Belarus is a country in eastern Europe, located between Poland to the west and Russia to the east.
Belarus is a young country, which became independent of the Soviet Union as recently as 1991. During the seventy years of Soviet rule, the state exercised total control over, and intrusion into, every aspect of an individual’s life. The authorities applied divide-and-rule tactics. They encouraged people to report each other for crimes (real and invented), leading to widespread mistrust and the destruction of community life.
Before the Soviet era, Jews in the Russian Empire were required to live in the so-called Pale of Settlement (modern Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic states), and they constituted about one quarter of the population of Belarus. After the invasion of the USSR by Nazi Germany in 1941, Belarus became the front line and its Jewish population was all but wiped out. The Minsk Ghetto, notorious throughout Europe for its inhuman living conditions, was destroyed and its inhabitants murdered, while death camps in Belarus became the testing grounds for Zyklon-B, the toxic gas used widely to exterminate Jews across Europe. The few survivors – some of whom had escaped to Jewish partisan brigades in the forests of Northern Belarus – continued to suffer after the war due to discrimination and the prohibition by law of religious (including Jewish) practice.
Belarus was badly affected by the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. Large areas of land were contaminated, and their populations continue to suffer from illnesses and disabilities caused by radiation exposure.
Since 1991, community life has slowly begun to recover. However, many communities depend on funds from large charities for their existence. This is a fragile situation, which limits the autonomy of communities and prevents them from becoming self-sufficient. The Together Plan works closely with communities in the former Soviet Union, currently focusing on Belarus, to help those communities learn how to exercise control over their own futures.