Polesia, Polesie or Polesye is a natural and historical region starting from the farthest edges of Central Europe and into Eastern Europe, stretching from parts of Eastern Poland, touching named Podlasie, straddling the Belarus–Ukraine border and into western Russia. One of the largest forest areas on the continent, Polesia is located in the south-western part of the Eastern-European Lowland, the Polesian Lowland. On the western side, Polesia originates at the crossing of the Bug River valley in Poland and the Pripyat River valley of Western Ukraine; the swampy areas of central Polesia are known as the Pinsk Marshes. Large parts of the region were contaminated after the Chernobyl disaster and the region now includes the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Polesie State Radioecological Reserve, named after the region; the names Polesia/Polissia/Polesye, etc. may reflect the Slavic root les, which means "forest", the Slavic prefix po-, which means "on", "in" or "along". Inhabitants of Polesia are called Polishchuks.
Once part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, following it into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Polesia was part of Poland in the 1921-39 period when the country's largest provinces bore that name. Polesia has been a separate administrative unit. However, there was a Polesie Voivodeship during the Second Polish Republic, as well as a Polesia Voblast in Byelorussian SSR. From 1931 to 1944, it was explicitly mentioned as constituent part of the short-lived Ukrainian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Volhynia and Pidliashia. Since the end of World War II, the region of Polesie or Polesia encompasses areas in eastern Poland, southern Belarus, northwestern Ukraine, southwestern Russia. Polesia is a marshy region lining the Pripyat River in Southern Belarus, Northern Ukraine, in Poland and Russia, it is a flatland within the watersheds of Prypyat rivers. The two rivers are connected by the Dnieper-Bug Canal, built during the reign of Stanislaus II of Poland, the last king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Notable tributaries of the Pripyat are the Horyn, Styr and Yaselda rivers. The largest towns in the Pripyat basin are Pinsk, Davyd-Haradok. Huge marshes were reclaimed from the 1960s to the 1980s for farmland; the reclamation is believed to have harmed the environment along the course of the Pripyat. This region suffered from the Chernobyl disaster. Huge areas were polluted by radioactive elements; the most polluted part includes the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the adjacent Polesie State Radioecological Reserve. Some other areas in the region are considered unsuitable for living as well; the Polish part of the region includes the Polesie National Park, established 1990, which covers an area of 97.6 square kilometres. This and a wider area adjoining it make up the UNESCO-designated West Polesie Biosphere Reserve, which borders a similar reserve on the Ukrainian side. There is a protected area called Pribuzhskoye-Polesie in the Belarusian part of the region; the wooden architecture structures in the region were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on 30 January 2004 in the Cultural category.
The Ukrainian Polesia had its own tradition of folk icon-painting. The images of the saints are stable, having deep eyes; the plots were depicted on the background of landscapes with trees, forests etc. The Ukrainian Polesia's icon collection is the part of the exhibition of the Museum of Ukrainian home icons in the Historical and cultural complex "The Radomysl Castle". Museum of Ukrainian home icons Radomysl Castle Polesian Lowland UNESCO World Heritage Centre Western Polesie Пазинич В. Походження Поліських озер та параболічних дюн Пазинич В.Г. Происхождение Полесских озер и параболических дюн Pazynych V. Origin of Polesie lakes and parabolic dunes The Official Site of the Radomysl Castle Polisia at the Encyclopedia of Ukraine Origin of Polesie lakes and parabolic dunes
The Russian Empire known as Imperial Russia or Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917. The third largest empire in world history, at its greatest extent stretching over three continents, Europe and North America, the Russian Empire was surpassed in landmass only by the British and Mongol empires; the rise of the Russian Empire coincided with the decline of neighboring rival powers: the Golden Horde, the Swedish Empire, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. It played a major role in 1812–1814 in defeating Napoleon's ambitions to control Europe and expanded to the west and south; the House of Romanov ruled the Russian Empire from 1721 until 1762, its matrilineal branch of patrilineal German descent the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov ruled from 1762. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Russian Empire extended from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south, from the Baltic Sea on the west to the Pacific Ocean, into Alaska and Northern California in America on the east.
