Belarus (Беларусь; formerly the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic; previously also known as Белоруссия; Belorussia; 2016 pop est 9,498,700). A country in the watershed of the upper Dnipro River, Dvina River, and Neman River populated mainly by Belarusians. Belarus has an area of 207,600 sq km. In 1939, before the annexation of western Belarus (then part of Poland) by the USSR, the Belorussian SSR had an area of 126,000 sq km and a population of 5,570,000. The western boundaries of the country generally correspond to the ethnic borders (about 300,000 Belarusians live in Latvia; smaller numbers live in Lithuania and Poland). In the east, Belarusian ethnic territories are part of Pskov oblast, Smolensk oblast, and Briansk oblast of the Russian Federation. Because of the existence of transitional ethno-linguistic groups and the strong impact of Russification on Belarusians living outside their republic, it is difficult to define the Russian-Belarusian ethnic boundary.
Belarus has an estimated population of 9,498,700 (2016), of which 83.7 percent are Belarusian, 8.3 percent are Russian (living mostly in the cities), 1.7 percent are Ukrainian (living mostly in the south), 3.1 percent are Polish, and 0.2 percent are Jewish (before the Second World War Poles and Jews each comprised 10 percent of the population). Belarusian ethnic territory is estimated at 240,000 to 300,000 sq km; the number of Belarusians on this territory is estimated to be 9 to 13 million.
Belarus contains a sizable territory inhabited by Ukrainians. The ethnic boundary between Ukrainians and Belarusians is difficult to define, because there are, in Polisia and the northern Chernihiv region, transitional dialects that have scarcely been studied, and the population’s national affiliation is unclear. The area south of the line Narva River–Pruzhany–Bereza Kartuzka–Vyhonovske Lake–Liusyn (Liusina)–Turiv—which is west of Mozyr and north of Ovruch—and then the official Soviet Belarusian-Ukrainian and Russian-Ukrainian borders are generally accepted as the Belarusian-Ukrainian ethnic boundary. Southern Belarus—the southern parts of Brest oblast and Homel oblast—has a Ukrainian population of up to one million, although this fact has been doctored in the Soviet censuses of 1959, 1970, and 1979. In the past the northern Chernihiv region (once the territory of the Starodub regiment, then the northern counties of Chernihiv gubernia, and now the southern part of Briansk oblast in the Russian Federation) constituted the Ukrainian-Belarusian-Russian borderland. It is now for the most part Russified.
In the course of its history Belarus for a long time had firm and direct ties with Ukraine. According to the chronicles, northern Belarus in the 10th century was ruled by Varangian dynasties that were unrelated to the Kyiv princes who unified the East Slavic territories. At the end of the 9th century the Krivichians of the Smolensk region and the Radimichians came under the rule of Kyivan Rus’. In the 10th century Kyiv gained control over the Drehovichians. At the end of the century Volodymyr the Great conquered west Krivichian Polatsk principality and introduced Christianity into Belarus. Kyiv was the seat of the common metropoly (see Kyiv metropoly). Later, Volodymyr gave the principality to his son by the Polatsk Princess Rohnida, Prince Iziaslav Volodymyrovych. While the Ukrainian-Belarusian Smolensk principality and Turiv-Pynsk principality maintained close ties with the Kyivan state, the descendants of Iziaslav, who ruled Polatsk-Minsk, particularly Vseslav Briachyslavych (1044–1101), pursued a separatist policy. Belarus developed a lively trade with Ukraine and Western Europe.
As the Belarusian principalities were subdivided and the Kyivan Rus’ state declined, the Lithuanian prince Mindaugas (d 1263) annexed the Polatsk region and gained control of western Belarus, known as Chorna Rus’, which included Navahrudak and Hrodna. This action provoked war between Prince Danylo Romanovych of Galicia-Volhynia and Lithuania, which ended with Danylo’s annexation of Chorna Rus’ in 1254. The struggle over Chorna Rus’ continued, however, and under the reign of the Lithuanian prince Gediminas (1316–41) this territory, as well as other Belarusian (Minsk) and Ukrainian lands (the Berestia land, Volhynia, the Turiv-Pynsk principality, and the northern Kyiv region) was taken by Lithuania. Prince Algirdas (1345–77) captured the Belarusian territories of Vitsebsk and Smolensk and the Ukrainian territories of Novhorod-Siverskyi, the central Kyiv region, and eastern Polisia. The unification of Belarusian and Ukrainian lands within the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state sustained a common Ruthenian (Ukrainian-Belarusian) identity, tradition, and literary language and postponed the national differentiation of Ukrainians and Belarusians for several centuries.
