Sarah D. Phillips
Disability and Mobility in Postsocialist Ukraine
Indiana University Press 2010
New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network December 14, 2017 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
In Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2010), Sarah D. Phillips offers a compelling investigation of disability policies and movements in Ukraine after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Scrupulously studied and researched, the data that the author presents reflect social and political changes that have been taking place in the country. Most importantly, this study is centered around people, around the lives of people who change our perception of life, love, and care and our understanding of self and other. In this regard, Sarah Phillips explores how official policies and informal movements, connected with the framing of the concept of disability, shape the ways people with physical impairments are integrated into social consciousness.
As Sarah Phillips’s study shows, the concept of disability in Ukraine has undergone considerable transformations which were conditioned and triggered by historical circumstances. A particular attention is given to the Soviet period when official terms for the defining of disability became part not only of the Soviet official language but also of Soviet mentality as well. “Invalid”—a term defining a person who has an impairment—was rather often understood as a social stigma, entailing detrimental consequences for the emotional and psychological health of the individual. This “labelling” contributed to the deepening of a gap, separating citizens without impairments and citizens with disabilities.
The current stage of the disability policies in Ukraine is to a large extent shaped by the challenges that were emerging during the Soviet period. As Sarah Phillips convincingly demonstrates, a number of profound changes in terms of the improvement of disability rights movement have taken place. Volunteering initiatives and individual endeavors to recover from injuries and find new ways of social activities considerably re-shaped the understanding of disability. This research recounts personal stories of people who discovered inner strength and stimuli to re-define their lives after severe injuries. When recovering, they do not have much to rely on; their will to rediscover joy and love is probably the most significant factor. In spite of positive changes, postsocialist Ukraine still has a number of problems that hinder an effective and productive re-integration of people with disabilities into society. Lack of equipment and accommodations that would facilitate access to public amenities is one of the factors that reduces physical mobility of people with disabilities.
Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine touches upon the question of how the individual develops their relations with the inside and outside worlds after traumatizing experiences that lead to physical impairments. Drawing attention to the issues and concerns that are central to people experiencing spinal injuries, Sarah Philips invites her readers to think about disability as a phenomenon that breaks boundaries. Of course, medical diagnoses matter and in many cases these are, so to speak, official documents that shape the relationships within communities. But what seems to be at stake is the development of individual and societal relations which are based on inclusiveness that marks the individuals endeavor to reach out to others. In this regards, the title itself—Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine—encodes a message: disability, in spite of stereotypes and prejudices, also includes mobility. As Sarah Phillips confirms in this interview, disability also includes experiences that make individuals explore opportunities for self-realization. This understanding of disability should be, however, supported not only on an individual level, but on a state and societal level as well.
In 2018, a new Russian edition of Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine will be published in Ukraine. Translated into Russian, it is updated and supplied with a foreword and an afterword. In this new edition, Sarah Phillips follows up on some of the stories that her Ukrainian friends shared with her when she was working on the first edition.
Sarah D. Phillips, PhD, is Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the Director of Russian and East European Institute. Her previous publications also include a book-length study, Women’s Social Activism in the New Ukraine. She teaches and conducts research in a number of areas: Medical Anthropology; Central and Eastern Europe; the Former Soviet Union, especially Ukraine and Russia; postsocialist transformations; civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); globalization; development; gender studies; post-Chernobyl health and healing; folk medicine; disability studies; HIV-AIDS; and addiction.