2, New York Times

Every effort has been made to verify these facts about Belarus using primary sources. However, if you find an error or have any questions, please contact us.