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Western parts of Russia

Western parts of Russia

A large part of Eastern Europe belonged to the Kingdom of Poland before the Partitions. Most of this was the historical territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its inhabitants belonged to several ethnic and religious groups. The largest one were the Ruthenians (now Belarussians and Ukrainians) who professed to Byzantine Catholicism. Baltic peoples speaking Lithuanian and Latvian lived in the northern regions. Due to the traditional Polish influence and their rule over Lithuania, the Polish (mostly Catholic) inhabitants were usually the landowners throughout this area, although they were only in a majority in the regions of Wilno and Grodno. The total percentage of Polish-speaking inhabitants of the Grand Duchy of Lithaunia was about 15%. The number of Jews was similar. During the Partitions (1772-1795) this entire area was incorporated into the Russian Empire.


Under the Russian rule during the 19th century, the role of the Polish inhabitants decreased significantly. Many of them were expropriated due to the policy of the Tzars. The Catholic Church was also persecuted. The Byzantine rite was abolished in 1839 and the Ruthenian populace was forced to "convert" to Russian Orthodox.


After WWI, this territory was divided between the USSR and new independent states of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland which came into existence at that time. The latter had much more than they do today (see the maps on the History of Poland page).


During WWII the Jewish inhabitants of this part of Europe were in great part exterminated by the Nazis. Hundreds of thousands of people of other backgrounds also lost their lives or were imprisoned in the concentration camps by either the Nazis or the Soviets. After the War, new boundaries were drawn. This area was for the most part incorporated into the Soviet Union, with only the portion surrounding Bialystok remaining Polish. The Polish-speaking inhabitants were largely expelled to Poland or escaped from there. They settled in the former German areas of Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia which became Polish after 1945. On the other hand, most of the Ukrainian minority, previously living west of the new Polish border, were forced to go to the Soviet Union. It was not until 1990 that the Republics of the Soviet Union acquired their independence.


 The map shows the territory of the pre-1772 Polish regions of Western Russia according to the time before WWI. The present national status of those areas is marked with different colors. Currently they are parts of Latvia (cyan), Lithuania (yellow), Russia (green), Belarus (magenta), Poland (white) and Ukraine (blue). Names of cities are given in their Polish versions (which differ from the Russian, Ukrainian, etc. ones usually only by spelling).




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