With 125.6 million subjects registered by the 1897 census, it had the third-largest population in the world at the time, after Qing China and India. Like all empires, it included a large disparity in terms of economics and religion. There were numerous dissident elements. Economically, the empire had a predominantly agricultural base, with low productivity on large estates worked by serfs, Russian peasants; the economy industrialized with the help of foreign investments in railways and factories. The land was ruled by a nobility from the 10th through the 17th centuries, subsequently by an emperor. Tsar Ivan III laid the groundwork for the empire that emerged, he tripled the territory of his state, ended the dominance of the Golden Horde, renovated the Moscow Kremlin, laid the foundations of the Russian state. Emperor Peter the Great fought numerous wars and expanded an huge empire into a major European power, he moved the capital from Moscow to the new model city of St. Petersburg, led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political mores with a modern, Europe-oriented, rationalist system.
Empress Catherine the Great presided over a golden age. Emperor Alexander II promoted numerous reforms, most the emancipation of all 23 million serfs in 1861, his policy in Eastern Europe involved protecting the Orthodox Christians under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. That connection by 1914 led to Russia's entry into the First World War on the side of France, the United Kingdom, Serbia, against the German and Ottoman empires; the Russian Empire functioned as an absolute monarchy on principles of Orthodoxy and Nationality until the Revolution of 1905 and became a de jure constitutional monarchy. The empire collapsed during the February Revolution of 1917 as a result of massive failures in its participation in the First World War. Though the Empire was only proclaimed by Tsar Peter I following the Treaty of Nystad, some historians would argue that it was born either when Ivan III of Russia conquered Veliky Novgorod in 1478, or when Ivan the Terrible conquered the Khanate of Kazan in 1552. According to another point of view, the term Tsardom, used after the coronation of Ivan IV in 1547, was a contemporary Russian word for empire.
Much of Russia's expansion occurred in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian colonization of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the Russo-Polish War that incorporated left-bank Ukraine, the Russian conquest of Siberia. Poland was divided in the 1790 -- 1815 era, with much of the population going to Russia. Most of the 19th-century growth came from adding territory in Asia, south of Siberia. Peter I the Great played a major role in introducing Russia to the European state system. While the vast land had a population of 14 million, grain yields trailed behind those of agriculture in the West, compelling nearly the entire population to farm. Only a small percentage lived in towns; the class of kholops, close in status to slavery, remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter converted household kholops into house serfs, thus including them in poll taxation. Russian agricultural kholops were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679. Peter's first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks.
His attention turned to the North. Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport, except at Archangel on the White Sea, where the harbor was frozen for nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him to make a secret alliance in 1699 with Saxony, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden, resulting in the Great Northern War; the war ended in 1721. Peter acquired four provinces situated east of the Gulf of Finland; the coveted access to the sea was now secured. There he built Russia's new capital, Saint Petersburg, to replace Moscow, which had long been Russia's cultural center. In 1722, he tur
Mazyr - a city in Gomel Region of Belarus on the Pripyat River about 210 kilometres east of Pinsk and 100 kilometres northwest of Chernobyl and is located at 52°03′N 29°15′E. The population is 111,770; the total urban area including Kalinkavichy across the river has a population of 150,000. Mozyr is known as a center of oil refining, machine building, food processing in Belarus, it is home to one of the largest oil refineries in Belarus, pumping out 18 million metric tons per year. The Druzhba pipeline carries crude oil from Russia splitting in two at Mazyr. One pipeline branch is directed into the other one to Ukraine; the right bank of the Pripyat River, where the city is located, is elevated above the left bank at substantial heights. The overfall of surface of that scale is assumed to be a consequence of a glaciation: the Pripyat River is running right along the edge where an ancient glacier was located. Since both banks of the river are sandy, the right bank is cut through by a number of great ravines.
The city is located on the ravines, so its streets look much like streets of a mountain town. One of the ravines is proclaimed a reserve; some of the nearby ravines are also equipped with ski lifts and transformed into skiing winter resorts. Mazyr once had a sizable Jewish population. During World War II, many Jews were murdered by the Nazis during mass executions. There are several memorials devoted to this in the modern city; as with other Soviet cities, during the last 15 years of the Communist control, a large proportion of the remaining Jews have relocated abroad to Israel and United States. In 1986, the city suffered from heavy radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident. Mazyr is one of the oldest cities of historical Ruthenia. First mentioned in the mid-12th century as part of Duchy of Vladimir, the Duchy of Kiev. In the 13th century it was conquered by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. A small settlement, in the 15th century it was donated to Duke Michael Glinski, who converted it into a town.
