Belarus extracts its own oil – Belarus photo digest

Many in Belarus took the recent discovery of new oil fields in the country as a joke: president Alexander Lukashenka had demanded earlier that the government start searching for its own black gold. According to experts, however, these deposits were already known.

It was only the complexity of extraction that had prevented the mining of these deposits before. However, officials now claim that Belarusian oil costs five times less than Russian oil, and extraction will be profitable even with world oil prices at $20 per barrel.

Belarus extracts around 1.6m tonnes of oil on its territory annually. This is a tiny amount compared to world oil production leaders. Russia, for example, produces roughly the same amount daily. The capacities of Belarusian refineries, meanwhile, require an additional 24m tonnes per year, which the country traditionally buys from Russia.

Processing Russian oil and the export of oil products has guaranteed economic stability for Lukashenka for almost two decades. Oil production exports make up around one third of Belarus’s exports, which makes the country vulnerable to global market fluctuations.

However, the Putin era brought regular oil and gas tensions, which forced Belarus to seek alternative supplies. Belarus even resorted to importing oil from Azerbaijan and Venezuela in 2010-2011 and 2016, as well as re-examining its own reserves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna Region, he received a history degree from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Milex 2017: Belarus’s military exhibition – Belarus Photo Digest

On 20-22 May, Minsk hosted Milex 2017, its eighth exhibition of arms and military equipment. This year, the exhibition hosted more than 140 official guests from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.

Military officials from more than 27 countries were in attendance. However, the exhibition’s results remain somewhat mysterious. Manufacturers have repeatedly stated that they do not want to disclose their partners or the amount of weapons they sell. Therefore, most contracts happen behind closed doors and do not appear in the press.

Belarus ranks 18th on the list of the world’s largest weapons exporters. Both the authorities and independent experts agree that the country has a strong military industry. This is due not only to the country’s Soviet legacy, but also to a mature market with many private companies. According to State Military Industrial Committee chairman Siarhiej Hurulioŭ, Belarus is capable of making any weapon in the world right now.

‘This is a risky business, organised by former employees of the defence industry and retired military officials’, says military expert Aliaksandr Aliesin. ‘They are quick to take up the novelties which state-owned enterprises do not want to risk dealing with.’

The exhibition effectively demonstrates how the Belarusian defence industry is developing as well as the partnerships it is forging. According to Siarhiej Hurulioŭ, weapons and equipment based on new technologies, IT, robotics, and drones are in the highest demand.

The main buyers of Belarusian products are the countries of the Persian Gulf, Indonesia, and China. Remarkably, the role of China in joint military projects is growing year by year. One of the results of this cooperation is the Belarusian multiple-launch rocket system Polonaise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna Region, he received a history degree from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




The first Belarusian river cruise: Belaja Ruś – Belarus Photo Digest

In recent years, the Belarusian leadership has been attempting to create a positive image of the country to attract foreign visitors. So far, Belarus seems to appeal mostly to Russian tourists.

Russians perceive Belarus as a nostalgic holdout of the USSR with quality food and good cheap ‘Soviet’ service. They see tourism in Belarus more as a trip down ‘memory lane’. For several decades, most Belarusian health resorts have relied on Russian tourists for business.

However, the launch of the cruise ship Belaja Ruś is a new pearl for Belarusian tourism. This motor ship is a restored and altered OS-2 technical vessel. Its restoration lasted more than five years, as the project was short of funds, and the total cost of the project remains a secret to this day. Local workers at the ship-repair yard jokingly call it the Titanic.

Local water channels still lack interesting and distinctive infrastructure, but hopefully development will gain momentum as more tourists arrive. The cruise’s route will run along the Dnieper-Bug Canal on the rivers Bug, Muchaviec, Pina, and Pripyat, from the city of Brest to Mazyr over 8 days. Over the course of the voyage, tourists will relax and visit tourist attractions during the daytime and cruise the river at night.

The interior of the ship room. Decorations are mostly of Belarusian origin.

 

Open deck for evening gatherings and fresh air.

 

The honorary launch of the ship’s maiden voyage took place at the Pinsk shipyard. Local officials and plant workers were invited to the ceremony. Speakers expressed their hope that this new tourist itinerary would be profitable enough for the plant to finally regain its former glory and attract new orders for ship manufacturing.

