Bonner, Elena (1923–)

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Bonner, Elena (1923–)

Russian physician and civil-rights activist. Name variations: Luisa (childhood name still used by her family); Yelena or Jelena Bonner. Born Feb 15, 1923, in Merv in Soviet Turkestan; dau. of Levon Sarkisovich Kocharov and Ruth Grigorievna Bonner (subsequently Communist Party official); stepdau. of Gevork Sarkisovich Alikhanov (Communist Party official); attended Herzen Teachers Institute, 1940–41, and 1st Leningrad Medical Institute, 1947–53; m. Ivan Vasilyevich Semyonov, 1950 (sep. 1965); m. Andrei Sakharov, 1971 (died 1989); children (1st m.): Tatyiana (b. 1950), Alexei (b. 1956).

Daughter of high-ranking Soviet officials, victims of Stalin's purges, who became a physician, a civil-rights activist in the Soviet Union, and a spokeswoman and representative for husband Andrei Sakharov; parents arrested during a Stalin purge (1937); served as nurse in WWII (1941–45); was wounded in action which destroyed her sight in one eye, leading to a progressive weakening of vision in the other (1941); mother rearrested (1950); attended medical school (1947–53); mother released from imprisonment (1954); separated from 1st husband, joined Communist Party (1965); became a leading member in the Soviet dissident community (1970); met Sakharov at a protest demonstration (1970), then married him (1971); was now linked personally to one of the nation's greatest scientists and by then an internationally renowned critic of Soviet political life; left Communist Party (1972); when Sakharov could not leave the Soviet Union to receive the Nobel Prize awarded him, received it in his place, then received medical treatment in Italy (1975); with Sakharov exiled in Gorky, became his chief spokesperson and link to the outside world (1980); also arrested and sentenced to exile in Gorky (1984); had medical treatment in Italy and the US (1985–86); husband released from exile (1986), then died (1989); following collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), established Sakharov memorial library in Moscow (1994); as a witness to the purges of the 1930s, as a member of the armed forces during WWII, and as a leading dissident in the era following the death of dictator Joseph Stalin, observed and helped to shape the course of her country's history.

See also memoirs Alone Together (1986) and Mothers and Daughters (1992); (film) Sakharov, starring Jason Robards Jr. and Glenda Jackson (1984); and Women in World History.

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