The Belarusian and Ukrainian territories, which constituted nine-tenths of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, were culturally dominant at first. At the time of their conquest of the Ruthenian lands the Lithuanians did not yet have their own literature. The ‘Ruthenian language,’ that is, the Belarusian-Ukrainian literary language, based on Church Slavonic, was the officially recognized language of state acts, diplomatic correspondence, legislation, jurisprudence, and cultural life to the middle of the 16th century. The Lithuanian princes used the Ruskaia Pravda, which had an influence on the legislation of the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state, codified in the Sudebnik (Code of Law) of 1468. The Lithuanian Statute was written in Ruthenian. The Belarusian (known as Lithuanian or West Ruthenian) chronicles of the 15th–16th century continued the tradition of the Ukrainian-Kyivan chronicles.
Belarusian architectural monuments of the 12th–13th century, the frescoes of the Polatsk churches, jewelry, etc, testify to Belarus’s close association with the traditions of Kyivan Rus’. The Kyiv metropoly administered religious life in both Ukraine and Belarus. Thus, for example, in 1149–54 the metropolitan was Klym Smoliatych of Smolensk. When a separate Moscow metropoly was established, the Russian Orthodox church was finally separated from the Ukrainian-Belarusian church. In the 16th century the Kyiv metropolitans resided with increasing frequency on Belarusian territory in Vilnius and Navahrudak rather than in Kyiv, which was exposed to Tatar attack.
After the Union of Krevo in 1385, and particularly after the Union of Lublin in 1569, Polish influence grew in Lithuania. Although almost all the Ukrainian territories belonging to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were transferred to Poland by the Union of Lublin, while the Belarusian lands stayed with the duchy, Ukrainian-Belarusian ties remained close. The Belarusian Orthodox brotherhoods in Mahiliou, Orsha, Vitsebsk, Niasvizh, Navahrudak, etc, together with the Ukrainian brotherhoods, resisted Polish and Catholic influences. Books printed in Zabłudów (on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border) (ie, Zabłudów Gospel), Vilnius, Yevie (Vevis) near Trakai in Lithuania, Kuteinsky Monastery near Orsha, Mahiliou, etc, were known throughout Ukraine. Many Belarusians studied at the Ostroh Academy, the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood School, and the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. Religious polemical literature was common to Ukrainians and Belarusians whether it was written by Orthodox, Protestant, or Catholic authors. At the end of the 15th century and particularly in the 16th–17th century, translations of religious and secular literature became widespread in Belarusian and Ukrainian territories. Because Ukrainians and Belarusians shared a common culture and literature, it is sometimes difficult to classify a given work as belonging to one or the other people.
Since the grand duke’s power was centered in Navahrudak in Belarus (or Chorna Rus’) or in Vilnius, which is near Belarus, Belarus had to some extent a cultural advantage over Ukraine until about 1580. Frantsisk Skoryna (Skaryna), Symeon Budny, V. Tsiapinsky, and others were active in Belarus, while the cultural renaissance had not yet spread widely in Ukraine. Developments such as the founding of the Ostroh Academy in 1577–80, the organization of the Lviv Dormition Brotherhood (1586), Metropolitan Mykhailo Rahoza’s re-establishment of the Orthodox metropolitan residency in Kyiv in 1589, the founding of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy in 1632 (its prefect was the Belarusian Sylvestr Kosiv and its prominent Belarusian graduate was Simeon Polotsky), and the rapid development of the Cossacks at the end of the 16th century shifted the focus of the shared cultural-national life of the Ruthenian culture from Belarus to Ukraine. After the Church Union of Berestia in 1596 divided the Kyiv metropoly between Uniate and the Orthodox churches, the former was dominant in Belarusian and northwestern Ukrainian territories in the 17th century, while the latter had its seat in Kyiv and controlled the eparchy of Mstsislau in Belarus as well as Belarusian Orthodox monasteries in Vilnius, Slutsk, Orsha (Kuteinsky), and other locations. Most of the members of the Basilian monastic order, which was a champion of the Uniate church, were of Belarusian descent—Bishop Yakiv Susha, Pakhomii Ohilevich, and others—and the order’s most active monasteries were in Vilnius, Suprasl, Zhyrovichy, Polatsk, and Minsk.
