Vitebsk Oblast

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vitebsk Oblast


part of the Byelorussian SSR. Established Jan. 15, 1938. Located in northern Byelorussia along the upper and middle reaches of the Zapadnaia Dvina and the upper reaches of the Dnieper. Area, 40,100 sq km. Population, 1,370,000(1970). The oblast has 21 raions, 16 cities, and 28 urban-type settlements. Administrative center, Vitebsk.

Natural features. Vitebsk Oblast is basically a plain with an altitude of 150-295 meters. Hilly plains and lowlands cover three-quarters of the oblast; the most important of these are the Polotsk in the north, the Verkhneberezina in the south-west, the Chashniki in the valley of the Ulla River, and the Surazh in the northeast. Morainal plateaus and ridges are found along the borders of the oblast—Gorodok (295 m), Vitebsk (296 m), and Orsha (262 m).

The climate is moderately continental; with the continental features more sharply pronounced than in the southern regions of the Byelorussian SSR. The average temperature is —7.5° C in January and 17.5° C in July. The precipitation is 550-600 mm a year. The growing season lasts 177 to 185 days.

The rivers belong to the Zapadnaia Dvina and Dnieper basins. The major tributaries of the Zapadnaia Dvina are the Usviacha, Obol’, Polota, and Drissa on the right and the Kasplia, Luchesa, Ulla, Ushach’, and Disna on the left. The major tributaries of the Dnieper are the Orshitsa and the Adrov. Only the Zapadnaia Dvina is of navigational importance. Some rivers are used for lumber floating—for example, the Drissa, Berezina, and Disna. Vitebsk Oblast has more lakes (over 2,000) than any other oblast in Byelorussia; it is called “the Byelorussian Poozer’e” (lake region). The largest lakes are the Osveiskoe, Driviaty, Snudy, and Drisviaty (along the border of the Lithuanian SSR). Most of the lakes are of glacial origin; many are used for fishing, lumber floating, and water supply for cities and villages.

Vitebsk Oblast is located in the subzone of mixed forests. The soils are mainly turf-podzolized, the most fertile ones being found in the southeast. Turf-gley or peat-swamp soils are found in the lowlands and depressions between the ridges, and there are alluvial meadow soils along the river valleys.

Forests cover 33.4 percent of the oblast’s territory, with a predominance of coniferous species (68 percent); the most widespread deciduous trees are birch, alder, and aspen. The most extensive pine and spruce forests are concentrated in the northern Polotsk Lowland, the upper reaches of the Berezina and Viliia rivers, and the northeastern part of the ob-last. Meadows cover 12 percent and swamps 8 percent of the oblast.

The fauna is represented by blue and common hare, wolf, fox, and squirrel. Brown bear, elk, lynx, badger, ermine, wood marten, and river beaver are also found. The raccoon dog has been acclimatized to the oblast. Game birds include black grouse, duck, and gray partridge. The oblast’s waters contain roach, pike perch, perch, pike, tench, sazan, whitefish, and eel. A considerable part of the Berezina Pre-serve is located within Vitebsk Oblast (Lepel’ Raion).

Population. The basic population is Byelorussian (more than 80 percent); other nationalities living in the oblast include Russians (more than 9 percent), Poles (more than 6 percent), and Jews (about 1.5 percent). The average density is 34.2 inhabitants per sq km. The southeastern regions are most densely populated (about 40 inhabitants per sq km); in the north the density does not exceed 20 inhabitants per sq km. The urban population constitutes 45 percent of the oblast (1970). The major cities are Vitebsk (231,000 inhabitants in 1970), Orsha, Polotsk, and Novopolotsk. Novopolotsk and NovolukomT were founded under Soviet power.

Economy. Vitebsk Oblast is among the highly industrialized oblasts of the Byelorussian SSR: the textile-and-knitted-fabric, machine-building, chemical, fuel, and food industries predominate. The leading branches of agriculture are milk and dairy animal husbandry and flax and potato farming. Industrial output increased more than five times from 1940 to 1969. Many new branches of industry have been created, including the machine-tool and instrument-building industries, oil and refining, and the silk industry. An important condition for the development of industry is the rapid growth of the fuel and electric power base. Peat extraction increased 1.9 times from 1940 to 1969; the largest enterprises in this branch are Osintorf, Dobeevskii Mokh, Dauman, and Usvizh-Buk. Electric power output increased 11 times in the same period; the largest enterprises are the Byelorussian State District Power Plant and the Vitebsk, Polotsk, and Orsha heat and power plants. The first unit of the Lukoml’ State District Power Plant, which is the largest in the republic, was put in operation in 1969. Machine building is rep-resented by the production of machine tools, instruments, spare parts, and sewing and textile machines. The largest centers of machine building are Vitebsk (machine tool and instrument building) and Orsha (plants for machine tools and light machines and locomotive and railroad-car repair plants).

The chemical industry, which accounts for 3 percent of industrial output, is developing rapidly. The Polotsk Oil Refinery, which makes more than 20 types of products, uses oil that arrives from the Volga Region on the oil pipeline. A major chemical complex has been created on the basis of this enterprise. Construction is being completed on a chemical combine, with production of polyethylene (1968), nitrolacrylic acid, and synthetic fibers (for example, the acrylic fiber nitron). Obol’ has a biochemical plant that produces serum for animal therapy. There is a biological plant near Vitebsk that was built in the postwar years.

