Belarus
Vitebsk Oblast

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                       06 Dec 2007

 The Vitebsk Oblast, the northern most district of Belarus, is bordered by Lithuania on the west, Latvia on the northwest and Russia on the north and the east.

 The drive up Highway M3 from Minsk to the city of Vitebsk is one of the most scenic in Belarus.  The rolling, tree-lined hills speak of a time when most of the country was covered with forests.  Today much of the land has been cleared for growing wheat and other small grain crops.  Large government-owned combines usually harvest the wheat; however, the small fields and frequent rains make this method difficult and not suitable in some cases.  Hand harvesting is often necessary. In this field the grain crop is cut and tied in small bundles, which are then stacked to dry. After a few days in the sun, a crew loads the bundles on a wagon for the trip to the stationery thresher to extract the grain.

The extensive clearing of the land has not destroyed the scenic beauty of the lakes and streams. The small villages,   originally built along the lakeshore, have been expanded and now occupy the slopes and ravines surrounding the lakes. Eleven of the nineteen major lakes of Belarus are in this district.

 Winters in the city of Vitebsk, as in all of Belarus, are long and cold.  Here in this area, the snow is usually on the ground for five months out of the year; but in the southern part of the country it lasts only four months. 

 The bitter cold winters are part of life in Belarus.  Venturing out for supplies is difficult for some.  Yet, for the kids, it is a time to enjoy a sled ride.  Many brave the cold and snow to purchase groceries in the outdoor markets.  These markets are open year around.  For those in some construction jobs, work must continue even during a snowstorm.  Other construction including the large Orthodox Church has been suspended until warm weather.

 With a population of about 400,000, Vitebsk is known for its culture and history with many old buildings and monuments.  In the city center is a huge memorial commemorating the Great Patriotic War.  The statues, the signs and the monuments all reflect on the destruction, the loss of life, the suffering and heroism during the four years of conflict.  Villages, towns and cities were destroyed and one-fourth of the people of Belarus were killed.

 Vitebsk, like the rest of Belarus, is an interesting place with a rich history dating back for a thousand years but tourists are rare. Occasionally, tour busses with visitors from Russia or Europe make a short stop in this city sharing the same roadway as the Belarus Tractor.

 Belarus Tractors are common on the farm and in the city.  Fortunately, we will be traveling by car to the next stop Mogilev.

 PRONUNCIATION GUIDE:

Minsk                         MIN-sk

Mogilev                      mahg-ee-LAHF

Oblast                         OH-blist

Vitebsk                       VEE-tipsk

 

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