Belarus, formally the Republic of Belarus, historically and colloquially known as Byelorussia, is a landlocked nation in Eastern Europe bordered to the northeast by Russia, to the south by Ukraine, to the west by Poland, and to the northwest by Lithuania and Latvia. Minsk is the capital; other important cities include Brest, Hrodna (Grodno), Homiel (Gomel), Mahilio (Mogilev), and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk). Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometers (80,200 square miles) are wooded. Its most important economic sectors are the service and manufacturing industries. Until the twentieth century, the territories of modern-day Belarus were ruled by several governments, notably the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.
Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People’s Republic in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which was conquered by Soviet Russia as the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, which became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR). After the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921, Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland. Much of Belarus’s current boundaries were established in 1939, when certain territories of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, and were completed after World War II. During WWII, military activities ravaged Belarus, causing the country to lose about one-third of its people and more than half of its economic resources. In the postwar years, the republic was rebuilt. Belarus, together with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR, became a founding member of the United Nations in 1945.
On July 27, 1990, the parliament of the republic proclaimed Belarus’ sovereignty, and on August 25, 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence.
Belarus and Russia signed a pact for increased cooperation in 2000, with indications of creating a Union State. Over 70% of Belarus’s population of 9.49 million lives in cities. More over 80% of the population is Belarussian, with significant minority of Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians. The nation has had two official languages since a vote in 1995: Belarusian and Russian. Belarus’s Constitution has no mention of an official religion, despite the fact that Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the country’s main religion. Despite the fact that the second most common religious organization, Roman Catholicism, has a considerably smaller following, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is the only nation in Europe where the death penalty is still legal and practiced.