Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Lithuania, and Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast to the north, Belarus and Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the south, and Germany to the west.
The center of Poland and parts of the north lie within the European Plain. In the south lie part of the Carpathian Mountains -the highest part of these is the Tatra Mountains along the southern border.
Poland has one of the highest numbers of lakes in the world. In Europe, only Finland has a greater density of lakes. You can see the lake districts in the north of Poland via this cropped map:
Many animals that have since died out in other parts of Europe still survive in Poland, such as the wisent in the ancient woodland of the Białowieża Forest, and ancient woodland that has never been cleared or disturbed much by people.
The climate is mostly temperate throughout the country. The climate is oceanic in the north and west and becomes gradually warmer and continental towards the south and east. Summers are generally warm and winters are cold. The climate in the northeast is affected by cold fronts that come from Scandinavia and Siberia.
The largest city and capital of Poland is Warsaw.
Here’s a brief history of Poland:
Since the fall of Communism, Poland left behind its old state-directed economy and transitioned to a market economy, in which businesses are privately owned and run. When the Communists controlled Poland, there was a strong emphasis on heavy industry, and that focus remains alive today. Poland produces cars, buses, helicopters, trains, and heavy military equipment, including tanks and ships. Before the Communists industrialized the Polish economy, it was largely agrarian. Though Poland continues to be one of Europe’s leading agricultural producers, with a wide variety of crops and dairy and meat production, it is unable to meet the food demands of its large population. Poland’s economy is still considered to be under development.
Today, Poland is mostly inhabited by ethnic Poles with many diverse regional ethnographic sub-groups.
A couple of famous Poles you may be familiar with:
Frédéric Chopin is a famous Polish composer.
Polish cuisine has evolved over the centuries to become highly eclectic due to Poland’s history. Polish cuisine shares many similarities with other Central European cuisines, especially German and Austrian as well as Jewish, French, Italian and Turkish culinary traditions.
Here are a couple of books set in Poland that you may want to check out:
The Trumpeter of Krakow
There was something about the Great Tarnov Crystal…Wise men spoke of it in hushed tones. Others were ready to kill for it. Now a murderous Tartar chief is bent on possessing it. But young Joseph Charnetski was bound by an ancient oath to protect the jewel at all costs.
When Joseph and his family seek refuge in medieval Krakow, they are caught up in the plots and intrigues of alchemists, hypnotists, and a dark messenger of evil. Will Joseph be able to protect the crystal, and the city, from the plundering Tartars?
A stunning novel based on the true story of how German war profiteer and factory director Oskar Schindler came to save more Jews from the gas chambers than any other single person during World War II. In this milestone of Holocaust literature, Thomas Keneally, author of Daughter of Mars, uses the actual testimony of the Schindlerjuden—Schindler’s Jews—to brilliantly portray the courage and cunning of a good man in the midst of unspeakable evil.
If you have a spare 25 min., you may want to watch this video about Poland:
With the largest physical area in Europe, Ukraine is slightly larger than France. Its population in 2010 was approximately forty-six million, and 77 percent of the population is ethnically Ukrainian and 17 percent is Russian. Most of the population live in the industrial regions of the southeast or eastern parts of the country. Though the official language is Ukrainian, many Ukrainians still speak Russian. As is the case with neighboring states, the Eastern Orthodox Church dominates the religious and cultural reflections of the arts, literature, and architecture. Christian themes are often reflected in the paintings, books, and performances.
The demographic trend in Ukraine follows a pattern of industrialization with smaller family sizes but continues to have a higher death rate than most European countries. The country is now losing about 150,000 people per year. The low birth rates are similar to those of Russia and southern Europe. Poor health and childhood poverty in Ukraine are two of the main issues confirmed by the United Nations (UN). In 2010, Ukraine had a negative population growth rate of −0.62 percent. Fertility rates have been in decline throughout Europe over the past few decades. The average fertility rate in Ukraine is 1.1, one of the world’s lowest; in Europe as a whole, the average is about 1.3. The causes for some of these trends can be attributed to alcoholism, poor diets, smoking, and the lack of medical care. The average life expectancy for an adult male in Ukraine is about sixty-two years. In comparison, the average life expectancy for men in France is about seventy-eight years.
Of the former Soviet Union republics, excluding Russia, Ukraine was far and away the most important economic component, producing about four times the output of the next-ranking Soviet republic. Its fertile black soil generated more than one-fourth of the overall Soviet agricultural output, and its farms provided substantial quantities of meat, milk, grain, and vegetables to other republics. As much as two-thirds of the country’s surface land consists of the so-called black earth, a resource that has made Ukraine one of the most fertile regions in the world and well known as a “breadbasket”.
Likewise, its diversified heavy industry supplied steel pipes and raw materials to Russia’s oil and mining industry. Ukraine’s political relationship with Russia has been complicated since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but Russia still supplies enormous amounts of natural gas and oil to fuel the economy, and Russia’s markets are still highly integrated with those of Ukraine.
