Tracing the history of special education services in Russia from its beginnings in the early nineteenth century through the rapid expansion of both private and government-supported programs and institutions until the restrictive Soviet period provides both understanding and appreciation of current Russian special education services and institutions. Theoretical principles guiding special education formulated by L. Vygotsky, and sources outside the USSR, were officially suppressed, as were testing and statistical data on handicapped individuals. Official mandates to bring students with handicaps up to state-approved standards resulted in the development of creative, effective approaches. The framework of special education changed little until the breakdown of the USSR. The new Russian Federation ratified UN resolutions protecting the rights of children. Categorical language is a recent development, and terms such as defective, retarded and pedologist are gradually being replaced. The final decade of this century is witnessing rapid change at the initiation of the Ministry of Education that is beginning to produce needed reform. One of the major initiatives is to provide LD specialists in all schools so that students will not need to be a great distance from home to receive needed services.