As the Winter Paralympics begin in Sochi, Russian activists are hoping the Games will help combat widespread prejudice. They say people with disabilities have been marginalized in Russia for decades.
“In our country, there are no disabled people.” This is a quote attributed to Soviet communist party leader Leonid Breschnev in the 1980s.
The 1980 Summer Olympic Games took place in Moscow and the Soviet Union simply refused to organize the Paralympics, which were then held in Arnhem, Netherlands.
Now in 2014, the Russian organizers see things differently, they are planning a ten-day cosmopolitan sports festival with 600 athletes from 45 nations.
But can the Paralympics help bring a marginalized group in Russia’s population into the national spotlight?
According the Ministry of Health, thirteen million Russians live with a disability, which is around nine percent of the population. The government launched a multi-billion dollar initiative in 2011 to improve health care and education.