Just prior to 1991, the USSR consisted of 15 countries and many ethnic groups. Although most of the USSR’s population were ethnic Russians, several republics maintained some autonomy and a distinct non-Russian ethnicity. Turkic peoples lived in Russian Siberia and the Central Asian republics and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan region. They had their origins in the nomadic peoples of the Urals (eastern Russia), Mongolia, northern China and parts of Turkey. There were also the Paleo Siberian people in the Russian far east (Siberia), representing 10 per cent of the region’s population. Many of these indigenous people were massacred by the Cossacks and had, in the early 20th century, been denied their reindeer herds to help them ‘assimilate’. The Ukraine and Belarus were dominated by the Slavs, but also had sizeable Jewish populations. Other groups were the Indo-Europeans, the Caucasians and the Uralic and Altaic peoples.
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