The city received town rights first from king Stefan Batory in 1577 and from king Sigismund III of Poland in 1609. Despite having been destroyed by Russian forces twice, the city continued to grow and following the Union of Lublin it became a major administrative and trade centre, as well as a seat of a powiat. In 1648 there was a conflict during the Khmelnytsky Uprising. Between 1723 and 1726 the Jesuits created a school in Mozyr under auspice of the Academy of Vilna. Following the suppression of the order in 1773 the school was secularised and continued to exist as a gymnasium. Among its most famous graduates are Władysław Mazurkiewicz. In 1793, following the Partitions of Poland, the town was annexed by Russia and its town rights were again confirmed in 1795. In the 19th century the town grew mostly because of the Russian Pale of Settlement policy that allowed Jews to settle only in the lands once held by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; because of that Mozyr grew to over 10 thousand inhabitants by the end of the century, most of them Jewish.
During the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 the town was captured by the Polish Army in the so-called Mozyr Operation. Polish 9th Infantry Division captured the city in a swift and daring manoeuvre that earned its commanding officer, Col. Władysław Sikorski a promotion to general. In the course of the war the town was recaptured by the Bolshevists, but in the aftermath of the battle of Warsaw it was again recaptured by the Polish forces of Gen. Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz, who proclaimed a short-lived Belarusian People's Republic on November 12, 1920. However, in the Riga Peace Treaty it was assigned to Soviet Russia and became part of the Byelorussian SSR. Since 1938 the town was a seat of Polesie region, however in 1954 it lost that status and was administratively attached to the region of Gomel. Jews were first mentioned in chronicles in the second half of the 17th century, it is known that there were three synagogues in the city as of 1856. R. Kugel, a prominent Jewish community figure, had been the chief Rabbi of Mozyr since 1861.
He was the head of the local Jewish literacy school. During this period Jews were engaged in craftsmanship and trading. Part of Mozyr's industry, the match factory and the wood sawing factory were owned by Jews. There were eight active synagogues, a yeshiva, Jewish school and Talmud-Torah school in the wake of the 20th century. All of the facilities had been closed down by 1939. Thousands of Jews were executed by the Nazis in the local ghetto during World War II. After the mass execution no Jews remained in the city, whereas before the war 30% of the population within the city was Jewish. On August 31, 1941, hundreds of Jews gathered inside a house at Malo-Pushkin street, they set it alight, while the people huddled inside. The mass suicide was an attempt to escape execution by the Nazis; the incident is known as the "Belarusian Masada". After the war some Jews returned to Mozyr. Although they refused to take back the partially-destroyed synagogue building, an official Jewish community was registered in 1946.
A few years authorities denied the organization's right to exist. The community organization was re-established in 1989, when a revival began in the city. A synagogue and a Jewish culture club were opened. Several monuments, commemorating the suffering of
The Franciscans are a group of related mendicant religious orders within the Catholic Church, founded in 1209 by Saint Francis of Assisi. These orders include the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis, they adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of the founder and of his main associates and followers, such as Clare of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Elizabeth of Hungary, among many others. Francis began preaching around 1207 and traveled to Rome to seek approval from Pope Innocent III in 1209 to form a new religious order; the original Rule of Saint Francis approved by the Pope disallowed ownership of property, requiring members of the order to beg for food while preaching. The austerity was meant to emulate the ministry of Jesus Christ. Franciscans preached in the streets, while boarding in church properties. Saint Clare, under Francis's guidance, founded the Poor Clares in 1212, which remains a Second Order of the Franciscans; the extreme poverty required of members was relaxed in the final revision of the Rule in 1223.
The degree of observance required of members remained a major source of conflict within the order, resulting in numerous secessions. The Order of Friars Minor known as the "Observant" branch, is one of the three Franciscan First Orders within the Catholic Church, the others being the "Conventuals" and "Capuchins"; the Order of Friars Minor, in its current form, is the result of an amalgamation of several smaller orders completed in 1897 by Pope Leo XIII. The latter two, the Capuchin and Conventual, remain distinct religious institutes within the Catholic Church, observing the Rule of Saint Francis with different emphases. Conventual Franciscans are sometimes referred to as greyfriars because of their habit. In Poland and Lithuania they are known as Bernardines, after Bernardino of Siena, although the term elsewhere refers to Cistercians instead; the name of the original order, Ordo Fratrum Minorum stems from Francis of Assisi's rejection of extravagance. Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, but gave up his wealth to pursue his faith more fully.