The Cossack rebellions in Ukraine sent reverberations through Belarus. In 1590 Cossacks took part in the Belarusian rebellion near Mahiliou and Bykhau, and in 1596 Belarusian rebels collaborated with Severyn Nalyvaiko. Cossack units fought on the side of Belarusian peasants in 1601–3. In 1648 the Cossack-Polish War spread through almost all of Belarus. Numerous rebel groups were organized and fought alongside the Cossack troops in 1649 during Illia Holota’s operations at Rechytsa, Stepan Pobodailo’s activity, and Mykhailo Krychevsky’s battle of Loev. In 1654 Ivan Zolotarenko, the colonel of Nizhyn, gained control of southeastern Belarus and set up the Cossack administrative regimental system under the sovereignty of the Zaporozhian Host. The Belarusian regiment, which encompassed the counties of Chausy (Chavusy), Mahiliou, Mstsislau, and Bykhau, was commanded after Zolotarenko’s death by Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s son-in-law, Ivan Nechai, in 1655–9. Nechai bore the title of acting hetman, and many of his officers were Belarusian.
Yet, Belarusian Cossacks had their own national goals. They were led by an Orthodox nobleman from the Mahiliou region named Konstantin Paklonski, who maintained ties with the government of the Hetman state and had lived in Ukraine for a time. Paklonski’s aim was to create a Belarusian Cossack state with the help of Ukraine or Muscovy. He fought off the Polish-Lithuanian armies in 1654, first with Ivan Zolotarenko’s aid and then with Russian support. The tsar gave him the title of colonel of Belarus. But in the struggle ‘of the two Rus'es for the third Rus',’ there was no room for a separate Belarusian state. Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky did not support Paklonski’s plans, and the violence inflicted on the Belarusian population by Muscovite troops forced Paklonski to turn to the Lithuanians and the Belarusian Orthodox clergy and burghers for help against Moscow.
In this situation the Belarusian autonomists, particularly on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, preferred to come under the rule of the Zaporozhian Host (in the northern Chernihiv region) or under its protection (in the Bykhau region, Pynsk region, and Slutsk region). Members of the nobility and wealthy burghers from eastern Belarus migrated in increasing numbers along the old trade routes to the Starodub region that was within the Hetman state. In Chyhyryn on 20 June 1657 a delegation from the Pynsk region signed a treaty of alliance and took an oath of loyalty to the Zaporozhian Host and its hetman. Eight days later Bohdan Khmelnytsky issued a proclamation binding himself and his successors to protect the autonomy of the Pynsk region and the privileges of its nobility and the Catholic church and, if necessary, to provide military help for the defense of the region. The hetman and the Zaporozhian Host established a similar protectorate over Slutsk principality at the request of its ruler, Prince B. Radvilas (Radziwiłł) (Khmelnytsky’s letter of 17 November 1656). On 15 March 1657 Khmelnytsky declared the town of Staryi Bykhau under the ‘authority and protection of the Zaporozhian Host.’
Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky continued Khmelnytsky’s policies towards Belarus. He had family ties with the Belarusian nobility: his wife, Olena Stetkevich, was the daughter of B. Stetkevich, the castellan (governor) of Navahrudak, and several of Vyhovsky’s relatives were colonels in Belarus. The Treaty of Hadiach, signed by Ukraine and Poland in 1658, guaranteed the rights of the Orthodox church in Belarusian lands and promised to establish one of two academies of the Great Ruthenian Principality in Belarus. Although the treaty was never realized, the tradition of Ukrainian-Belarusian territorial unity persisted in Ukraine to the time of Ivan Mazepa, who, according to the 1708 treaty with Stanislaus I Leszczyński, was to accept the voivodeships of Vitsebsk and Polatsk under his control. In the 1760s Prince Liubetsky (Pynsk delegate to the Sejm) proposed that the Treaty of Hadiach be reinstated in the Ukrainian and Belarusian territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
According to the terms of Treaty of Andrusovo in 1667 and the Eternal Peace of 1686, Belarus was to remain part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, except for the Smolensk region, which was annexed by Muscovy. The dismemberment of Belarus and the separation of its main part from the Cossack Hetman state inhibited Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, particularly in the political realm. But they persisted, nevertheless. The nobility, burghers, and commoners of Mstsislau province petitioned Hetman Demian Mnohohrishny in 1671 to take the province under his rule. In the following year a similar petition was submitted by Homel, Mozyr, and Rechytsa counties. Mnohohrishny accepted these petitions, but the Muscovite government would not approve them. In 1684 Cossack forces, led by S. Samoilovych, the colonel of Starodub, occupied a large part of Mstsislau province and introduced the Cossack regimental system of administration. But Muscovy ordered the hetman to withdraw his Cossacks from these lands. In 1690 V. Krasynsky, the head of Propoisk (Prapoisk) and Homel counties, proposed to Hetman Ivan Mazepa that he incorporate all of Belarus into the ‘Little Russian Country,’ beginning with the Homel and Propoisk territories. Mazepa, who was a friend of Krasynsky, supported the proposal, but Muscovy again rejected it on the grounds of its ‘eternal peace’ with Poland. The movement for the annexation of Belarus, or at least its eastern part, to the Hetman state continued and surfaced during Semen Palii’s rebellion against Poland in the 1690s, then again at the beginning of the 18th century when Ukrainian Cossacks helped Belarusian burghers and peasants against the nobility and the Polish state, and also in the 1740s in Krychau county of Prince J. Radvilas during a rebellion led by V. Vashchyla, who called himself the ‘grandson of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’ and adopted the title of ‘Ataman and Great Hetman’ in 1744.
The economic relations between the Ukrainian Hetman state and the Belarusian lands were more important than political relations. Trade between the two countries continued, particularly the transit trade with the Baltic countries, although Russia and Poland put up various obstacles to it, and the landowning magnates and gentry imposed various tariffs and restrictions.
Religious and cultural relations were even more important. The Belarusian Orthodox church, headed by the archeparchies of Mahiliou and Mstsislau, came under the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod in the 18th century, but had ecclesiastical-religious ties with the Kyiv metropoly, which was in charge of the monasteries on Belarusian territory. In church matters only the Smolensk region was under the direct control of Saint Petersburg. Many of the Belarusian Orthodox bishops and higher clergy were graduates of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy and frequently of Ukrainian origin, as, for example, Archbishop Heorhii Konysky, who was born in Nizhyn. These circumstances made for even closer ties between the Belarusian Orthodox church and the Kyiv metropoly. Many clergy in the northern region of the Hetman state were Belarusian. The Belarusian Uniate church was under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Uniate metropoly (in the second half of the 18th century the metropolitan’s residence was at Radomyshl in the Kyiv region). Belarusians played a role equal to that of Ukrainians in the Uniate hierarchy and in the Basilian monastic order.