 

Officials speaking at the shipyard near the skeleton of a new ship.

 

In accordance with long-standing tradition, a bottle of champagne was smashed against the ship board. The bottle only shattered on the third attempt.

 

A blessing by an Orthodox priest is an indispensable part of any ship launching ceremony.

 

Officials did not reveal the final cost of the ships, saying only that the works lasted for many years and it is hard to calculate the costs.

 

The city of Pinsk has its own river station with distinctive wooden architecture.

 

View of Pinsk from the Pina river.

 

Shipyard workers stare bemusedly at the first tourists.

 

Although many small technical ships sail along the Pina, the appearance of a tourist motor ship has sparked unprecedented interest.

 

The captain and his crew set out on their first trial voyage.

 

A notable marketing move: the name of the ship, Belaja Ruś, is the name of an official pro-government public association, which unites Lukashenka’s power vertical and is widely referred to in official ideology.

Local officials and journalists were the first to embark on the ship’s trial voyage. Tourists have been able to book cruises since 29 April.

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from the Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




A tractor rally in Belarusian Paris – Belarus photo digest

On 28 January 2017, the Minsk Tractor Works organised a rally called Paris-Mosar. The event was dedicated to the Day of Belarusian Science. Also this year, the Belarusian team Maz-SPORTauta for the first time ever placed 6th in the international rally Paris-Dakar-2016.

Belarus too has its own small Paris – a village in Pastavy district that shares a name with the French capital. Thus, with this geographical quirk in mind, the Minsk Tractor Works decided to make the village the starting point for their own rally.

Eight tractors participated in the race, seven of which were Belarus-3522s, one of the most powerful tractors produced in Belarus, as well as one crawler.

The older Belarusian tractor models are known worldwide for their low price, durability, and easy maintenance. Current models are very similar to their Western counterparts, but cheaper. Nevertheless, these machines remain unaccessible for Belarusian farms.

First of all, they are expensive to maintain. Belarusian tractors often break down, sometimes for absurd reasons: low quality of fuel used at the collective farms, a lack of adequate maintenance, and working culture in general. Therefore, the chairmen of collective farms often demand to use the new tractors at their full capacity during the warranty period, so if something breaks it can be replaced for free.

For these reasons, events like these are organised not so much to demonstrate new tractor models, but rather to improve the image of these high quality machines.

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna Region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Celebrating Independence Day – Belarus Photo Digest

On 3 July, Belarus celebrated Independence Day. The holiday commemorates not only the country’s statehood, but also victory in the Second World War. On this day in 1944, the Soviet army liberated Minsk from German troops.

About 5,000 people participated in the event this year, which included military parades, concerts, and a massive fireworks display. Unlike previous years, many participants wore clothing with elements of Belarusian national ornament (vyshyvanka).

Depending on their political views, Belarusians celebrate independence on three different days: 3 July, 27 July, and 25 March.

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka proposed celebrating Independence Day on 3 July and this question was approved by a national referendum in 1996 (viewed as fraudulent by Western observers and the opposition). Between 1991 and 1996, the holiday took place on 27 July, to commemorate the Declaration of Belarusian Sovereignty from the Soviet Union adopted in 1990.

The Belarusian opposition and many Diaspora groups celebrate independence on 25 March, to commemorate the 1918 proclamation of the Belarusian Peoples Republic (BNR). The BNR existed for ten months on territory controlled by the German Imperial Army at the end of the First World War. The republic’s supreme governing body, Rada BNR, has survived to this day as a government in exile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a degree in history from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




High-School Graduation Celebrated across Belarus – Belarus Photo Digest

On 30-31 May, some 150,000 Belarusians celebrated the conclusion of their secondary education. Graduation ceremonies, called the “last bell”, took place across the country. Students not only wore festive attire, as is common in Western Europe; they also gave flowers to their favourite teachers and recited poems, in a nod to the traditions Belarusians still associate with the occasion.

Students in Belarus can already graduate after the 9th grade and apply to vocational schools and community colleges. The alternative is to complete eleven school years and apply to a university.

