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Minsk is the capital city of Belarus, or White Russia. It is built on hillocks at the junction of two small rivers and close to a lake called Plebau. Its population in 2022 stood at 2,048,574. In 1950 its population was 284,222[1], in 1935 it was circa 137,000[2], and in 1875 its population was only 36,000.[3] The city has a university (1921), a music conservatory, and a number of theatres including the Belarus State Theatre of Opera and Ballet.


The history of the town goes back to the 11th century when in 1067 it was first mentioned. It became a Principality in 1101. In the early part of the 14th century the Principality was taken by Lithuania, and in the 15th century became a province of Poland. The town was devastated by the Tartars in 1505, and was occupied by Moscovite troops in 1508. At the beginning of the 17th century it suffered during the Swedish-Russian wars and in 1793 during the Second Partition of Poland it was finally united to Russia. The French occupied Minsk in 1812 during Napoleon's march to Smolensk, 219 miles distant.[4] It was occupied by the armies of the Central Powers following Russia's collapse in World War I, and during the Polish invasion of Russia in 1920 the city was occupied by them.

There were several churches and monasteries in Minsk, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic but none of great interest. Beyond the town are the ruins of the 'White Church', built in the 15th century.[5] The Mariinsky Cathedral and the Bernadine monastery survive today.

Minsk became an industrial centre following the building of the Moscow-Warsaw and Libau-Romny railways through Minsk in the 1870s.[6] In the mid-20th century it was noted for machinery, leather, and had large mills.[7]

World War II

Minsk under German occupation in WWII. Some war-damaged buildings can be seen on the left.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union Minsk became an obvious target on the road to Moscow. It was hard-fought for but by 9 July 1941 German Armies IV and IX had captured the city. Of the four Soviet armies composed of 43 divisions and six brigades, the Germans had succeeded in destroying 22 infantry divisions, three cavalry divisions, seven armoured divisions, and six motorised brigades. 300,000 prisoners, 2,500 tanks, 1,400 guns, and 250 aircraft were captured. It was a major defeat for the Soviets.[8] During the German retreat in 1944 the city was again fought over and this time was almost destroyed.[9]


Writing in 1875, John Murray relates: "Jews of the poorest class form a third of the population and render Minsk a very undesireable place to stop at. For instance, the Hotel de St.Petersburg, is a notable large hotel, but kept by very dirty Jews."[10]


  1. https://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/minsk-population
  2. The New Pictorial Atlas of the World with Gazetteer, Odhams Press Ltd., London, 1935 p.269.
  3. Russia, Poland, and Finland - Handbook for Travellers, 3rd edition revised, John Murray publisher, London, 1875, p.194.
  4. Murray, 1875, p.195.
  5. Murray, 1875, p.195.
  6. Encyclopaedia Britannica Micropaedia, Chicago, 1990, vol.viii, p.171.
  7. Odhams, 1935, p.269.
  8. Purnell's History of the Second World War Editors: Sir Basil Liddel-Hart and Barrie Pitt, Grolier, London, 1981, vol.vi, p.596: "Barbarossa - The Drive to Smolensk" by Major-General Alfred Philippi.
  9. Britannica, 1990, vol.viii, p.171.
  10. Murray, 1875, p.195.