One of the seven federated republics of the USSR (Beloruskaja Socialističeskaja Sovetskaja Respublika), the smallest in extension (126,792 sq km) and comprising just over 1/35 of the residents subjected to the Soviet regime. Enlarged in 1924 with part of the former governorates of Vitebsk, Smolensk and Gomel ′, a part of the latter was annexed to it in December 1926.
According to Ehotelat.com, the territory of White Russia has roughly the shape of a quadrilateral: the maximum length from N. (Lake Osvejskoe) to S. (confluence of Pripyat ′ in the Dnieper) is about 550 km; the maximum width, from E. (Lhotimsk) to O. (Semežovo) just over 240. It extends all over the Polish border, except for a small strip on the Latvian one (just to E. of Daugavpils), communicating at noon with the Ukraine and to the east with the RSFSR.
The name of White Russia derives from that of its residents, so called by the prevalence of white in their traditional costumes (felt cap, jacket). This population, which also for the language differs both from the Great Russians and from the Ukrainians, appears to have been established for a long time in the regions of the upper Dnieper, the Daugava (or western Dvina) and the Niemen in which it has been able to maintain an ethnic type overall. well differentiated in many respects from that of neighboring peoples.
As for the other political-administrative subdivisions constituting the USSR, the individuality of the BSSR substantially rests on the consciousness, already developed in the White-Russians even before the Bolshevik revolution, of its own ethnic-traditional content, in opposition to that of the neighboring populations., despite and perhaps thanks to the mixture of lineages that the historical events have determined in these regions. Which lack a corresponding physical individuality, even though most of the Polessia is included in White Russia: morphology and climate do not in fact differ much on both sides of political boundaries, of which it could not even be said that satisfy anthropic needs.
In contrast to the relative variety of its geological constitution (from the sandstones and the devonic limestone of the N. one passes, towards the east, to the Cretaceous limestones, and to the paleogenic assizes of the extreme section of SE.), The land shows almost everywhere equally widespread and conspicuous traces of the great Pleistocene glaciation, in a monotonous and equal landscape, just moved by the emergence of more or less leveled and dismembered morainic ridges, on the rounded hills of clay and sand, which river erosion tends to isolate. The heights, less than 150 m. in most of White Russia, they are slowly depressing on either side of a series of croups that emerge up to 344 m. in Lysaja Gora, right on the Polish border, and from here they proceed, keeping between 200 and 250 m. high, tortuous and discontinuous, in order to separate the middle basin of the Daugava, which constitutes the northern part of the country (tributary of the Baltic), from the range of waterways that descend to Pripyat ′, Beresina and Dnieper (and thus end up at the Black Sea). The valleys of the latter, becoming more uncertain the more slender the coating of the clays and glacial sands is being made, on the cretaceous base, are converted, towards S., into an immense expanse of marshes – the Polessia – of which the shower tray is especially characteristic, at the bottom of which the Pripyat ′ wanders lazily. Region of marshes, dunes, sands, this one, almost completely devoid of erratic blocks, barred at noon by a long alignment of moraines (whose course coincides with that of the political border towards the Ukraine) and still covered for the most part by woods; therefore such as to represent for a long time a stopping area for the finitime people, who, colliding with opposite sides, were forced to go around it, or were able to penetrate it, opposing each other. On the other hand, the northern sector of the watershed between the two seas is quite different, although the prevalence of the forest and the abundance of peaty or marshy soils are also completely typical for it. Immediately on the two sides of the line of hills that marks that watershed, the strips used at the expense of the forest become more frequent: the rapid depletion of the vegetable soil however soon determines their abandonment and the consequent reconquest by the forest. Also to N. of the great road and railway communications that from Warsaw adduce to Moscow for Minsk and Orša the consequences of the glacial action are revealed above all in the abundance of small lake basins, which set the tone for the landscape in the NW corner. of White Russia, as in the finitimi edges of the USSR and Latvia.
The climate has a distinctly continental character, with rather early, rigid and long winters and short but warm summers. Average annual temperatures fluctuate from 5 ° to 7 ° (as on the coasts of Norway, which is 150 more to N.), and on the whole increase regularly from the Dvina basin towards those of Pripyat ‘and Dnieper. January, which is the coldest month, averages −5 ° to −8 ° (−8 °, 3 in Gorki near Orša; −7 °, 8 in Vitebsk; −6 °, 4 in Vasileviči), but the absolute minima often drop below −30 ° (−35 ° in the southern province of Mozyr ′). In July, which is the hottest month, the oscillation is smaller: from 18 ° to 19 °, on average (17 °, 7 in Gorki, 18 °, 4 in Vasileviči, 18 °, 8 in Bobrujsk), with maximum absolute which rarely exceed 35 °. As in the rest of Russia, summer temperatures regularly drop from S. to N., while for the winter ones the same happens from W to E. and especially from W to SE. Therefore, the characteristics of continentality are accentuated from the Polish border towards central Russia, as shown by the average annual excursion, which from less than 24 ° in Minsk rises to more than 26 ° in Smolensk. However, these are essentially differences of little weight, nor is it different to say as regards rainfall, the sum of which is everywhere higher, on average, than 500 mm. nodded. The minima are localized in the depressed area of Polessia, where that figure is not usually exceeded; the maximums in the north-western corner (Vitebsk), in which 700 mm is approached or exceeded. Most of White Russia therefore has sufficient rainfall for crops, especially since the period in which they are concentrated corresponds to the first summer, and the number of rainy days (roughly half of that of the days of the year) basically shows an equal seasonal distribution. Snow remains on the ground for an average of just over 3 months (Minsk) to just over 4 months (Vitebsk) every year.
As mentioned, the territory of White Russia is divided between the two basins of the western Dvina (Daugava) and the Dnieper. The latter is responsible for more than 3/4 of the surface of the republic, of which the river crosses from N. to S. for over 350 km. the eastern sector, while its tributaries Beresina and Pripyat ′ (which have their sources in Polish territory) bring it the tribute of the waters collected in the wider western one; waterways, all three, navigable and by means of canals connected to the Dvina as well as to the Niemen and the Vistula. Navigable is also the Dvina, of which however it belongs to White Russia only a short distance, and which for a few kilometers marks the border towards Poland. The river network becomes more and more dense as you proceed towards S., where from
Although there are no reliable statistical data, it is certainly not far from the truth by calculating that at least 3/4 of the territory of White Russia is occupied by waters (lakes and swamps), peatlands and forests. The extension of the latter has gradually been reduced with the thickening of the human settlement; however, the coniferous forest – to which broad-leaved trees are increasingly associated (mostly birch, hornbeam, oak and ash), as we proceed towards noon – covers large surfaces almost everywhere, except for the flooded area of Polessia. Grasslands (in Carex and Eriophorum above all), patches of alders and low willow bushes alternate here, according to the greater or lesser acidity of the peaty soil, with oak, ash and hornbeam woods, which prefer the sandy ridges, higher and drier.
On these lands, which usually correspond to continental dunes or morainic banks, the first (Neolithic) peoples who took possession of the region appear to be fixed: similarly, precisely on the less depressed strips and therefore more difficult to flood, they also came later establishing the major settlements, while the agricultural population used, as we have said, the spaces left or made free by the forest.