The Soviet Union’s total population as of its final census, in January 1989, was 286,717,000, making it the third most populous country in the world, after China and India. Its population increased between 1959 and 1989 by about 78 million, or 37 percent.
The Russian Empire in early 1917 was overwhelmingly rural, with only 18 percent of its subjects residing in urban settlements. Urbanization surged in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, as state-directed industry burgeoned in the cities and peasants fled villages despoiled by the forced collectivization of agriculture and the ensuing famine. The population was 33 percent urbanized in 1940, 48 percent in 1959, 56 percent in 1970, and 66 percent in 1989. The Soviet population was distributed unevenly across republics and regions. Fifty-one percent of the total population (147 million people) lived in the RSFSR, and 18 percent (52 million people) lived in Ukraine in 1989. No other union republic held more than 10 percent of the population. The least populous republic, Estonia, contained only 1.6 million people, or less than 1 percent of the total.
Population density, which was 13 persons per sq km (33 per sq mi) for the USSR as a whole in 1989, ranged from 6 persons per sq km (16 per sq mi) in Kazakhstan to 129 persons per sq km (334 per sq mi) in Moldavia. The RSFSR ranked 13th in population density among the republics. Topography and arduous climate left immense sections of the Soviet Union sparsely settled. In the northern provinces of European Russia, in Siberia and the Far East, and in the deserts of Central Asia, densities often fell below 1 person per sq km (below 3 per sq mi). More than two-thirds of the Soviet Union had less than 5 persons per sq km (less than 13 per sq mi). Twenty-three Soviet cities exceeded 1 million in population in 1989, and 35 had between 500,000 and 1 million people.
Moscow, with about 9 million inhabitants, was not only the governmental headquarters of the USSR and the RSFSR, but also an important industrial site and the focal point for Soviet science and engineering, mass communications, and cultural activities.
Second in size, at 5 million, was Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), which under the name of Saint Petersburg and then Petrograd had been capital of the Russian Empire from 1712 to 1917; the city was a prominent seaport and industrial center after the Bolsheviks moved the seat of government to Moscow in 1918. Other large cities were the republic capitals of Kiev (now Kyiv), in Ukraine; Toshkent, in Uzbekistan; Baku, in Azerbaijan ; and Minsk, in Belorussia. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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