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First attempts to settle on the territory covering today’s Belarus were made 100–35 thousands years ago. In early times, Belarus was inhabited and ruled over by various people including the Slavs, the Mongols and Lithuania. During the 19th century, various people tried to claim Belarus and it was alternately ruled by Poland and Russia. The latter managed to retain control until WWI when Germany claimed Belarus and in 1921, the country was divided between Poland and Bolshevik Russia (which became the USSR the next year).

During the next two decades, Belarus was passed back and forth between USSR and Germany, which left the country ravaged by the end of WWII. A quarter of the country's population died during the war, many of them in Nazi concentration camps.

Under soviet rule, Belarus recovered economically and Minsk became one of the industrial hubs of the USSR. But disaster struck in 1986 when the Chornobyl (aka Chernobyl) nuclear power station in Ukraine melted down and Belarus was harder hit than the Ukraine itself. Around one-fifth of the country was seriously contaminated and people suffer the effects until today.

Nationalist sentiment grew in the following years and the Communist Party issued a declaration of full national independence in 1991 during the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics.

Since independence, Belarus has had two presidents—Stanislau Shushkevich, a physicist who followed a centrist path between communism and the Popular Front, and Alexander Lukashenko, who runs the country with an iron hand.