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What you need to know about Minsk

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Minsk is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Belarus, situated on the Svislach and Nyamiha rivers. It is the administrative centre of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). As the national capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblast) and Minsk raion (district). In 2013, it had a population of 2,002,600.

The earliest historical references to Minsk date to the 11th century (1067), when it was noted as a provincial city within the principality of Polotsk. The settlement developed on the rivers. In 1242, Minsk became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It received town privileges in 1499.

From 1569, it was a capital of the Minsk Voivodship in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was part of a region annexed by the Russian Empire in 1793, as a consequence of the Second Partition of Poland. From 1919 to 1991, after the Russian Revolution, Minsk was the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union. Minsk will host the 2019 European Games.

Population

The population of Minsk is 1.8 million people.

Languages

Throughout its history Minsk has been a city of many languages. Initially most of its residents spoke Ruthenian (which later developed into modern Belarusian). However, after 1569 the official language was Polish. In the 19th-century Russian became the official language and by the end of that century it had become the language of administration, schools and newspapers. The Belarusian national revival increased interest in the Belarusian language – its use has grown since the 1890s, especially among the intelligentsia. In the 1920s and early 1930s Belarusian was the major language of Minsk, including use for administration and education (both secondary and tertiary). However, since the late 1930s Russian again began gaining dominance.

A short period of Belarusian national revival in the early 1990s saw a rise in the numbers of Belarusian speakers. However, in 1994 the newly elected president Alexander Lukashenko slowly reversed this trend. Most residents of Minsk now use Russian exclusively in their everyday lives at home and at work, although Belarusian is understood as well. Substantial numbers of recent migrants from the rural areas use Trasyanka (a Russo-Belarusian mixed language) in their everyday lives.

The most commonly used and understood foreign language in Minsk, especially among the younger generation, is English.

Currency

The Belarusian Ruble is the currency in Belarus (BY, BLR, Belorussia).

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Geography

Minsk is located on the southeastern slope of the Minsk Hills, a region of rolling hills running from the southwest (upper reaches of the river Nioman) to the northeast – that is, to Lukomskaye Lake in northwestern Belarus. The average altitude above sea level is 220 metres (720 ft). The physical geography of Minsk was shaped over the two most recent ice ages. The Svislach River, which flows across the city from the northwest to the southeast, is in the urstromtal, an ancient river valley formed by water flowing from melting ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age. There are six smaller rivers within the city limits, all part of the Black Sea basin.

Minsk is in the area of mixed forests typical of most of Belarus. Pinewood and mixed forests border the edge of the city, especially in the north and east. Some of the forests were preserved as parks (for instance, the Chelyuskinites Park) as the city grew.

The city was initially built on the hills, which allowed for defensive fortifications, and the western parts of the city are the most hilly.

Climate

Minsk has a warm summer hemiboreal humid continental climate (Koppen Dfb), owing to its location between the strong influence of the moist air of the Atlantic Ocean and the dry air of the Eurasian landmass. Its weather is unstable and tends to change often. The average January temperature is −4.5 °C (23.9 °F), while the average July temperature is 18.5 °C (65.3 °F). The lowest temperature was recorded on 17 January 1940, at −40 °C (−40 °F) and the warmest on 29 July 1936 at 35 °C (95 °F), and on 3 August 2014 at 35 °C (95 °F). This results in frequent fogs, common in the autumn and spring. Minsk receives annual precipitation of 690 millimetres (27 in), of which one third falls during the cold period (as snow and rain) and two thirds in the warm period. Throughout the year, most winds are westerly and northwesterly, bringing cool and moist air from the Atlantic. Similar climatic regimes are found in Stockholm, Sweden and in Halifax, Canada.

Religion

There are no reliable statistics on the religious affiliations of those living in Minsk, or among the population of Belarus generally. The majority of Christians belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church, which is the exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus. There is a significant minority of Roman Catholics.

Currently, there are 24 churches of various denominations in Minsk, with another 10 under either construction or renovation.

Crime

Minsk has the highest crime rate in Belarus – 193.5 crimes per 10,000 citizens. 20–25% of all serious crimes in Belarus, 55% of bribes and 67% of mobile phone thefts are committed in Minsk. However, attorney general Grigory Vasilevich stated that homicide rate in Minsk in 2008 was “relatively fine”.

Crime rate grew significantly in 2009 and 2010: for example, number of corruption crimes grew by 36% in 2009 alone. Crime detection level varies from 13% in burglary to 92% in homicide with an average 40.1%. Many dwellers are concerned for their safety at night and the strongest concern was expressed by residents of Chizhovka and Shabany microdistricts (both in Zavodski District).

The SIZO-1 detention center, IK-1 general prison, and the KGB special jail called “Amerikanka” are all located in Minsk. Alexander Lukashenko’s rivals in the 2010 presidential election were imprisoned in the KGB jail and other prominent politicians and civil activists. Ales Michalevic, who was kept in this jail, accused the KGB of using torture.

