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Sketching out a Soviet chapter in the new disability history is a first step in contextualizing experiences of, attitudes toward, and the governmentality of disability in contemporary Ukraine and Russia.
I begin with a discussion of disability in the pre-Soviet Russian Empire (circa 1700-1917), where relatively few efforts were made by state authorities to regulate or support the lives of people with disabilities.
In total I have conducted nearly 90 taped personal interviews with persons with disabilities and others with ties to the disability community, including life history interviews with 15 disability rights activists.
Such persons were often referred to in Russian as , or "prophets."6 Because of their close association with churches and religious moral culture, these "wanderers" often were respected and revered, but persons thought to be mentally ill were also treated in a dualistic fashion — some manifestations of mental illness were revered, while others were feared (Brown 19-16).
We do know that, in traditional Ukrainian and Russian cultures, those with physical and intellectual disabilities were not socially isolated.
Traditional life was village-based and centered on the Orthodox Church (Vovk 192), and individuals with physical and mental disabilities presumably were integrated into their communities.5 They worked alongside others to the extent possible, for example making baskets and fishing nets, sewing, and embroidering (Bondarenko 2005).
I traveled to Moscow to conduct several interviews in 2006, and also have investigated disability rights issues in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Phillips n.d.) In the present article, I rely on the available Russian, Ukrainian, and English-language published sources, as well as my own ethnographic data, particularly life history interviews.
The material presented here offers an important backdrop for understanding the barriers to social inclusion and full citizenship rights that persons with disabilities living in former socialist states continue to face.
As part of his efforts to regularize and make compulsory the service obligations of the Russian nobility, Peter required all gentry-persons suspected to have mental disabilities (called ), to appear before the Senate for certification.