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Peter made unsuccessful attempts to exclude the Church from responsibility for caring for persons thought to be mentally ill — in 1723 he decreed that such individuals no longer be sent to monasteries, and several secular institutions were organized in Saint Petersburg — but these efforts were abandoned by Peter's successors.Catherine II, the Great (1762-96) did, in 1775, establish regional Departments of Public Welfare as part of her reforms of local government.Although improvements in disability rights have been made in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia, there are important legacies of the socialist era that have shaped current disability policy, official and popular discourse about disability and disability rights, and the strategies that advocacy groups develop and are able to pursue.Considerable reform has been achieved in disability rights legislation, but many Soviet-era structures, institutions, and practices are still in place either de facto or de jure.Historically throughout the former Soviet bloc, persons with physical and mental disabilities have been stigmatized, hidden from the public, and thus made seemingly invisible (Dunn and Dunn 1989).More than a quarter century later, still little is known about the experiences of persons with disabilities in the former Soviet Union, who remain in many respects an "unknown population" (Poloziuk 2005).2 The social justice struggles of people with disabilities under the Soviet regime have been even less explored.As a cultural and medical anthropologist, since 1995 I have conducted ethnographic research in Ukraine, which gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.


During the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow, a Western journalist inquired whether the Soviet Union would participate in the first Paralympic games, scheduled to take place in Great Britain later that year.The reply from a Soviet representative was swift, firm, and puzzling: "There are no invalids in the USSR!


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