Though Ukraine has transitioned from a Soviet republic to a fully independent country, divisive centrifugal forces have made Ukraine’s path to free elections and democratically elected leaders difficult. The country has held political elections, but they have been challenged or tainted with corruption and accusations of fraud. Today, the country has a democratically elected government and is working toward improving its economy and creating stability for its people.
The Baltic Republics
The small Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania transitioned away from their old Soviet connections. After independence, they were quick to look toward Western Europe for trade and development. Most Eastern European countries followed this pattern. Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania received their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia withdrew its troops from the region in 1994. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU welcomed them as members in 2004. They have transitioned to market economies with democratic governments. The people of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania rapidly expanded their economic conditions after independence but have been hard hit by the downturn in the global marketplace in 2008.
The majority of people in Latvia and Lithuania are Baltic people, the majority in Estonia are Finnic.
Estonia has numerous fens and bogs. Forest land covers 50% of Estonia.
Forests cover over half of Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania has numerous lakes and wetlands with 33% of terrain covered by forests.
Many species extinct in most of the European countries can be still found in the Baltic states.
Historically, the cuisine of the Baltic states has been heavily dependent on seasons and simple peasant food.
Lithuanian cuisine features the products suited to the cool and moist northern climate of Lithuania: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms are locally grown, and dairy products are one of its specialties. Fish dishes are very popular in the coastal region.
Latvian food is generally quite fatty and uses few spices. It also uses a lot of milk products such as cottage cheese, sour cream, sour milk and different types of cheeses.
The most typical foods in Estonia are black bread, pork, potatoes, and dairy products. Traditionally in summer and spring, Estonians like to eat everything fresh – berries, herbs, vegetables, and everything else that comes straight from the garden.
In 1991, independence came to the former Soviet Republic of Belarus, but Belarus took a different path from most of the other Eastern bloc countries in that Belarus did not distance itself from its Russian connection. Belarus has consequently experienced authoritarian governments well into the twenty-first century. In this case, Russia and Belarus created a stronger relationship by signing agreements to increase economic integration. Difficulties have hindered the implementation of many of these policies. For one thing, the government of Belarus has been slow to move toward democratic reforms. In fact, the president has taken on greater authoritarian powers. Some of the personal freedoms that have been granted in other European countries—freedom of the press, free speech, and the right to peacefully assemble—are still restricted in Belarus. As of 2010, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova have not been admitted into the EU. Belarus has indicated that it might join with the Russian Republic and has not even applied for entry into the EU.
Belarus is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marshy land. About 40% of Belarus is covered by forests.
Due to its strategic location on a route between Asia and Europe, the territory of modern Moldova experienced many invasions in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Moldova has had a turbulent history and declared its independence in 1991.
The poor, agrarian economy of the small, landlocked country of Moldova provides few opportunities or advantages to grow its economy and provide a stronger future for its people. As a result, young people earning an education or technical skills immigrate to other countries for opportunities or employment.
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Additional information and image credits:
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32649916
Poland relief map
By derivative work Виктор_В – File:Poland location map.svg by NordNordWestSRTM30ETOPO1, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11315309
Tatra Mountains in Poland
By Aneta Pawska – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62958175
Hydrographic map of Poland
By No machine-readable author provided. Krzysiu Jarzyna assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=692776
By Ludwig Schneider – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10715601
By Henri Manuel – Christie’s, , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15472203
By Unknown author – http://www.frombork.art.pl/Ang10.htmhttps://www.welt.de/img/kultur/mobile152954235/1212503297-ci102l-w1024/Kopernikus-Gemaelde-in-Krakau.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=113500
By Wpedzich – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50732032
By Unknown author (Franz Konrad confessed to taking some of the photographs, the rest was probably taken by photographers from Propaganda Kompanie nr 689.) – http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/stroopgallery2/Warsaw%20ghetto%20a.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48008100
By Silar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12455986
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Baltic states map
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Baltic states regions map
By Peter Fitzgerald – Own work based on the subdivisions of Baltic states and CIA maps, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22743844
By James P. “Jim” Amon, United States Environmental Protection Agency – archive copy, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11034364
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By Владимир Маковецкий, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73635607
Baltic states info
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Viljandi folk dancers
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Dvonian sandstone cliffs
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By User:Fox89, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31920113
Lithuanian rye bread
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By Bearas – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46548710
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By Burmesedays – Own work based on the UN map of Moldova, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22746695
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
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Ukrainian Easter eggs
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By Igor Eskov – https://vk.com/albums-43674676?z=photo-43674676_456242837%2Fphotos-43674676, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88553946
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Carpathian Mountains – By Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC – http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=5348Annotated by Bogdan Giuşcă, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112992