He had cut all ties that remained with his family, pursued a life living in solidarity with his fellow brothers in Christ. Francis adopted the simple tunic worn by peasants as the religious habit for his order, had others who wished to join him do the same; those who joined him became the original Order of Friars Minor. The modern organization of the Friars Minor comprises three separate families or groups, each considered a religious order in its own right under its own minister General and particular type of governance, they all live according to a body of regulations known as the Rule of St Francis. First OrderThe First Order or the Order of Friars Minor are called the Franciscans; this order is a mendicant religious order of men, some of whom trace their origin to Francis of Assisi. Their official Latin name is the Ordo Fratrum Minorum. St. Francis thus referred to his followers as "Fraticelli", meaning "Little Brothers". Franciscan brothers are informally called the Minorites; the modern organization of the Friars Minor comprises three separate families or groups, each considered a religious order in its own right under its own minister General and particular type of governance.
They all live according to a body of regulations known as the Rule of St Francis. These are The Order of Friars Minor known as the Observants, are most simply called Franciscan friars, official name: Friars Minor; the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin or Capuchins, official name: Friars Minor Capuchin. The Conventual Franciscans or Minorites, official name: Friars Minor Conventual". Second OrderThe Second Order, most called Poor Clares in English-speaking countries, consists of religious sisters; the order is called the Order of St. Clare, but in the thirteenth century, prior to 1263, this order was referred to as "The Poor Ladies", "The Poor Enclosed Nuns", "The Order of San Damiano". Third OrderThe Franciscan third order, known as the Third Order of Saint Francis, has many men and women members, separated into two main branches: The Secular Franciscan Order, OFS known as the Brothers and Sisters of Penance or Third Order of Penance, try to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives outside of religious institutes.
The members of the Third Order Regular live in religious communities under the traditional religious vows. They grew out of the Secular Franciscan Order; the 2013 Annuario Pontificio gave the following figures for the membership of the principal male Franciscan orders:. Order of Friars Minor: 2,212 communities. A sermon Francis heard in 1209 on Mt 10:9 made such an impression on him that he decided to devote himself wholly to a life of apostolic poverty. Clad in a rough garment, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance, he was soon joined by a prominent fellow townsman, Bernard of Quintavalle, who contributed all that he had to the work, by other companions, who are said to have reached the number of eleven within a yea
The Latin word basilica has three distinct applications in modern English. The word was used to refer to an ancient Roman public building, where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions, it had the door at one end and a raised platform and an apse at the other, where the magistrate or other officials were seated. The basilica was centrally located in every Roman town adjacent to the main forum. Subsequently, the basilica was not built near a forum but adjacent to a palace and was known as a "palace basilica"; as the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the major church buildings were constructed with this basic architectural plan and thus it became popular throughout Europe. It continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe rectangular buildings with a central nave and aisles, a raised platform at the opposite end from the door. In Europe and the Americas the basilica remained the most common architectural style for churches of all Christian denominations, though this building plan has become less dominant in new buildings since the latter 20th century.
Thirdly, the term refers to an official designation: a large and important Catholic church, given special ceremonial rights by the Pope, whatever its architectural plan. These are divided into four major basilicas, all of which are ancient churches located within Rome, and, as of 2017, 1,757 minor basilicas around the world; some Catholic basilicas are Catholic pilgrimage sites, receiving tens of millions of visitors per year. In December 2009 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe set a new record with 6.1 million pilgrims during Friday and Saturday for the anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Latin word basilica lit. "royal stoa" referring to the tribunal chamber of a king. In Rome the word was at first used to describe an ancient Roman public building where courts were held, as well as serving other official and public functions. To a large extent these were the town halls of ancient Roman life; the basilica was centrally located in every Roman town adjacent to the main forum. These buildings, an example of, the Basilica Ulpia, were rectangular, had a central nave and aisles with a raised platform and an apse at each of the two ends, adorned with a statue of the emperor, while the entrances were from the long sides.
