Staunton, July 23 – Moscow may be able to disown two of its soldiers who fought in its war in Ukraine, and it may even be able to convince many Russians and the gullible in the West that doing so is somehow appropriate. But as in Soviet times, it won’t be able to hide one of the most serious costs of that aggression: the increasing number of war invalids on Russian streets.
Almost 30 years ago and in response to the outrageous claims of Russian officials that “there are no invalids in the USSR,” Valery Fefelov published a book with that title in London that documented not only how many invalids there were but how badly they were treated by the Soviet government even as they elicited sympathy from the Russian people.
(Fefelov’s book, V SSR invalidov net! was published in Russian in London in 1986. For a discussion of it and the broader Soviet-era problem, see Sarah D. Phillips’ article, “’There are No Invalids in the USSR!”: A Missing Soviet Chapter in the New Disability History,” Disability Studies Quarterly, 29:3(2009) at dsq-sds.org/article/view/936/1111
Panfilov begins his comment by recalling a comment he heard in Dushanbe at the end of December 1979. His neighbor at the time told him, after hearing Soviet planes flying overhead on their way to invade Afghanistan: “Invalids will again be on the streets, and grief will again come into homes.”
Every war brings killed and wounded, and the share of the latter among the casualties is increasing given the skills of the medical profession. But that means ever more soldiers return from war with injuries seen or unseen that will affect them, their families, and those around them for decades after the conflict.
In the past, the Soviet authorities memorialized and celebrated those who had died in Moscow’s wars but neglected and mistreated the other casualties, the invalids who came back home. And tragically, Panfilov says, the Russian government has adopted an even worse position: it denies it is involved in the fighting and so doesn’t want to recognize the human losses immediate and long term its policies have entailed.
The exact number of Russian fatalities in Moscow’s war in Ukraine is a matter of dispute, but if one assumes that it is several thousand, the number of wounded who will return home as invalids is likely several times that. And unfortunately, it is clear that the Putin regime has updated yet another Soviet slogan and will claim that “in Russia there are no invalids.”