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Yelena Bonner, Russian rights activist, Andrei Sakharov's widow, dies at 88

BOSTON — Yelena Bonner, a Russian rights activist and widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, died Saturday (June 18, 2011) in Boston, her daughter said Sunday. She was 88.

Ms. Bonner died of heart failure, according to her daughter, Tatiana Yankelevich.

A pediatrician by training, Ms. Bonner grew famous through her marriage to Sakharov, the Soviet Union's leading dissident, but she carved out her own reputation as a tireless human rights campaigner in the face of relentless hostility from Soviet authorities.

Their cramped, three-room apartment in Moscow was the unofficial headquarters of the Soviet dissident movement in the 1970s, and again in the late 1980s after they returned from internal exile in the city of Gorky.

Both suffered constant harassment, and Soviet officialdom regularly made caustic, personal attacks against Ms. Bonner, accusing her of being a foreign agent who bullied her husband, the father of the Soviet atomic bomb, into turning against his country.

But the attacks only seemed to strengthen their resolve, and neither ever stopped calling for greater personal freedom for Soviet citizens despite the huge personal cost.

"I hope to live out my life until the end worthy of the Russian culture in which I've spent my life, of the Jewish and Armenian nationalities, and I am proud that mine has been the difficult lot and happy fate to be the wife and friend of academic Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov," Ms. Bonner wrote in her autobiography.

After Sakharov died in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, Mr. Bonner continued to champion human rights, but was less and less visible, and her health began to deteriorate. She had a long history of heart and eye problems and suffered heart attacks in 1995 and 1996.

In recent years, she lent the weight of her voice to those opposing the leadership of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who has restored many of the Soviet-era powers of the security services. In March 2010, hers was the first signature on a petition calling for Putin to go.

Yelena Bonner, Russian rights activist, Andrei Sakharov's widow, dies at 88 06/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 19, 2011 11:11pm]
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