Cultural relations between Ukraine and Belarus in the 18th century were not limited to the ecclesiastical sphere. The children of Ukrainian nobles and Cossack starshyna officers (including the Iskrytsky, Novytsky, and Poletyka families) also studied in Belarus, at the Jesuit colleges in Polatsk and Orsha, at Vilnius University, and elsewhere. There were ties between the two countries in the realm of art, particularly in architecture, painting, and graphic art. Western influences in architecture and engraving reached Ukraine through Vilnius and Belarus. The famous Ukrainian engravers of the Mazepa period, Oleksander Tarasevych and Leontii Tarasevych, who received their professional training in Western Europe, worked for some time in Belarus. Some Ukrainian musicians of the 18th century were of Belarusian origin (for example, the composer A. Rohynsky). In general there were close family ties and contacts between the Ukrainian nobility, Cossack officers, and the Belarusian nobility. Many Left-Bank Ukraine nobles and Cossack officers were of Belarusian origin.
The religious and cultural ties between Ukraine and Belarus helped the latter to withstand the pressures of Polonization, which increased beginning in the late 17th century (for example, the 1696 prohibition of the Ruthenian language in the courts, persecution of the Orthodox church).
The relations between the Hetman state and the Smolensk region, which became part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century, were particularly enduring. They were all the more important because they were not limited to cultural or economic interests but repeatedly expanded into political relations (see Smolensk nobility).
After the partitions of Poland in 1772–95 all Belarusian territories were annexed by Russia. The policies of the Russian government in Belarus were inconsistent. Catherine II granted estates confiscated from magnates to Russian and sometimes to Ukrainian nobles, filled administrative and judicial posts with Russian and Ukrainian (Hetman) officials while transferring Belarusian officials to Ukraine or Russia, and restricted the rights of the Uniate church. Under Paul I, and particularly under Alexander I, who considered Belarus as well as Right-Bank Ukraine to be Polish lands, the social and cultural supremacy of the Polish and Polonized Belarusian nobility was reinstated, and the Uniate church was tolerated for a period. During the reign of Nicholas I, however, and particularly after the Polish Insurrection of 1830–1, the estates of the rebels were confiscated, while the rebels were exiled to Russia. Polish schools were closed, and in 1839 the Uniate church in Belarus was abolished. In 1840 Nicholas prohibited the use of the name Belarus, replacing it with ‘the Northwest land’ (Severno-zapadnyi krai). Henceforth Moscow conducted a policy of Russification in Belarusian territories similar to that in Ukraine. The restrictions and prohibitions against the Ukrainian language introduced in 1863 and 1876 were applied also to the Belarusian language.
The Belarusian national and cultural renaissance of the 19th and early 20th centuries was connected with the Ukrainian national movement. Eneida navyvarat (The Aeneid Inside Out), written in the first quarter of the 19th century by an unidentified author, shows the influence of Ivan Kotliarevsky’s Eneïda. From 1839 Taras Shevchenko had ties with the literary circle of the Belarusian writer Y. Barshcheuski in Saint Petersburg. The poet F. Bahushevich (1840–1900), who lived for some time in Ukraine and graduated from the Nizhyn Lyceum, was influenced by Shevchenko’s writing. In 1881 Mykhailo Drahomanov published a Belarusian translation of Serhii Podolynsky’s Pro bahatstvo i bidnist' (On Wealth and Poverty) in Geneva. In 1885 Ivan Franko and Mykhailo Pavlyk drew up plans for a Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian brotherhood. In 1889 an illegal leftist students’ organization—the Circle of Polish-Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Little Russian Youth—was set up under the leadership of A. Hurynovich, a Belarusian and a translator of Franko. In the 20th century various noted Belarusian writers have translated the works of Shevchenko. Yanka Kupala (1882–1942), one of the most prominent Belarusian poets and proponents of the national-cultural renaissance, was not only influenced by Shevchenko’s poetry, but was the first translator of Shevchenko’s works and dedicated several poems to Shevchenko and the Ukrainian people. Some influences of Shevchenko’s writings can be found in Yakub Kolas (1882–1956), another prominent Belarusian writer, as well as in A. Tsiotka (1876–1916), who in the 1900s lived as an émigré in Galicia. One of the first translators of Ukrainian literature into Belrusian was A. Hurlo (1892–1928). The poet Maksym Bahdanovich (1891–1917) translated Ukrainian poetry. Mykhailo Starytsky’s troupe was the first Ukrainian theatrical group to visit Belarus, in the 1890s, and it was followed by other groups. Belarusian amateur troupes in the prerevolutionary period often staged plays by Ukrainian playwrights.
