Path towards ‘Belarusian Ruhr’

Polesie-Lelchitsy Gomel Industrial Park agreement, signed at Gomel Expo in May by four major Belarusian companies, to be submitted for Government approval in September 
By Violetta Smirnova

The idea has been cherished for decades, even since the 1970s. The Lelchitsy District and the four bordering Polesie areas of Yelsk, Zhitkovichi, Mozyr and Petrikov — are rich in minerals. The ‘Belarusian Ruhr’ is comparable with that of Germany: one of the most successful investment platforms in Europe.

Lelchitsy’s deposits of brown coal, peat, pyroschist, granite, bentonite clay, sapropel and other minerals are unique in Belarus. It also boasts rare beryllium, zirconium, high-mineralised industrial solutions and thermal waters. Such wealth is prized by the building industry, as well as agriculture, metallurgy, and the chemical and perfumery industries, besides being used in instrument making and the nuclear, aviation and space industries.

In addition, woods cover 70 percent of local territory: perfect for developing eco-tourism. Sadly, there is no rail access as yet, which makes transportation costly. Around 121km of branch lines would be needed to connect deposits with regional centres. The construction of a rail link between Glushkovichi, Lelchitsy and Mikhalki is at the heart of plans for Gomel’s new industrial park. Naturally, the cost will be significant and investors must feel confident that the return will be worthwhile; economists are making close feasibility studies to determine likely repayment periods.

Without doubt, the park would alter the lives of local people irrevocably. Lelchitsy residents long for a rail link, believing it will breathe life into the region and open the door to several major investment projects. Without a rail link, nothing can move forward. Rich in raw materials, the region will always have resources to sell but real progress would be possible if processing factories could be persuaded to operate locally. Huge volumes of wood, berries and mushrooms are currently sent outside the region to well-known companies. They once considered opening factories ‘on site’ but abandoned the idea, due to lack of infrastructure.

The region, of course, lives and develops. Glushkevichi plant is newly constructed, manufacturing bio-fodder additives from sapropels. Other projects are also active in the Lelchitsy Region, with residents eager to work hard, for the betterment of their area. Since the 1970s, they have harboured dreams. If the railway does arrive in their neighbourhood, who knows what change may come.
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