Once part of the former Soviet Union, the countries of eastern Europe are now independent republics. The region stretches from the Arctic in the north to the Crimea in the south, and from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east. Much of the landscape is forested. There are also hills and lakes in the Baltic area, marshes in Belarus, and rolling plains in the Ukraine and Russian Federation.
Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are known as the Baltic states because they border the Baltic Sea. Coastal ports provide access to shipping trade routes between northern and eastern Europe, but the sea ices up during the cold winter months. In summer, the long coastline attracts many tourists from Finland and Scandinavia. They come to enjoy the area’s unspoiled beaches, sand dunes, and islands.
The Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe. It was known as a “breadbasket” because it once supplied grain to the former Soviet Union and provided this vast population with its bread. The country is covered by flat, fertile plains known as steppes. Here, large farms still produce huge quantities of wheat, corn, barley, oats, buckwheat, and rye. The Ukraine broke away from Soviet control in 1991.
Over 100 million people live in the European part of Russia because it has a milder climate, fertile farmland, and is highly industrialized. Most people live in big cities, such as St. Petersburg and the capital, Moscow. The Russian Federation is the world’s largest country. Two-thirds of it lies in Asia, but vast expanses are uninhabited because the climate is so harsh.
The Russian Federation has huge natural resources. The land is rich in minerals and has many mines from which diamonds, gold, nickel, copper, iron, and other metals are extracted. The country is also a leading producer of oil and gas and has enormous reserves of coal.
Two-thirds of the world’s amber is found washed up on the shores of the Baltic Sea in chunks of different shapes and sizes. Amber is the fossilized sap of ancient pine trees. It forms over millions of years buried in sediments under the sea. The most sought-after amber is collected in shades of yellow, orange, or gold and is cut and polished to make jewelry.
Moldova’s fertile black soil enables farmers to grow a variety of crops, such as wheat, corn, and sunflowers. The country’s mild climate is also well suited to growing fruit and grape vines, which are used to make wine.
The Crimea is a peninsula in southern Ukraine that juts into the Black Sea. The region’s warm summers and mild winters attract many tourists who cram onto the crowded beaches. Holiday resorts, such as Yalta and Sevastopol, cater for visitors who come for a healthy regimen of massage, exercise, and rest.
Vast areas in the south of Belarus are low-lying and covered by swampy marshland, fed by the Byerazino and Dnieper Rivers. The Pripet Marshes stretch over 15,500 sq miles (40,000 sq km) and form the largest expanse of wetland in Europe. The marshes and surrounding forests are a haven for wildlife, including elk, lynx, wild boar, and grouse.
Capital city: Tallinn
Area: 17,462 sq miles (45,226 sq km)
Population: 1.4 million
Official language: Estonian
Major religion: Evangelical Lutheran
Capital city: Riga
Area: 24,938 sq miles (64,589 sq km)
Population: 2.4 million
Official language: Latvian
Major religion: Lutheran
Capital city: Vilnius
Area: 25,174 sq miles (65,200 sq km)
Population: 3.7 million
Official language: Lithuanian
Major religion: Roman Catholic
Capital city: Minsk
Area: 80,154 sq miles (207,600 sq km)
Population: 10.1 million
Official languages: Belarussian and Russian
Major religion: Russian Orthodox
Currency: Belarussian ruble
Capital city: Kiev
Area: 233,089 sq miles (603,700 sq km)
Population: 48.7 million
Official language: Ukrainian
Major religion: Ukrainian Orthodox
Capital city: Chisinau
Area: 13,067 sq miles (33,843 sq km)
Population: 4.3 million
Official language: Moldovan
Major religion: Eastern Orthodox
Currency: Moldovan leu