Scholarly contacts between Belarus and Ukraine, particularly in history, historiography, church history, the history of literature, and folklore were quite lively in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. Ukrainian scholars studied Belarusian problems, while Belarusian scholars worked in Ukraine. The following Ukrainian scholars contributed to the study of Belarus: the historians Volodymyr Antonovych, Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Orest Levytsky, Mykola Vasylenko, Oleksander Hrushevsky, Vasyl Danylevych, Aleksandra Yefymenko, Omelian Terletsky, and Dmytro Doroshenko; the historians of law Mikhail Vladimirsky-Budanov, Fedir Leontovych, Mykola Maksymeiko, M. Yavynsky, Yoanykii Malynovsky, and Fedir Taranovsky; the church historians Stepan Golubev, Mykola I. Petrov, Teodor Titov, and Vasyl Bidnov; the archeologists Kostiantyn Kharlampovych and Volodymyr Zavitnevych; the historian of literature P. Vladymyrov; the philologists Ahatanhel Krymsky and Ilarion Svientsitsky (author of the first history of Belarusian literature); and many others. Some scholars, such as the historians Mytrofan Dovnar-Zapolsky and Petr Golubovsky and the church historians Pylyp Ternovsky and Serhii Ternovsky, were of Belarusian origin. The Galician historian Yakiv Holovatsky was chairman of the Vilnius Archeographic Commission. The Kyiv Archeographic Commission published materials on the history of Belarus. This collaboration between Ukrainian and Belarusian scholars continued after the Revolution of 1917.
In the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century there were ties in the field of art, particularly painting, between Ukraine and Belarus. The Belarusian painter V. Bialynitski-Birulia (1872–1957) studied in Kyiv with Mykola I. Murashko and worked in Ukraine for an extended period.
Before the First World War contacts were established between I. Lutskevich, a participant in the Belarusian renaissance, and Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who in 1907 visited Belarus. The February Revolution of 1917 led to the creation in March 1917 of the Belarusian National Rada (patterned after the Ukrainian Central Rada) in Minsk. The Rada demanded autonomy and in December 1917 formed the first government. But first the Bolsheviks and then the Germans, who occupied the country, did not permit this government to assume power. The border between Ukraine and Belarus became an issue. The Central Rada extended its activities in 1917 to the ethnically Ukrainian Berestia land and Pynsk region as well as to the predominantly Belarusian regions of Mazyr and Rechytsa. Under the Hetman government of Pavlo Skoropadsky the Belarusian Homel region was annexed by Ukraine for strategic reasons. When the Belarusian National Rada proclaimed an independent Belarusian National Republic in March 1918, the Hetman government granted it recognition. Belarusian consulates were opened in Kyiv, Odesa, and Rostov-na-Donu, and the Belarusian Trade Chamber was set up in Kyiv. Even prior to 1917 many Ukrainian and Belarusian circles proposed a federation of the two countries. Mykhailo Hrushevsky, in particular, was a strong advocate of a Black Sea-Baltic federation consisting of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania.
On 1 January 1919 the Bolsheviks proclaimed a Belorussian Soviet Republic federated with Russia. After the Peace Treaty of Riga on 18 March 1921, Western Belarus and Western Ukraine were annexed by Poland. Ukrainian-Belarusian co-operation was particularly evident in 1922 and 1928, when the two peoples, together with the Jews and the Germans, formed common blocs of national minorities during elections to the Polish Sejm and Senate. The blocs were successful because of the solidarity among the participants. The parliamentary Ukrainian-Belarusian Club was formed in 1923 and functioned for some time. In 1929 a Ukrainian-Belarusian committee was set up to work out a common strategy towards the Polish government and the Polish parties. In 1930 the only independent Belarusian representative to the Sejm, Yaremich, was elected as part of the Ukrainian caucus. Ukrainians and Belarusians also worked closely together in student organizations in Warsaw and Vilnius and at the Greek Catholic Theological Academy in Lviv, which also trained Belarusian priests. In the cities of central Poland, where there were few Belarusians, the Belarusians belonged to Ukrainian civic organizations.
In Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania, Ukrainians and Belarusians organized common cultural events. Belarusian students, organized into a separate union, studied at the Ukrainian Husbandry Academy in Poděbrady, Czechoslovakia.
In the Soviet era, Ukrainian-Belarusian relations existed mainly in the fields of culture and scholarship. Beginning in the 1920s Belarusian theater groups toured Ukraine and Ukrainian groups have toured Belarus. Exchanges among writers were frequent. The suppression of the Belarusian literary group Uzvyshsha (1926–30), whose ideologists included U. Dubouka, Ya. Pushcha, and A. Babareka, coincided with the Soviet campaign against Vaplite. The charges against both organizations were the same: nationalism, a Western orientation, and rejection of Moscow’s influence. The Soviet persecution of the Belarusian ‘national democrats’ and Ukrainian political and cultural leaders took place at the same time (1929–30) and had the same dire consequences for both nations.
The following Belarusian authors are among those who have been translated into Ukrainian: F. Bahushevich, Yanka Kupala, Yakub Kolas, K. Krapiva, K. Chorny, A. Kuliashou, I. Shamiakin, Ya. Bryl, P. Brouka, M. Tank, V. Taulai, P. Panchanka, and H. Pestrak. In 1929 the first Soviet anthology of Belarusian poetry was published in the Ukrainian SSR under the title Nova Bilorus’ (The New Belarus). Further anthologies were published in 1948, 1969, and 1971. Collections of Belarusian stories, songs, and humor were published in Ukraine. Ukrainian poets in Ukraine, such as Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, and Volodymyr Sosiura, and those abroad, such as Leonid Poltava, Ihor Kachurovsky, Yar Slavutych, and Borys Oleksandriv, translated Belarusian literature. The works of Taras Shevchenko, Pavlo Tychyna, Maksym Rylsky, Mykola Bazhan, Andrii Malyshko, Oles Honchar, Stepan Tudor, Natan Rybak, Vasyl Mynko, Yurii Zbanatsky, Valentyn Bychko, Nataliia Zabila, Oles Donchenko, and others were published in Belarusian. A large anthology, Ukrainskaia savetskaia paeziia (Ukrainian Soviet Poetry), appeared in Belarusian. From 1917 to 1966 many Belarusian books were translated and published in Ukraine, and 114 Ukrainian books were translated and published in Belarus. In the ‘liberal’ period of 1928–32, 20 Belarusian books were published in Ukraine, and 43 Ukrainian books were published in Belarus.
Direct scholarly ties between Ukraine and Belarus expanded after the Revolution of 1917, particularly in the 1920s. The main institutions involved were the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the Belorussian Academy of Sciences. The contacts between the academies, the participation of their members in scientific conferences, particularly those dedicated to the anniversaries of Dmytro Bahalii and Mykhailo Hrushevsky, and their collaboration on publications were quite extensive. In 1929 the Belarusian historian U. Ihnatouski and the poet Yanka Kupala were elected to the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The Ukrainian linguist Petro Buzuk moved to Minsk in 1925 and became director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Belorussian Academy of Sciences. Among the most active members of the Commission for the Study of the History of Western-Ruthenian and Ukrainian Law of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, chaired by Mykola Vasylenko, were the Belarusians Lev Okinshevych and Stepan Borysenok. The former’s works were important contributions to the history of Ukrainian law. Mykhailo Tratsevsky, a Belarusian, worked at the Institute of Demography of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. The academy published Narysy z istoriï kul'turnykh rukhiv na Ukraïni ta Bilorusi v XVI–XVIII vv. (Essays on the History of Cultural Movements in Ukraine and Belarus in the 16th–18th Century, Kyiv 1929) by A. Savich, who was of Belarusian origin. The Soviet purge of Ukrainian and Belarusian scholars in the 1930s put an end to contacts and relations between them for a long time. These relations were renewed only after the Second World War, both in the Ukrainian SSR (eg, Dmytro Pokhylevych’s works on the socioeconomic history of Belarus) and abroad (eg, Okinshevych’s and George Yurii Shevelov’s works on the Ukrainian side and Yan Stankevich’s on the Belarusian side).
