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Vitebsk (vēˈtĕpsk, vēˈtyĭpsk), city (1989 pop. 350,000), Belarusian Vitsyebsk, capital of Vitebsk region, N Belarus, on the Western Dvina River. It is a river port and large railroad junction in an agricultural district. Manufactures include machine tools, electrical instruments, processed food, textiles, and building materials. It also is an important Belarusian cultural and educational center. Vitebsk dates from the 11th cent. and was the capital of a Russian principality that came under (14th cent.) Lithuanian rule. It passed to Russia again in 1772. Its Jewish community, which dated from the 16th cent., was stronghold of Orthodox Judaism; Jews constituted about half the population for much of 19th cent. and until World War I. The city became part of independent Belarus in 1991.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from the name of the Vit’ba River), a city, the center of Vitebsk Oblast, Byelorussian SSR. It is located on the hilly banks of the western Dvina River, near its confluence with the Vit’ba. Vitebsk has a large harbor and is the junction of railroad lines linking the cities of the Byelorussian SSR and UkrSSR with Leningrad and the central regions of the USSR with the Baltic regions. In population Vitebsk is the third-largest city in the Byelorussian SSR, with a population of 231,000 in 1970 (66,000 in 1897, 106,500 in 1913, 167,000 in 1939, and 148,000 in 1959). The city is divided into three regions.

Vitebsk was first mentioned in chronicles of about the year 1021. In the llth century it was part of the Polotsk principality, from which it was separated in 1101 to form the independent Vitebsk principality. Located on the route “from the Varangians to the Greeks,” Vitebsk traded with Riga and the German cities. In the first third of the 14th century it became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. According to the Lublin Union of 1569, Vitebsk became part of the Rzecz Pospolita (Polish militia). In 1597 it received the Magdeburg Rights. In 1796, Vitebsk became the center of the Byelorussian province and in 1802 the center of the Vitebsk province. Before the October Revolution the city’s commercial activity was chiefly local; the only large enterprise was the Dvina flax-spinning plant, built in 1889 by a Belgian joint-stock company.

The Social Democratic movement in Vitebsk began in the 1890’s. In 1905 the Vitebsk Social Democratic organization joined the northwest committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. Soviet power was established on Oct. 28 (Nov. 10), 1917. From July 9, 1941, to May 26, 1944, Vitebsk was occupied by fascist German troops.

Vitebsk is a great industrial center of the Byelorussian SSR. Light industry occupies a leading position—there are textile, knitwear (KIM stocking factory, carpet and silk combines), clothing (Banner of Industrialization factory), and leather shoe (leather factory, shoe plant) enterprises. Another important branch of industry is machine construction (Kirov and Comintern machine-tooling factories and XXII Party Congress tool-grinding machine factory). There are plants manufacturing electronic measuring instruments, radio elements, watch parts, and spare parts for tractors and repairing motors; there is also the Metal-worker metal goods factory and an instrument plant. The food industry is represented by an oil-extraction plant, a mill combine, and meat and poultry combines. Vitebsk has one of the largest woodworking combines in the USSR, a house-construction combine (prefabricated houses, wood construction, and others), building materials and limestone materials combines, and a thermal electric power plant.

Of architectural importance are the Church of the Annunciation (12th century, badly damaged), the classical governor’s palace (before 1772), and the town hall (1775; third floor added in the 19th century). According to the general plan of 1945-47 (A. M. Kas’ianov architect), a radial-ring layout was created, Lenin and Kirov streets were reconstructed (1952-60), new regions were created, a bridge was built across the western Dvina (1953-55), and a rail-road station (1950’s) and the J. Kolas Byelorussian Dramatic Theater (1960’s) were constructed.

Vitebsk is an important cultural and educational center of the Byelorussian SSR. It has a technological institute for light industry, veterinary, pedagogical and medical institutes, and a number of special secondary schools, including a machine and instrument technical school and polytechnical school. There is a museum of regional studies with an art division.


Mel ’nichuk, S. M. Vitebskaia oblast’. Minsk, 1962.
Sapunov, A. P. Vitebskaia starina, vols. 1, 4. Vitebsk, 1883-85.
Nikitsin, G. A. Vitsebsk. Minsk, 1959.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a city in E Belarus, a port on the Dvina river: taken by Russia in 1772. Pop.: 344 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
The city of Vitebsk in Belarus was of strategic importance during the fighting on the Eastern Front, as it controlled the route to Minsk.