Vitebsk Oblast is an important region of light industry in the Byelorussian SSR; this industry accounts for more than one-third of the industrial output of the oblast and for about one-fourth of the industrial output of Byelorussia. Approximately one-third of all the flax plants of the Byelorussian SSR are in Vitebsk Oblast. The Orsha Flax Combine, which is one of the largest in the USSR, produces flax yarn and linen. The KIM Hosiery and Knitted Fabric Factory in Vitebsk produces two-thirds of the socks and stockings and more than one-third of the knitted fabrics for outerwear and underwear produced in the republic. Rug and silk-weaving enterprises have been created in Vitebsk. The leather and shoe industries are also developed, primarily in Vitebsk (a garment factory, a shoe factory, and a leather plant). The clothing industry is important in Polotsk and Orsha. A fiber-glass plant was built in Polotsk in the postwar years.

The building materials industry is developing. The largest enterprises in this branch are a housing construction combine in Vitebsk, a silicon brick plant in Orsha, a tile and plate plant in Kopys’ (Orsha Raion), and a limestone materials combine near Vitebsk. Vitebsk and Polotsk are centers of the wood-working and furniture industry; a paper factory operates in Chashniki. The food industry, which accounts for 26 percent of the industrial output, is distinguished by a great variety of branches: meat, dairy, tanning, flour milling, macaroni, alcohol, and vodka (in Vitebsk, Orsha, Polotsk, Postavy, and Lepel’).

The agriculture of Vitebsk Oblast is diversified. In 1969 farming accounted for 50.3 percent of the total value of the agricultural output of the oblast. In 1970 the oblast had 571 kolkhozes and 128 sovkhozes. Plowed lands constitute 30 percent of the available land; hay meadows, 11.6 percent; and pastures, 6.5 percent. The sowing area of all the agricultural crops amounts to 1,143,500 hectares (ha; 1969); of this area 492,100 ha are planted with grain crops (rye, barley, oats, wheat, and others), 76,100 ha with commercial crops (principally flax), 147,400 ha with potatoes, 7,700 ha with vegetables and melon crops, and 420,200 ha with fodder crops. Vitebsk Oblast is a major region in Byelorussia for the cultivation of fiber flax, which is grown in all the raions of the oblast; the central and southern raions are distinguished by a higher concentration of flax plantings. Potatoes are grown everywhere. Vegetables are grown in suburban raions and near vegetable canning plants.

The leading branches of animal husbandry are dairy and meat livestock raising. In early 1970, Vitebsk Oblast had 8,612,000 head of cattle (including 4,281,000 cows), 5,515,000 pigs, and 1,738,000 sheep and goats. From 1940 to 1969 the number of cattle increased 1.8 times and the number of pigs 1.5 times. Dairy and meat animal husbandry is developed mainly in the southwestern raions and pig raising in the central raions. Poultry raising is widespread. The great number of rivers and lakes promotes the development of fishing; the Braslav Fish Processing Plant is the biggest lake fishing enterprise in the republic.

Railroads form the major type of transportation. The total length of railroads is 1,197 km (1969). Railroad transportation accounts for more than four-fifths of the total freight turn-over. Vitebsk Oblast is intersected by the Leningrad-Kiev, Moscow-Brest, and NeveF-Polotsk-Molodechno trunk lines. Highway transportation accounts for about 10 percent of the freight turnover and is the major means of intercity and inter oblast hauling. There are 5,000 km of paved highways. The most important highways are Moscow-Orsha-Minsk-Brest, Leningrad-Vitebsk-Orsha-Kiev-Odessa, and Smolensk-Vitebsk-Polotsk-Riga. Navigation is of local importance (mainly on the Zapadnaia Dvina). A branch of the Druzhba Oil Pipeline goes through the territory of the oblast to Novopolotsk.

Cultural affairs and public health. In the 1969-70 academic year Vitebsk Oblast had 2,197 general education schools of all types with more than 262,000 students, 26 vocational and technical schools with 14,300 students, and 24 specialized secondary educational institutions with more than 22,000 students. There were 12,700 students in higher educational institutions (a technological institute of light industry and veterinary, pedagogical, and medical institutes in Vitebsk), in the evening general-technical department of the Byelorussian Polytechnic Institute in Vitebsk, and in a branch of the Byelorussian Polytechnic Institute in Novopolotsk. In 1970 there were 449 preschool institutions, with approximately 44,000 children.

As of Jan. 1, 1970, the oblast had 1,438 general libraries with 9,351,300 copies of books and magazines, the la. Kolas Byelorussian Dramatic Theater in Vitebsk, 1,135 club institutions, and 1,159 motion picture installations. There were eight museums: museums of local lore in Vitebsk (an oblast museum), Polotsk, and Nevel’; the K. S. Zaslonov Memorial Museum in Orsha; the M. F. Shmyrev Memorial Museum in Vitebsk; and museums of people’s glory in Rossony, Ushach’, and Begoml’. There were also 38 extracurricular institutions.

The Byelorussian-language oblast newspaper Vitsebski rabochy (Vitebsk Worker) has been published since 1917. The oblast radio and television broadcast one radio and two television programs in Byelorussian and in Russian and relay broadcasts from Minsk and Moscow. The television center is in Vitebsk.

On Jan. 1, 1970, Vitebsk Oblast had 3,300 doctors (1 doctor per 421 inhabitants) and 14,700 hospital beds (10.7 beds per 1,000 inhabitants).


Geografiia Belorusii. Minsk, 1965.
Belomssiia. Moscow, 1967. (Series Sovetskii Soiuz.)
Belorusskaia SSR: Vitebskaia oblast’. Minsk, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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