Elena Bonner

Human rights advocate and Soviet dissident

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Elena Bonner was a Soviet dissident and human rights advocate who was exiled along with her husband, nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. Bonner’s parents were sent to the gulags under Stalin in the1930s. She served as a nurse on the front lines against the invading German army during World War II before giving up her medical practice and leaving the Communist Party in the 1960s to join the dissident movement. She married fellow dissident Sakharov in 1972. She was repeatedly interrogated, threatened, and surveilled by the government for her activism and that of her husband. Sheaccepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Sakharov’s behalf in 1975. In 1984, she was prosecuted on charges of anti-Soviet slander and joined her husband in exile in Gorky, where they remained until 1986, when Mikhail Gorbachev allowed them to return to Moscow. Bonner wrote two memoirs, “Alone Together” and“Mothers and Daughters.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, she remained an outspoken advocate for human rights and democracy in Russia and around the world. She resigned from Boris Yeltsin’s Human Rights Commission in 1994, in protest of human rights violations in Chechnya and was also the first signatory of the “Putin Must Go” campaign in 2010. Bonner was the recipient of numerous international human rights awards, including the ;Rafto Prize. She died from heart failure on June 18, 2011, at the age of 88.

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