Belarus - once known as White Russia (Byelorus) - is one of the former Republics of the Soviet Union and the one with the closest ties still to Russia.
Much of the country is flat, arable land and the country is one of Europe's poorest. It suffered badly during World War II when most of its historic cities were destroyed, this was followed by 50 years of Communist rule, leaving Belarus with some of the ugliest urban landscapes in Europe. The country was thrown into the headlines with the meltdown at Chernobyl in the south of the country near the border with The Ukraine.
However, it also has Europe's largest tract of ancient forest, supporting rare species such as European Bison.
The capital of Belarus is Minsk, although the best preserved historic town is Grodno near the Polish and Lithuanian borders.
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