The collapse of the Soviet Union has had an adverse impact on the lives of the peoples of Russia and Ukraine. This paper reports on qualitative case studies including interviews, focus groups and children's essays from Russia and Ukraine, on the topics of everyday understanding of health and the factors influencing it. The majority report poor health and difficult material circumstances. Their understandings of health and illness are multifactorial and include emotional as well as descriptive elements. Whilst the most frequently cited definition of health is of people with/without health problems, it is evident that health is seen positively, as more than the absence of debilitating illness. There is a strong emphasis on individual responsibility for health and evidence that people are thought to have a moral responsibility to strive to be healthy. However, there is also a strong awareness that the major factors which cause ill health are beyond their control. The findings provide additional support for the health lifestyles theory that has been developed to provide a sociological understanding of the mortality crisis in the former Soviet Union.