By extension the name was applied to Christian churches which adopted the same basic plan and it continues to be used as an architectural term to describe such buildings, which form the majority of church buildings in Western Christianity, though the basilican building plan became less dominant in new buildings from the 20th century. The Roman basilica was a large public building; the first basilicas had no religious function at all. As early as the time of Augustus, a public basilica for transacting business had been part of any settlement that considered itself a city, used in the same way as the covered market houses of late medieval northern Europe, where the meeting room, for lack of urban space, was set above the arcades, however. Although their form was variable, basilicas contained interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on one or both sides, with an apse at one end, where the magistrates sat on a raised dais; the central aisle tended to be wide and was higher than the flanking aisles, so that light could penetrate through the clerestory windows.
The oldest known basilica, the Basilica Porcia, was built in Rome in 184 BC by Cato the Elder during the time he was Censor. Other early examples include the basilica at Pompeii; the most splendid Roman basilica is the one begun for traditional purposes during the reign of the pagan emperor Maxentius and finished by Constantine I after 313 AD. Basilica Porcia: first basilica built in Rome, erected on the personal initiative and financing of the censor Marcus Porcius Cato as an official building for the tribunes of the plebs Aemilian Basilica, built by the censor Aemilius Lepidus in 179 BC Basilica Sempronia, built by the censor Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 169 BC Basilica Opimia, erected by the consul Lucius Opimius in 121 BC, at the same time that he restored the temple of Concord Julian Basilica dedicated in 46 BC by Julius Caesar and completed by Augustus 27 BC to 14 AD Basilica Argentaria, erected under Trajan, emperor from 98 AD to 117AD Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine In the Roman Imperial period, a basilica for large audiences became a feature in palaces.
In the 3rd century AD, the governing elite appeared less in the forums. They now tended to dominate their cities from opulent palaces and country villas, set a little apart from traditional centers of public life. Rather than retreats from public life, these residences were the forum made private. Seated in the tribune of his basilica, the great man would meet his dependent clientes early every morning. Constantine's basilica at Trier, the Aula Palatina, is still standing. A private basilica excavated at Bulla Regia, in the "House of the Hunt", dates from the first half of the 5th century, its reception or audience hall is a long rectangular nave-like space, flanked by dependent rooms that also open into one another, ending in a semi-circular apse, with matching transept spaces. Cluster
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD, was the interior ministry of the Soviet Union. Established in 1917 as NKVD of Russian SFSR, the agency was tasked with conducting regular police work and overseeing the country's prisons and labor camps, it was disbanded in 1930, with its functions being dispersed among other agencies, only to be reinstated as an all-union ministry in 1934. The functions of the OGPU were transferred to the NKVD in 1934, giving it a monopoly over law enforcement activities that lasted until the end of World War II. During this period, the NKVD included both ordinary public order activities, as well as secret police activities; the NKVD is known for its role in political repression and for carrying out the Great Purge under Joseph Stalin. It was led by Nikolai Yezhov and Lavrentiy Beria; the NKVD undertook mass extrajudicial executions of untold numbers of citizens, conceived and administered the Gulag system of forced labour camps. Their agents were responsible for the repression of the wealthier peasantry, as well as the mass deportations of entire nationalities to uninhabited regions of the country.
They oversaw the protection of Soviet borders and espionage, enforced Soviet policy in communist movements and puppet governments in other countries, most notably the repression and massacres in Poland. In March 1946 all People's Commissariats were renamed to Ministries, the NKVD became the Ministry of Internal Affairs. After the Russian February Revolution of 1917, the Provisional Government dissolved the Tsarist police and set up the People's Militsiya; the subsequent Russian October Revolution of 1917 saw a seizure of state power led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who established a new Bolshevik regime, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The Provisional Government's Ministry of Internal Affairs under Georgy Lvov and under Nikolai Avksentiev and Alexei Nikitin, turned into NKVD under a People's Commissar. However, the NKVD apparatus was overwhelmed by duties inherited from MVD, such as the supervision of the local governments and firefighting, the Workers' and Peasants' Militsiya staffed by proletarians was inexperienced and unqualified.
