33 Brilliant Facts About Belarus, the “Lungs of Europe”

Belarus may not be super high on your bucket list of places to visit, not to mention its poor track record when it comes to democratic rights. A relatively unexplored part of Europe, and with strong connections with Russia, Belarus is nevertheless rich in history, home to rare bison, and almost half of it is covered in forest.

In today’s article, we delve into the unique world of Belarus by introducing you to some informative, fun, and unusual facts. Let’s get started!

General Belarus Facts

1. Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It shares borders with Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

2. Belarusian and Russian are the country’s official languages, with Belarusian being the primary language. Over 85% of the population speaks Belarusian. That’s approximately 7 million people.

A ray of light shining between trees in a forest
Nearly half of the country is covered in forest

3. Belarus is quite religious. Christianity is the main religion. Around three-quarters of Belarusians are Orthodox Christians. Only 7.8% of the total population doesn’t follow any religion. 

4. Belarus is sometimes called the “Lungs of Europe”. approximately 40% of Belarus is covered by forest. The country boasts diverse landscapes, including forests, lakes, and rivers. The Białowieża Forest is one of Europe’s last and largest primeval forests. Shared with Poland, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Belarus is a relatively flat country. The highest peak is Dzyarzhynskaya Hill, which is just 345 meters (1,132 feet) tall. The average elevation of Belarus is only 160 meters (525 feet). That’s just 9 meters higher than the Statue of Liberty!

6. Belarus was one of the first places to be inhabited by Slavic people. The Slavs first settled in Belarus between the 6th and 8th centuries CE. Today, these people are spread across Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.

7. Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, along with other former Soviet republics. However, its political landscape has been marked by ongoing debates about national identity and relations with Russia.

Interesting Facts about Belarusian History 

Ruined walls of an old fortress in Belarus
Ruins of an ancient fortress

8. Belarus has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Archaeological excavations in Belarus suggest that early Belarusians practiced human sacrifice. It is believed they would offer humans as offerings to appease deities or spirits. 

9. Ancient burial sites have been found with the remains of deer buried alongside humans. These animals were likely revered or symbolized spiritual connections in ancient Belarusian cultures.

10. Due to the countless wars fought there, Belarus may have the largest amount of hidden and buried treasures in Europe. Some expert treasure hunters even believe that Napoleon’s 80 tonnes of gold might have been hidden near Rudnya, Belarus.

11. The Drevlians, an ancient Slavic tribe in Belarus, tried to marry off Princess Olga to Prince Igor of Kyiv after killing her husband. Instead of marrying Igor, Olga avenged her husband’s death by incapacitating the Drevlians with alcohol. She then had her men execute them.

12. Thanks to the country’s Slavic heritage, the Belarusian people have worn impressive national costumes for hundreds of years. Rather regal looking, most costumes consist of vibrant embroidered shirts, trousers, and dresses. Costumes can vary from region to region.

A middle-aged man holding a basket and wearing a traditional Belarusian red vest, shirt, and hat
A Slavic man wearing traditional Belarusian clothing

13. Belarus has a complex history, having been part of various empires and states throughout the centuries. These include the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.

14. The city of Minsk has long been regarded as an eternal city. It has faced destruction almost 10 times in the past but has always survived. The city has almost 1,000 years of history. 

15. Kamenets Tower, part of the Kamenets Castle complex, is rumored to have mystical properties. It is said that standing on certain stones inside the tower can heal ailments and grant wishes.

16. Belarus is home to one of the oldest Slavic festivals – Maslenitsa. This pre-Lenten celebration involves eating pancakes and participating in various folk games and rituals. Maslenitsa marks the transition from winter to spring.

17. One of the oldest folk holidays in Belarus, Kupalle, has pagan roots. This traditional midsummer celebration involves bonfires, dancing, and rituals centered around nature, water, and fire. 

Close up of a person's hands with flowers tied around the wrist and the person is wearing a white shawl for a ceremony
Kupalle festival rituals

18. Belarus was the biggest-hit Soviet Republic in World War II. Belarus lost approximately a quarter of its pre-war population and the Germans destroyed more than 200 of the 290 cities in the nation.

19. Lee Harvey Oswald, who shot JFK, once lived in Belarus. The famous US marine had lived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus (called “Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic” at the time), before returning to America and committing the crime – there are many conspiracy theories related to it.

20. In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster just across the border in Ukraine devastated Belarus. The nuclear disaster impacted more than 20% of the country’s landscape. Today, some parts of Belarus landscape are still uninhabitable. The Polesie State Radioecological Reserve on the Belarus side was only just recently opened to visits.

Unusual Facts about Modern Belarus

21. Belarus has a total land area of 207,600 km² (80,155 mi²). That makes it the 13th largest country in Europe and the 84th largest country in the world. It is between Guyana and Kyrgyzstan in size, or similar to the US state of Kansas

22. Belarus is sometimes called the “Potato Republic” due to the importance of potatoes in its cuisine. Most dishes you order in Belarus will contain some form of potato. There are believed to be more than 300 potato recipes in Belarus.

A group of bison standing in a snowy forest scene
European bison in Belarus

23. The bison is a revered animal in Belarus. It also happens to be one of the country’s national symbols. However, in the early 50s, they faced extinction. To protect the species, two European Bison were introduced to Białowieża Forest. Now, there are more than 600 in the forest.

24. Alexander Lukashenko is the longest-serving president in Europe. He has held the presidency of Belarus since 1994. That means he’s been in power for almost 3 decades.

25. When it comes to democracy, Belarus is one of the least democratic countries in the world, ranking 148th. Belarus is also the least democratic country in Europe.

26. Belarus is ranked the 6th poorest country in Europe. In 2011, things were made even worse for the Belarusian population when inflation rose above 100%. This increased the demand on the black market for foreign currency.

27. In Belarus, it is illegal to drive a dirty car. Anyone caught driving a dirty car can be issued a fine or even punished with points on their license. 

Aerial view of a very long road in Minsk
Independence Avenue, Minsk

28. In 2021, a Belarusian woman was fined over $900 for wearing the wrong colored socks. Natalia Sivtsova-Sedushkina wore red and white striped socks to a driving lesson, which authorities believe represented a banned flag. 

29. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty as a form of legal punishment. Since 2018, there have been 8 executions in Belarus and each execution was carried out by shooting.

30. Independence Avenue is the longest street in Belarus. Situated in Minsk, the street stretches for 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) and passes through 5 different squares. 

31. The National Library of Belarus is widely regarded as one of the ugliest buildings in the world. Despite being referred to as ‘The Diamond of Knowledge,’ the 74-meter (242-foot) tall structure hasn’t been well received since its opening in 2006. 

An unusual, octagonal shaped building
Considered the world’s ugliest building

32. In recent years, Belarus has been accused of torturing prisoners and political protestors. According to the International Human Rights Organization, detention centers across the country are now “torture chambers.”

33. Belarus is also helping Russia in the war against Ukraine. It has allowed Russia to use its territory as a staging ground for attacks and weapons placements.