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oblast (region), western Russia. It lies chiefly in the basins of the upper Vorskla, Donets, and Oskol rivers. The region, formed in 1954 and centred on Belgorod city, is situated in a forest-steppe with rich soils. The natural vegetation of deciduous forest and steppe has been almost wholly cleared for agriculture since intensive settlement began in the 17th century and now survives only as occasional oak groves along the rivers. Agriculture is highly developed, and the population is mostly rural. Grains-wheat, barley, millet, and corn (maize)-are the main crops, along with sugar beets and sunflowers. There are many orchards. Huge iron deposits of the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly were opened up in the 1950s and are exploited in several areas. Area 10,500 square miles (27,100 square km). Pop. (2005 est.) 1,511,603.