Monday, October 12, 2009

Russia's disabled suffer neglect and abuse

The BBC has obtained shocking evidence of the abuse and prejudice which campaigners say is widespread against the estimated 13 million people with disabilities in Russia.
Many are like prisoners inside their own homes, unable to go outside because of the lack of basic facilities in the towns and cities, while tens of thousands of children with disabilities go without any education.

Vadim Voevodin, who has suffered more than most, is behind a campaign to improve life for those with disabilities in Russia, and as we sat inside his tiny Moscow apartment, he showed me a shocking video.

In the black and white CCTV footage a man kneels on the ground outside his apartment, under attack. He tries to fight back but is pushed down and held in a neck-lock.

But this is no banal brawl between two angry able-bodied men.
The man on the ground is Mr Voevodin, and he is kneeling because he is paralysed from the waist down.

He has just been dragged from his wheelchair after answering a knock on the door from a local resident who came with the intention of beating him up.
Two years after this brutal attack Mr Voevodin still lives in fear, and the two small rooms which he calls home are packed with surveillance equipment.

The situation for people with disabilities here is now worse than in Soviet times, it's like an undeclared war against us Vadim Voevodin
CCTV cameras and microphones protrude from every corner and a bank of monitors, video recorders and computers dominate an entire wall.

But the electronics are not only there because of his fears about security; the apartment is also the nerve-centre of his campaign.
And that is because he has no other choice of location.

He said he has not been able to go outside for the past 10 years because his front door is too narrow to get through in a wheelchair and, even if it was wider, he would not be able to get into the lift to go down to the ground-floor because it is too small.
And if he ever made it onto the city's streets he would face a maze of obstacles - steep kerbs , flights of steps, cars parked on pavements and a public transport system almost all of which is inaccessible for those with disabilities.

But even all this is not what troubles him the most.
'Undeclared war'
On his website he has posted a series of photographs of associates whom he said have died because of the acute prejudice within Russian society against those with disabilities.
"The situation for people with disabilities here is now worse than in Soviet times, it's like an undeclared war against us," he said.
"A wheelchair user I know, who was an active fighter for the rights of people with disabilities… was left to die in a hospital ward.

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