Moscow’s Ukrainian war again filling Russian streets with invalids

A one-armed Russian veteran of the Kremlin's invasion into Ukraine panhandling in a Moscow metro station. His sign says: "Help please on a prosthetic." (Image: Erich Hartmann on YouTube)

A one-armed Russian veteran of the Kremlin's invasion into Ukraine panhandling in a Moscow metro station. His sign says: "Help please on a prosthetic." (Image: Erich Hartmann on YouTube) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

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 SSSR 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).

Given how many wars declared and undeclared the Soviet Union was involved with, Fefelov wrote, there were an enormous number of invalids who suffered physical and mental traumas that did not end when the conflicts did. Instead, these victims of the regime returned home where all too often they were victimized again.

Now, like its Soviet antecedent, the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin is again engaged in an aggressive war, a conflict that not only has resulted in an increasing number of dead but also in a rapidly growing number of wounded, many of whom will be physical or mental invalids for decades to come.

That cost of the war has not attracted much attention up to now, but Oleg Panfilov, founder of the Moscow Center for Extreme Journalism who now teaches in Tbilisi, has begun to fill this gap, one that the Kremlin won’t acknowledge just as it won’t acknowledge the presence of its soldiers in Ukraine.

A Russian mercenary in the Donbas with heavily bleeding leg and arm wounds is being evacuated to the rear (Image:

A Russian mercenary in the Donbas with heavily bleeding leg and arm wounds is being evacuated to the rear (Image:

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 it doesn’t want to recognize the human losses its policies have entailed, both immediately and in the long term.

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.”

Edited by: A. N.

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  • puttypants

    Thanks I looked at both those sites. I know we weren’t in brick barracks and the surroundings were not that nice. They were wooden and dilapidated nothing but black dirt and a barbed wire fence surrounded us. Our barracks were packed with people who had all kinds of diseases. Filthy conditions outdoor toilets. Our barracks were bombed and so was the flimsy bomb shelter we were in that also crumbled. many did not get out alive some did and we were the fortunate ones. For a long time now I’ve been trying to find out which ones we were in but have been unable to. These two sites did not help. Thanks for trying. If you have any other suggestions I’d be grateful. .

    • Geralt von Riva

      with the bombing you mean the firestorm (operation gormorrha) juli/august 43?
      my grandmother and mother survived it also and went to poland afterwards because it was out of range for the bombers.

      neuengamme was the main kz in hamburg, but it had 33 sub camps, not to mention the many small camps which belonged to companies which used the forced labourers. was it a mixed camp or one only for women? i will search more, but i am not sure wether i will find it.

      • puttypants

        Thanks for those video’s. OMG that was terrifying. I’ve said all along everyone had lots of blood on their hands but I believe the bombers had more. The announcer and pilots were so glib about sending those bombs on buildings and in those building were human beings. How can anyone fighting in that war recuse themselves of crimes against humanity?Let’s start looking at what Soviet’s, Americans and Brits did in WW2. For too long we’ve just looked at the crime’s of Hilter and the Nazi’s not at the allied forces who were just as criminal and brutal as Hitler and certainly killed more people. At the time of that bombing my parents weren’t in Hamburg yet.

        • Geralt von Riva

          sure, but we can’t judge it. in coventry or warsaw it happened similar. but so appears bombing a city, even today.

  • puttypants

    Why shouldn’t I dig so deep. I want to know my history. I want to fill in the blanks of my life good and bad.

    • Geralt von Riva

      i didnt mean you. i was more speaking to myself. i was shocked by the map in the link. because it showed how many camps it were and which companies were involved. it’s a bit like if one digs in shiit one will only find more shiit.:)

  • puttypants

    Now you know why I don’t know which camps my parents were in. I’ve been trying to find out but haven’t been able to get anywhere. I would hope there would be records in Hamburg somewhere but where to begin search? I’ve tried on the internet so many sites are in German which I don’t understand. If you have any suggestions I’d be grateful.

    • Geralt von Riva

      i would try to start here. for an archieve request or simple ask there wether they can help you.

      there was also a visiting program, but it was only from 2000-2013. it was also organisized by neuengamme, so i think it would be the right starting point.

      “410 guests visiting program for former forced laborers and forced laborers

      The end of 2000 decided the Hamburg Parliament and the Hamburg Senate to establish a visiting program for former forced laborers and forced laborers.

      The basis for this decision was the belief “that the millions of people who were forced to labor during the Second World War in Germany (…) had th bear a grave injustice.” (Printed Matter 16/4945). In Hamburg alone an estimated 500,000 forced laborers were used.

      the Friends Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial EV, which already has several years of experience with visiting tours of former prisoners of Neuengamme concentration camp, especially from Ukraine, got the order to organize the visit program. The visit was aimed at former slave laborers and forced laborers in Eastern
      Europe, which have for financial or organizational reasons no possibilties to realize the trip to Hamburg without an invitation from Germany. From 2001 to 2013 attended 26 group of former forced laborers and forced laborers with around 410 guests in Hamburg. The participants came from the countries Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

      The contacts with the former forced laborers were made on the basis of addresses from the Hamburg State Archives or by using the national foundations in the countries. The national foundations were the partner organizations of the German Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” and maintained the applications for compensation. The former forced laborers and workers were given the opportunity to visit the places of their former suffering again. They also met with school classes and other groups, with which they shared their experiences. Each visiting group was officially welcomed at the City Hall by a representative of the Senate or of the citizenry. In addition, guests were given humanitarian aid (eyeglasses, hearing aids, clothing donations). In the form of video interviews, the memories of former forced laborers were detained.

      The exhibition shown in the City Hall board in January 2005. “In Hamburg I left my youth” – forced labor in Hamburg from 1940 to 1945 – is largely based on memories, photos and documents from former forced laborers and workers to which the contact during the visit program was made.

      Inspired by encounters with former forced laborers worked in 2007 pupils of the Max-Brauer-school a commemorative plaque for the camp “Moortwiete” in Bahrenfeld, and in 2009 was a memorial plaque for the camp “Lederstraße” inaugurated in Stellingen S-Bahn station ,

      Friends of Neuengamme concentration camp memorial ordered the
      filmmaker Jürgen Kinter to create four films, which documented the fates of former forced laborers and their encounters during the return visit to Hamburg. Together with the Regional Center for Political Education, the Friends issued a digital card of Hamburg, in which all known camp sites are listed.

      “The Senate agrees with the assessment by the citizenry that the millions of people who during the Second World War in Germany, but also in the occupied territories during this time, forced labor must afford a grave injustice has been inflicted. […] The Senate Chancellery in cooperation with the Friends of Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial organize and carry out a multi-annual program of visits. ”

      Opinion of the Senate of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, 17.10.2000, printed matter 16/4945

      “You can not imagine how much this means for me to travel! For many years, always replayed only the dark images and the heavy memories of the three years of my distant youth in my sick mind. And now, after I again saw everything and especially a very different relationship which have German towards Russians begin many sharp edges of these memories, to smooth out. It’s just a shame that this has happened only at the end of my life. ”

      Tamara Ivanovna Nassonowa from Russia after their visit to Hamburg in June 2003. Letter, July 2003. Archive Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial,
      Ukrainian forced laborers at the camp Moortwiete, Bahrenfeld, 1943