Realizing that it was left with no capable security force, the Council of People's Commissars of the RSFSR established a secret political police, the Cheka, led by Felix Dzerzhinsky. It gained the right to undertake quick non-judicial trials and executions, if, deemed necessary in order to "protect the Russian Socialist-Communist revolution"; the Cheka was reorganized in 1922 as the State Political Directorate, or GPU, of the NKVD of the RSFSR. In 1922 the USSR formed, with the RSFSR as its largest member; the GPU became the OGPU, under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR. The NKVD of the RSFSR retained control of the militsiya, various other responsibilities. In 1934 the NKVD of the RSFSR was transformed into an all-union security force, the NKVD, the OGPU was incorporated into the NKVD as the Main Directorate for State Security; as a result, the NKVD took over control of all detention facilities as well as the regular police. At various times, the NKVD had the following Chief Directorates, abbreviated as "ГУ"– Главное управление, Glavnoye upravleniye.
ГУГБ – государственной безопасности, of State Security ГУРКМ– рабоче-крестьянской милиции, of Workers and Peasants Militsiya ГУПВО– пограничной и внутренней охраны, of Border and Internal Guards ГУПО– пожарной охраны, of Firefighting Services ГУШосДор– шоссейных дорог, of Highways ГУЖД– железных дорог, of Railways ГУЛаг– Главное управление исправительно-трудовых лагерей и колоний, ГЭУ – экономическое, of Economics ГТУ – транспортное, of Transport ГУВПИ – военнопленных и интернированных, of POWs and interned persons Until the reorganization begun by Nikolai Yezhov with a purge of the regional political police in the autumn of 1936 and formalized by a May 1939 directive of the All-Union NKVD by which all appointments to the local political police were controlled from the center, there was frequent tension between centralized control of local units and the collusion of those units with local and regional party elements resulting in the thwarting of Moscow's plans. Following its establishment in 1934, the NKVD underwent many organizational changes.
During Yezhov's time in office, the Great Purge reached its height from the years 1937 and 1938 alone, at least 1.3 million were arrested and 681,692 were executed for'crimes against the state'. The Gulag population swelled by 685,201 under Yezhov, nearly tripling in size in just two years, with
Belarus the Republic of Belarus known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres is forested, its major economic sectors are manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire. In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People's Republic, conquered by Soviet Russia; the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Belarus lost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921.
Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources; the republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR; the parliament of the republic proclaimed the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Alexander Lukashenko has served as the country's first president since 1994. Belarus has been labeled "Europe's last dictatorship" by some Western journalists, on account of Lukashenko's self-described authoritarian style of government. Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy.
Elections under Lukashenko's rule have been criticized as unfair. Belarus is the last country in Europe using the death penalty. Belarus's Democracy Index rating is the lowest in Europe, the country is labelled as "not free" by Freedom House, as "repressed" in the Index of Economic Freedom, is rated as by far the worst country for press freedom in Europe in the 2013–14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Belarus 157th out of 180 nations. In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation. Over 70% of Belarus's population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Russian; the Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second-most widespread religion, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following.
Belarus is a member of the United Nations since its founding, the Commonwealth of Independent States, CSTO, EEU, the Non-Aligned Movement. Belarus has shown no aspirations for joining the European Union but maintains a bilateral relationship with the organisation, participates in two EU projects: the Eastern Partnership and the Baku Initiative; the name Belarus is related with the term Belaya Rus', i.e. White Rus'. There are several claims to the origin of the name White Rus'. An ethno-religious theory suggests that the name used to describe the part of old Ruthenian lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, populated by Slavs, Christianized early, as opposed to Black Ruthenia, predominantly inhabited by pagan Balts. An alternate explanation for the name comments on the white clothing worn by the local Slavic population. A third theory suggests that the old Rus' lands that were not conquered by the Tatars had been referred to as "White Rus'"; the name Rus is conflated with its Latin forms Russia and Ruthenia, thus Belarus is referred to as White Russia or White Ruthenia.
The name first appeared in Latin medieval literature. In some languages, including German and Dutch, the country is called "White Russia" to this day; the Latin term "Alba Russia" was used again by Pope Pius VI in 1783 to recognize the Society of Jesus there, exclaiming "Approbo Societatem Jesu in Alba Russia degentem, approbo." The first known use of White Russia to refer to Belarus was in the late-16th century by Englishman Sir Jerome Horsey, known for his close contacts with the Russian Royal Court. During the 17th century, the Russian tsars used "White Rus" to describe the lands added from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the term Belorussia first rose in the days of the Russian Empire, the Russian Tsar was styled "the Tsar of All the Russias"