Economic relations between Ukraine and Belarus date back to the distant past. Ukraine imported, via the Dnipro River and its tributaries, lumber and wood products from Belarus and exported grain and, since the 19th century, sugar to Belarus. Since the second half of the 19th century the export of coal and ferrous metals from Ukraine has expanded. By the 1980s the Ukrainian SSR supplied Belarus with almost all its coal, rolled ferrous metals (727,000 t in 1972), natural gas, pipes, most of its cement, buses and trucks, cranes, boilers, metal-working instruments, chemical products, building stone, as well as other products. Among the products Belarus sold to Ukraine were potassium fertilizer (880,000 t in 1979), potato harvesters, transport trucks, machine tools, transformers, and electric motors.
According to the 1926 Soviet census, 34,900 Ukrainians lived in Belarus, accounting for 0.7 percent of the population. In 1959 the figure was 150,000 or 1.8 percent; in 1970, 190,800 or 2.1 percent; in 1979, 230,985 or 2.4 percent; and in 1989, approximately 290,008 or 2.9 percent of the country’s population. Most Ukrainians lived in the cities: 64.7 percent in 1959 and 78.8 percent in 1970. In 1979, 100,192 Ukrainians or 43.4 percent gave Ukrainian as their mother tongue, 117,844 or 51.0 percent gave Russian, and 12,919 or 5.6 percent gave Belarusian. There were 45,668 Ukrainians who used in Ukrainian as their second language, 93,993 who used Russian, and 27,006 who used Belarusian. These figures indicate that the Ukrainian population, particularly in the cities of Belarus, was becoming Russified.
According to 1979 statistics, Ukrainians were scattered through all the oblasts of Belarus. The Ukrainians were a small minority even in those oblasts that belong largely or partly to formerly Ukrainian ethnic territories: in the Brest oblast, there were 40,600 Ukrainians (3 percent); in the Homel oblast, 54,000 (3.4 percent). According to the 2009 census, there were 158,700 Ukrainians is Belarus. However, the real number of people of Ukrainian origin in Belarus is estimated at 800,000–1,000,000. After the incorporation of a purely Ukrainian part of Polisia into Belarus in 1939, Soviet statisticians manipulated the data to prove that the official boundaries of Ukraine and Belarus coincide with the ethnic borders.
In Soviet times neither the Ukrainians nor their language had any rights in Belarus. There were no Ukrainian schools, periodicals, or cultural institutions. These factors facilitated the Belarusification and, even more, the Russification of the Ukrainians. In the early 1990s Ukrainians in Belarus began organizing a number of cultural-educational societies and launching some local Ukrainian-language publications. Their efforts, however, have met with administrative resistance. Currently the most active Ukrainian civic and cultural organizations are located in Brest.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the Belorussian SSR established itself as an independent state and adopted its historic name Belarus. The perestroika-era campaign for greater rights saw some degree of co-operation between the national front groups of Ukraine and Belarus (as well as the Baltic states). Together with Russia and Ukraine, Belarus was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991, the creation of which spelled the end of the USSR. In short order the two fledgling countries established diplomatic relations. However, the goodwill between the two states was dampened by Belarus’s desire not to antagonize Russia—by far its largest trading partner—unduly (and, therefore, offering Ukraine no support in its struggles with its northern neighbor in the upshot of the independence declaration), the realities of business relations at a time when Ukraine’s economy was suffering the chaos of transition and hyperinflation, and the fact that Belarus was not committed to the sort of nation-building agenda upon which Ukraine had embarked. Ukraine’s relationship with Belarus was further complicated by the avowed policy of ‘union’ with Russia pursued by President A. Lukashenka (elected in 1994). Nevertheless, Ukraine has maintained cordial relations with Belarus, going so far as to remain silent of that country’s integrationist posture.
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[This article was updated in 2005.]
Encyclopedia of Ukraine