Temps de lecture :2 minutes
This landlocked former Soviet republic, nestled between Poland and Russia, has a population of 10 million and was known as the Byelorussian SSR prior to 1991. Its autocratic regime has come under criticism for being a political throwback to Sovietism. Its land area of 200,000 km² is generally flat with tracts of marshy land. A third is covered by large uninhabited forests known as pushchy.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Bia?owie?a Forest), shared with Poland, was named a Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1979. The Belorussian side stretches over 150,000 ha of protected areas. It is the last standing primeval forest of the European Plain and boasts exceptional biodiversity (12,000 species of animals alone). The European bison was reintroduced in this park.
After Chernobyl: Belarus took the worst fallout from the Ukrainian tragedy, with 25% of its land being contaminated. 485 villages were evacuated, and 70 of those were subsequently demolished and buried. Reliable casualty figures are hard to come by, especially death counts for the liquidators, those men and women sent in from all over the region to clean up contaminated areas. It is estimated that 2.1 million, or 20% of the Belarussian population, live in the most severly contaminated areas (18,000 km²). Since the tragedy, several floods in the region have spread radioactive waste through the floodwaters, especially via the Pripyat River, a tributary of the Dnieper which drains into the Black Sea. Experts believe that radioactive waste is still present in the soil and ecosystems.
The former director of the Gomel Medical Institute, Yury Bandazhevsky , was arrested in 1999 and imprisoned for several years for sounding the alarm concerning health consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. Following international protests led by Amnesty international and the French Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD), he was released in 2005 and fled to France. Another scientist, the late Vassili Nesterenko, lost his position after speaking out over the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. He went on to found an independent institute, Belrad, Belarus’ only independent source of information on the Chernobyl disaster.