Yelena Bonner, Soviet critic, Sakharov widow, dies

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 19, 2011 5:08 AM
Yelena Bonner, Soviet critic, Sakharov widow, dies

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yelena Bonner, a relentless critic of human rights abuses by Soviet-era authorities and the widow of Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov, has died at the age of 88, her children said.

Bonner continued to advocate rights and democracy in post-communist Russia and was outspoken against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Bonner died on Saturday in the United States, where she had lived in recent years in the Boston area, her daughter Tatiana Yankelevich and son Alexey Semyonov said in a statement posted on the website of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation.

It did not give the cause of death.

Born in Soviet Turkmenistan on February 15, 1923, to parents who were persecuted under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Bonner served as a nurse in World War Two and was later ejected from medical school during a Stalin-era campaign against Jews.

In 1972 she married Sakharov, a nuclear physicist who helped to develop the Soviet atom bomb but later used his prominence to speak out for peace and human rights. She represented him at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in 1975.

A member of the Soviet dissident movement that developed in the 1960s, Bonner went with Sakharov when he was sent into internal exile in Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod, in 1980 after speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Bonner was Sakharov's sole link with the outside world during his internal exile until she herself was ordered confined to Gorky in 1984. She was convicted by a court there of defaming Soviet society and the state.

After a series of hunger strikes by Sakharov, Bonner was allowed to travel to the United States for heart surgery in 1985.

Sakharov and Bonner returned to Moscow in 1986 at the invitation of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was ushering in reforms. Sakharov died in December 1989, two years before the Soviet Union fell apart.

Bonner was a member of a state human rights commission under Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president, but quit in protest over the war that began when Yeltsin sent troops into Chechnya to fight separatist rebels.

Late last year, Bonner signed a petition calling for the resignation of Putin, who critics say has rolled back democratic gains of the Yeltsin era since he became president in 2000 and subsequently prime minister.

Bonner's children said her memorial service would be held on Tuesday in Brookline, Massachusetts and that, in accordance with her wishes, she would be cremated and her ashes interred at a Moscow cemetery beside her husband, mother and brother.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; editing by David Stamp)