Into The Breach! Five Ancient Battles That Make Belarusians Proud

Belarusians rarely managed to live in peace on their land. History stores evidence of hundreds of raids and invasions, four and a half centuries of full-scale wars with Moscow and two world conflicts. But over these dreadful years, we’ve learned to fight back, and one can find the proofs all over Belarus.

The Battle on the Nemiga River

This battle is notable for the fact that it is the first time Minsk is mentioned in the chronicles. Looking at today’s Nemiga, especially at rush hour, it is hard to imagine that once there was one of the bloodiest internecine battles in the history of Belarus.

A medieval picture of the Radziwiłł Chronicle

The battle happened on March 3, 1967, and though we don’t know how exactly it went, it had become legendary as an utter bloodbath. The troops of the Polotsk prince Vseslav the Sorcerer from the Rogvolodovich dynasty fought with the troops of Kiev, Chernigov and Pereyaslavl princes. The Tale of Igor’s Campaign refers to the battle as to “the bloody banks of the Nemiga” being sown with bones instead of blessings.

It was thanks to this battle that one of the main heroes of Belarusian history, Vseslav, was freed from prison and occupied the throne of Polotsk.

Getting to Nemiga. Over the ages, the Nemiga river has turned into a street, but you can still find it in the historical center of Minsk.

The Battle of Kletsk

On August 5, 1506, the biggest victory over the Tatars in the history of Belarus was won near a small town in the Minsk region. With only seven thousand soldiers, the Great Duchy of Lithuania hetman defeated the twenty thousandth army of the Crimean Khanate.

The Battle of Kletsk; The illustration from A Description of Sarmatian Europe

In the midst of the battle, three horses fell under the hetman, and each time he mounted a new one and continued the battle. The troops of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania broke the Tatar formation with their rapid offensive, and the enemies ran. The Tatars were chased and slaughtered for seven kilometers up to the Tsepra river.

Impressed by the power of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Khanate became an ally of Lithuanian rulers. Today, these events are commemorated by a stone depicting Mikhail Glinsky.

Getting to Kletsk. There are buses and minibuses to the town. If you are driving yourself, you will have to take the M1/E30 and turn left near Haradzeya.

The Battle of Orsha

On September 8, 1514, the forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the leadership of Konstanty Ostrogski defeated the troops of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The Moscow commander planned to destroy the entire army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with one blow and to continue the ground invasion.

The picture depicting the battle of Orsha; Picture: Author is unknown

Under Orsha the Moscow armies lost 30 thousand people killed and drowned. According to historical chronicles, the outcome of this mostly equestrian battle was decided by a cunning military maneuver and the use of new models of weapons.

At a crucial moment, the ranks of the Lithuanian army parted, and the Moscow army was massacred by the arquebus blizzard. Such weapons have never been seen in the Grand Duchy of Moscow before.

The memory of this event lives on to this day. In 2014, Poland and Lithuania issued commemorative coins in honour of the 500th anniversary of the battle. In Belarus, the PRAS company created a themed board game.

Getting to Orsha. Orsha is one of the main railway hubs in Belarus, so one can easily get there by train. The road from Minsk to Orsha via the E30/M1 highway will take about two and a half hours by car.

The Battle of Polonka

The war between Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1654—1667 was better known as “the bloody flood”. It is a little-known page of Belarusian history, however, it was during this war that more than half of the population of Belarus was killed, which is more than during the whole Second World War.

The battle of Polonka by Janvier Suchodolski

During that time, almost the entire territory of modern Belarus was captured by the Moscow troops. Close to it flows the Polonka river, the shores of which became the place of battle. The ten-thousandth army of the Commonwealth stood up to the 30 thousandth army of the Moscow kingdom and stopped the attack on Warsaw. In 1994, a memorial was erected on the site of the battle.

Getting to Polonka shores. The Polonka river battleground is located in the Baranovichi district. This city is a large railway junction, so you can get there from almost any point in Belarus and neighboring countries. If you decide to go to Polonka by car, go via the M1 highway.

The Battle of Milowidy

This battle was the biggest victory of the united rebel forces under the leadership of Kastus Kalinowski over the regular Russian army. Even though it did not affect the outcome of the uprising, and its leaders were executed, it still fits into the pages of glorious Belarusan military victories.

The Battle of Milowidy; The picture of the early 20th century

On May 21, 1863, near the town of Milovida, Slonim district, around 800 Belarusians resisted five companies of well-trained Russian soldiers with 4 artillery guns. The punishers failed to take the camp of the rebels, and they were forced to retreat with great losses.

The uprising was one of the few examples in the history of the XIX century when a handful of armed men, defending the independence of their land, rebelled against the huge empire.

On the site of the battle, a monument honoring Russian soldiers and a Catholic chapel in memory of the Belarusian rebels were built. In the 1990s, a memorial sign was erected there, and the local school was named after Alexander Lenkevich, who commanded the rebels.

Getting to Milowidy. If you drive from Brest via the A101 highway, you can see the memorials near the village, right by the road. The village is also reachable by bus from Baranovichi.

Text by Anton Ananich