Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic Republics, Belarus, and Moldova

Poland

Poland map
Poland map

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.

RealLifeLore: Why Poland’s Geography is the Worst

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.

Carpathian Mountains
Carpathian Mountains
Morskie Oko at the foothill of Tatra Mountains in southern Poland
Morskie Oko at the foothill of Tatra Mountains in southern Poland

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:

Poland's lakes
Poland’s lakes

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.

Wisent (European bison) grazing at a national park in Poland
Wisent (European bison) grazing at a national park in Poland

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.

A German gun crew prepares to shell the ruins of a building during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
A German gun crew prepares to shell the ruins of a building during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in World War 2.

Here’s a brief history of Poland:

DYello3: 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.

Young Gorals of the Beskids Mountains - an ethnic sub-group of Poland
Young Gorals of the Beskids Mountains – an ethnic sub-group of Poland

A couple of famous Poles you may be familiar with:

Maria Skłodowska-Curie
Physicist and chemist Marie Curie was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. She also established Poland’s Radium Institute in 1925.
Nicolaus Copernicus
Copernicus, the 16th-century Polish astronomer who formulated the heliocentric model of the solar system that placed the Sun rather than the Earth at its center

Frédéric Chopin is a famous Polish composer.

Chopin – Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op. 66)

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.

Pierogi are filled dumplings.
Pierogi are filled dumplings.
Bagels originated in Poland.
Bagels originated in Poland.

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?

Schindler’s List

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:

Rick Steves’ Europe: Poland Rediscovered: Kraków, Auschwitz, and Warsaw

Ukraine

Ukraine map
Ukraine map

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.

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev
A collection of traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs – pysanky. The design motifs on pysanky date back to early Slavic cultures.
A collection of traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs – pysanky. The design motifs on pysanky date back to early Slavic cultures.

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”.

Tractor fertilizing a spring field before the seeding. Ukraine, Europe.
Tractor fertilizing a spring field before the seeding. Ukraine, Europe.

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 Baltic states
The Baltic states

The small Baltic states of LatviaEstonia, 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.

Lonely Planet: Introducing Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania

The majority of people in Latvia and Lithuania are Baltic people, the majority in Estonia are Finnic.

A folk dance group from Viljandi, Viljandi County, Estonia
A folk dance group from Viljandi, Viljandi County, Estonia

Estonia has numerous fens and bogs. Forest land covers 50% of Estonia.

What is a fen?
Avaste Fen, Estonia
Avaste Fen, Estonia

Forests cover over half of Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania has numerous lakes and wetlands with 33% of terrain covered by forests.

Devonian sandstone cliffs - Ergelu Cliffs at Gauja River, Latvia
Devonian sandstone cliffs – Ergelu Cliffs at Gauja River, Latvia

Many species extinct in most of the European countries can be still found in the Baltic states.

raccoon dog
The raccoon dog was introduced to Estonia and now found throughout the country.
Lithuania has the highest-density stork population in Europe.
Lithuania has the highest-density stork population in Europe.

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. 

Fresh birch sap
Fresh birch sap is a very popular drink in spring. It is also popular to ferment birch sap by adding raisins, blackcurrant twigs or lemon peels. There is Commercial birch sap drinks is also popular.
Headcheese is a traditional Estonian cold-cut.
Headcheese is a traditional Estonian cold-cut.
Lithuanian rye bread
Lithuanian rye bread
Curd snack is made from curd cheese and are sometimes glazed with chocolate or cream with fruit flavors.
Curd snack is made from curd cheese and are sometimes glazed with chocolate or cream with fruit flavors.
Caraway cheese is traditional Latvian food usually served on Midsummer Festival.
Caraway cheese is traditional Latvian food usually served on Midsummer Festival.
Best Of The Baltic Region – Visit Europe – This video also features Finland, but gives you a good idea of some of the Baltic region’s beauty and places to visit.

Belarus

Belarus map
Belarus map

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.

Minsk (Belarus)
Minsk (Belarus)

Belarus is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marshy land. About 40% of Belarus is covered by forests.

Moldova

Moldova map
Moldova map

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.

History Hustle: Moldova – a Short History

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.

Travel to Moldova, discover Moldova

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Next: Romania, Albania, and Bulgaria

Additional information and image credits:

Poland map
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
Wisenet
By Ludwig Schneider – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10715601
Marie Curie
By Henri Manuel – Christie’s, [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15472203
Copernicus
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
Grojcowianie
By Wpedzich – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50732032
Warsaw ghetto
By Unknown author (Franz Konrad confessed to taking some of the photographs, the rest was probably taken by photographers from Propaganda Kompanie nr 689.[1][2]) – http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/stroopgallery2/Warsaw%20ghetto%20a.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48008100
Pierogi
By Silar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12455986
bagels
By EGiniger1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44787476
Baltic states map
By Blomsterhagens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73996219
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
Fen
By James P. “Jim” Amon, United States Environmental Protection Agency – archive copy, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11034364
Avaste fen
By Ivo Kruusamägi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42504252
Raccoon dog
By Владимир Маковецкий, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73635607
Lithuania info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithuania
Latvia info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latvia
Baltic states info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltic_states
storks
By Mindaugas Urbonas from Lithuanian wikipedia (Profile, Homepage, E-mail, Papuošalai, Makiažas, Visažistė, Sveika mityba ) – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2519954
Viljandi folk dancers
By Calle Eklund/V-wolf – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33515423
Dvonian sandstone cliffs
By Gatis Pāvils – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1377383
Birch sap
By User:Fox89, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31920113
Lithuanian rye bread
By Bearas – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14942687
curd snack
By Bearas – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46548710
Headcheese
By The original uploader was Rainer Zenz at German Wikipedia. – Transferred from de.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2668518
Caraway cheese
By I, Xil, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2289647
Ukraine map
By Steschke, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19215
Moldova map
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
By Paweł ‘pbm’ Szubert (talk) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26354145
Ukraine farmland
By Vian – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68903446
Ukrainian Easter eggs
By Lubap Creator:Luba Petrusha – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15048048
Minsk (Belarus)
By Igor Eskov – https://vk.com/albums-43674676?z=photo-43674676_456242837%2Fphotos-43674676, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88553946
Belarus
By File:Belarus location map.svg: NordNordWestderivative work Виктор_В – File:Belarus location map.svg by NordNordWestSRTM3, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11301514
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

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