What life was like in Soviet Belarus (PHOTOS)

A harvest festival in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1987

A harvest festival in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1987

Yevgeny Koktysh/Sputnik
The Republic of Belarus lay on the western border of the USSR. Despite suffering horrendously during endless wars, it contributed enormously to the country's economy.

The architectural landscape of Minsk, the capital of Belarus, still recalls the Soviet era: spacious squares, stately Stalinist buildings, practically no outdoor advertising or stalls, and old Soviet street names. 

Soviet tanks on Lenin (now Independence) Square, Minsk, 1935

Polish-Lithuanian heritage

Historically, part of Belarus belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the most powerful and populous countries in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries. This page of history left a legacy of fortresses and Catholic churches. The final contours of the Belarusian SSR were determined only after WWII, when the important city of Bialystok was transferred back to Poland. The Constitution of the Belarusian SSR of 1927 was published in the four languages officially ​​recognized by the state: Russian, Belarusian, Polish and Yiddish. The new constitution of 1937 dispensed with Polish and Yiddish.   

In Soviet times, the 16th-century Nesvizh Castle housed a sanatorium, photo of 1986

As for Lida Castle (14th century), from the early 20th century until 1939 it hosted a stadium for the Polish soccer team. When this territory became part of the USSR, the castle ruins were left alone but the team was moved out, although children continued to kick soccer balls against the ancient walls.  

The Lida Castle

During WWII, the Germans used the 16th-century Mir Castle as a Jewish ghetto; then after liberation, the Soviets turned it into an art and craft artel. Only in the late 1970s–early 1980s was the castle restored.

The 16th-century Mir Castle, photo of 1978.

The Red Church (Church of Saints Simeon and Helena) in Minsk was built in 1905. In Soviet times, it was converted into a film studio, then a cinema cultural center and museum. After the fall of the USSR, it reverted to being a church.  

Church of Saints Simeon and Helena, photo of 1983

In the Soviet era, the Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary (built 1700) in Minsk was home to the Spartak sports club and used as a training ground. The two towers were demolished but restored after the collapse of the USSR.

The Cathedral of the Holy Name of Mary (second building from right)

The main battlefield on the Eastern Front of WWII

Perhaps no other Soviet republic suffered as much as Belarus in WWII. On top of the military losses, the conflict cost the lives of more than 2 million civilians. The republic stood in the way of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center), the German division assigned to take Moscow. In June 1941, it was completely captured by fascist troops. One of the first attacks was on Brest Fortress, which Soviet soldiers heroically defended for nearly a month. 

A particularly devastating fate befell the village of Khatyn (not to be confused with Katyn). Almost the entire population was massacred as part of a reprisal operation. In 1969, the Unbowed Man Memorial Complex was installed there, depicting the only adult survivor and his dead son.  

Soviet soldiers next to a wrecked German tank, Mogilev, 1941
Belarusian partisans blow up a bridge, 1943
Minsk in ruins, 1941-42
Khatyn Memorial Complex, 1974
Brest Fortress Hero Memorial Complex, Belarus, 1972


The main industries of the Belarusian SSR were machine-building, metallurgy and energy. A genuine miracle of engineering was the MAZ heavy-duty dump truck, manufactured by the Minsk Automobile Plant, and its successor BelAZ, made by the Belarusian Automobile Plant. They were used for quarrying and mining, and for building hydroelectric power stations, dams and many other complex works. The machines were also popular abroad, and are still made and exported to this day, including to Russia. The Minsk Tractor Plant also had huge production volumes.

Wheel of a MAZ-525 dump truck, 1953
Dump truck on the conveyor of the Minsk Automobile Plant, 1953
BelAZ-548 heavy-duty dump truck, made by the Belarusian Automobile Plant.
Control panel of the Lukoml Thermal Power Plant in the city of Novolukoml, Belorussian SSR, 1972
Employee of the Minsk Refrigerator Plant demonstrates the Minsk-7 refrigerator, 1973. Half of all Soviet homes had one.

Potato country

There are many jokes about Belarusians and potatoes, which are grown and consumed in vast quantities in Belarus due to the properties of the native soil. The humble potato repeatedly saved the population from hunger when other crops failed. And the national cuisine boasts numerous potato dishes, the most famous being draniki (potato pancakes).

Potato harvest at a collective farm, 1971
Potato harvest, 1973   
Potato pancakes, 1987
Belarusian Order of the Red Banner of Labor, Research Institute for Potato Farming and Horticulture. Inside potato-growing hothouses, 1984

Everyday life 

Pioneers at Brest Fortress, 1960s
Ivan Kupala Day at the State Museum of Folk Architecture and Life outside Minsk, 1989
Machine operator at the Soviet Belarus Collective Farm returns home from the field, 1987

A bison is a symbol of Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, 1989
The State Library of the Byelorussian SSR, a masterpiece of constructivist architecture, 1962. 
Memorial day for victims of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which occurred near the Belarusian border. The radiation spread far inside the country. Photo of 1990
USSR Motor Racing Championship, 1956
Minsk Circus posters, 1985
Apartment of a Belarusian woman employed at the Minsk Tractor Plant, 1982
Sovetskaya Street, Minsk, 1980
American delegation visiting the Brest Fortress Hero Memorial Complex in the Byelorussian SSR, 1978

Young mothers in the city of Novolukoml, Vitebsk Region. In the background stands a monument to partisan commander F. Ozmitel, 1978
Gas station in Minsk, 1978
In Minsk Park of Culture and Rest, 1974
Yubileiny (Jubilee) movie theater in the city of Gomel, 1979.
Watching young performers at the Yanka Kupala Belarusian Drama Theater, 1953
Hairdressing competition, 1970s
Belarusian ensemble Syabry, 1984
Minsk residents on a May Day procession, 1983.
Fine-cloth plant, 1953

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