Transport

Local transport

Minsk has an extensive public transport system. Passengers are served by 8 tramway lines, over 70 trolleybus lines, and over 100 bus lines. Trams were the first public transport used in Minsk (since 1892 – the horse-tram, and since 1929 – the electric tram). Public buses have been used in Minsk since 1924, and trolleybuses since 1952.

All public transport is operated by Minsktrans, a government-owned and -funded transport not-for-profit company. As of January 2008, Minsktrans used 1,420 buses, 1,010 trolleybuses and 153 tramway cars in Minsk.

The Minsk city government in 2003 decreed that local transport provision should be set at a minimum level of 1 vehicle (bus, trolleybus or tram) per 1,500 residents. Currently the number of vehicles in use by Minsktrans is 2.2 times higher than the minimum level.

Public transport fares are controlled by city’s executive committee (city council). Single trip ticket for bus, trolleybus or tramway costs 5000 BYR (≈ USD 0.25),[34] 5500 BYR for metro and 6500 BYR for express buses.  Monthly ticket for one kind of transport costs 225 000 BYR and 415 100 BYR for all four. Commercial marshrutka’s prices varies from 10000 to 12000 BYR.

Rapid transit

Minsk is the only city in Belarus with an underground metro system. Construction of the metro began in 1977, soon after the city reached over a million people, and the first line with 8 stations was opened in 1984. Since then it has expanded into two lines: Moskovskaya and Avtozavodskaya, which are 18.1 and 17.3 km (11.2 and 10.7 mi) long with 14 and 14 stations, respectively. On 7 November 2012, three new stations on the Moskovskaya Line were opened; work continues on a 1.8 km (1.1 mi) extension, with one more station slated to open in 2014.

There are plans for a network with three lines totalling (based on present expansion plans) 58.3 km (36.2 mi) of track with 45 stations and three train depots. For this to happen the third line should cut the city on a north–south axis crossing the existing two and thus forming a typical Soviet triangle layout; construction of the third line is expected to begin in 2011 and for the first stage to be delivered in the late 2010s. Some layout plans speculate on a possible fourth line running from Vyasnyanka to Serabranka micro-rayons.

As of 2013 Minsk metro had 28 stations and 35.5 kilometres (22 miles) of tracks. Trains use 243 standard Russian metro-cars. On a typical day Minsk metro is used by 800,000 passengers. In 2007 ridership of Minsk metro was 262.1 million passengers, making it the 5th busiest metro network in the former USSR (behind Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev and Kharkiv). During peak hours trains run each 2–2.5 minutes. The metro network employs 3,200 staff.

Currently most of the urban transport is being actively renovated and upgraded to modern standards. For instance, all metro stations built since 2001 have passenger lifts from platform to street level, thus enabling the use of the newer stations by disabled passengers.

Railway and intercity bus

Minsk is the largest transport hub in Belarus. Minsk is located at the junction of the Warsaw-Moscow railway (built in 1871) running from the southwest to the northeast of the city and the Liepaja-Romny railway (built in 1873) running from the northwest to the south. The first railway connects Russia with Poland and Germany; the second connects Ukraine with Lithuania and Latvia. They cross at the Minsk-Passazhyrski railway station, the main railway station of Minsk. The station was built in 1873 as Vilenski vakzal. The initial wooden building was demolished in 1890 and rebuilt in stone. During World War II the Minsk railway station was completely destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1945 and 1946 and served until 1991. The new building of the Minsk-Passazhyrski railway station was built during 1991–2002. Its construction was delayed due to financial difficulties; now, however, Minsk boasts one of the most modern and up-to-date railway stations in the CIS. There are plans to move all suburban rail traffic from Minsk-Passazhyrski to the smaller stations, Minsk- Uskhodni (East), Minsk-Paudnyovy (South) and Minsk-Paunochny (North), by 2020.

There are three intercity bus stations that link Minsk with the suburbs and other cities in Belarus and the neighbouring countries. Frequent schedules of bus routes connect Minsk to Moscow, Smolensk, Vilnius, Riga, Kiev and Warsaw.

Airports

Minsk National Airport is located 42 km (26 mi) to the east of the city. It opened in 1982 and the current railway station opened in 1987. It is an international airport with flights to Europe and the Middle East.

Minsk-1 opened in 1933 a few kilometres to the south of the historical centre. In 1955 it became an international airport and by 1970 served over 1 million passengers a year.

From 1982 it mainly served domestic routes in Belarus and short-haul routes to Moscow, Kiev and Kaliningrad. Minsk-1 was expected to be closed in 2008 because of the noise pollution in the surrounding residential areas, but in the mid-2010 it is still functioning. The land of the airport is planned to be redeveloped for residential and commercial real estate, currently branded as Minsk-City.