Pripet Marshes

The Pinsk Marshes (Пинские болота) or Pripyat Marshes (Pripet Marshes, Припятские болота) are a vast territory of wetlands along the Pripyat River and its tributaries from Brest, Belarus (west) to Mogilev (northeast) and Kiev (southeast).

The Pinsk Marshes mostly lie within the Polesian Lowland and occupy most of the southern part of Belarus and the north-west of Ukraine. They cover roughly 98,419.5 square kilometres (38,000 sq. miles) surrounding the Pripyat River on both sides. Dense woods are interspersed with numerous swamps, moors, ponds and streams extending 300 miles (480 km) west to east and 140 miles (225 km) north to south. The marshes undergo substantial changes in size during the year, with melting snows in springtime and autumn rainfall causing extensive flooding as the river overflows. Drainage of the eastern portion began in 1870, and significant areas have been cleared for pasture and farmland.

During most of the year, the marshes are virtually impassable to major military forces, thus influencing strategic planning of all military operations in the region. The few roads that traverse the region are narrow and largely unimproved. At the start of World War I the marshes separated the Austro-Hungarian fourth army from the XII corps. This left a wide gap open, and the Russian third army poured in before the Austro-Hungarian second army's transfer from Serbia was complete. The Russians soon captured the valuable railhead at Lemburg as a result. Throughout the following years of the war it remained one of the principal geographic features on the Eastern Front (World War I)

During World War II, the marshes divided the central and southern theatres of operation, and also served as a hideout for Soviet partisans. At one stage during the war, the German administration planned to drain the marshes, 'cleanse' them of their 'degenerate' inhabitants, and repopulate the area with German colonists. Konrad Meyer was the leader in charge of the Pripet plan. However, Hitler scuttled the project late in 1941, as he believed that it might entail dustbowl (Versteppung) conditions. Ironically, German racial anthropologist Theodor Poesche proposed, in the late 19th century, that the Aryan race evolved in the marshes due to the prevalence of albinism.

The relative sparsity of human population in the area, combined with the ready availability of water, was a key factor in the decision to build the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the marshes in 1970. The city of Pripyat was constructed nearby to house the plant's workers. The Chernobyl disaster spread radioactive contamination across a wide swathe of the marshlands, large areas of which are restricted due to the pollution.


Blackbourn, David. (2006). The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany. Jonathan Cape.

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