For the graduates, the “last bell” is not really the last bell. The next step is to take final exams in four subjects – Belarusian or Russian language, history, a foreign language, and mathematics. After that come the graduation balls, which offer a brief interlude before students turn to standardised assessment tests in mid-June. Scoring high in these centralised examinations, which test both languages and sciences, is a key prerequisite for attending a top university in Belarus tuition-free. The first standardised assessment test, held on June 13, tests Belarusian language.

Photographer Siarhej Leskiec attended the “last bell” celebration in Zhodzina Women’s Gymnasium, the only single-sex educational institution in Belarus. The gymnasium traces its beginnings to Sunday-evening classes offered to high school girls in the early 1990s. Eventually, it became a full-fledged educational institution accredited by the government, and today turns out some of the highest-achieving students in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Charnobyl 30 Years Later – Belarus Photo Digest

On 26 April 1986, an explosion at Charnobyl Nuclear Power Plant released huge amounts of radiation into the atmosphere contaminating large territories of Europe. Belarus ended up the most badly affected taking 70% of the fallout from the power plant.

The Soviet Union sought to cover up the accident. The news about the explosion came out only two days later, after Sweden registered an increase in radiation levels on its territory. The evacuation of the population in the immediate vicinity of the plant began only several days later.

Among the health effects of Charnobyl was a spike in thyroid cancer, especially among children. Among the political effects was growing distrust of the Soviet authorities. In 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev went as far as to call the accident “the real cause” of the Soviet collapse.

Although the power plant was located in the Ukrainian town of Prypyac, two thirds of the fallout landed on Belarusian territory. Photographer Siarhei Leskiec documents life in the contaminated parts of Belarus today, thirty years after what is considered the worst nuclear plant accident in history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Belarusian Samahon: Folk Tradition or Health Hazard? – Belarus Photo Digest

Alcohol sales are an important source of revenue for the Belarusian state, which holds a monopoly on its importation and production. In hard economic times, however, many Belarusians have turned to a cheaper alternative – samahon. Literally translated as “self-distilled”, samahon is a highly potent moonshine brewed from grain and potato starch.

Even though samahon is officially banned, it continues to be brewed by generations of villagers. The law enforcement agencies regularly crack down on the most shameless “samahonshchyki” (bootleggers), often using drones to locate samahon breweries hidden deep in the woods. When such backcountry operations are uncovered, the offenders are hard to identify and thus often go unpunished. The police have turned a blind eye toward smaller-scale producers of moonshine, however.

The artisanal varieties of samahon are becoming a staple of agro-tourism. Today, Western tourists can taste legal samahon in the Bielavieža national forest, at the high-end ski resort in Lahojsk, or at the folk crafts museum Dudutki, whose founder has even appealed to the authorities to register samahon as a trademark.

By contrast, the contraband varieties are consumed largely by the locals and are estimated to result in more than 2,500 deaths annually, according to the Belarusian Statistics Office. Cleaning liquids, perfume, and aftershave have all been found mixed into contraband moonshine.

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.

 




Everyday Life and Festivals of Belarus’s Catholics – Belarus Photo Digest

Belarus may be one of the least religious countries in the world, but Catholic believers are countering the general trend.

There are 619 Catholic parishes and about 1.4 million of self-identified Catholics in Belarus. Most regularly attend the Sunday mass and participate in colourful religious celebrations throughout the year.

Here are some of the scenes from the life of Belarus’s Catholic Church that caught the eye of Belarus Digest photographer Siarhei Leskiec.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.




Kalyady, the Pagan Flair of a Belarusian Christmas – Belarus Photo Digest

In the Belarusian countryside, the religious holidays of Christmas and Epiphany are fused with pagan “Kalyady” rituals. From late December into January, groups of villagers dress up in costumes and go house-to-house singing traditional “kaliadki” songs, for which they are rewarded with treats.

The motley cast of Kalyady characters usually includes “Kaza” (the goat), a symbol of fertility and energy, as well as “Kon” (the horse), Baba” (the old woman), “Dzied” (the old man), and “Tsygan” (the gypsy).

The crowd moves from east to west, following the sun, and knocks at every door. Each visit consists of three parts: greeting the masters of the house, performing traditional games and songs, and receiving edible treats.

Here we see pictures from the recent Kalyady celebration in Roh, a small village in Salihorsk region. The celebration was organized by the folk collective “Palesskia Krynicy.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.