Elena Georgievna Bonner

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 27 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6085
  1. Boleslav Lichterman
  1. lichterman{at}

Soviet paediatrician, dissident, and human rights activist

One day in the late 1980s, Elena Bonner and her second husband, Andrei Sakharov, were on their way home when they saw a truck crash into a car. A man got out carrying a girl who had blood pouring from her head. Bonner grabbed a first aid kit and ran through eight or ten lanes of traffic. She poured iodine on a cotton wad and pressed it against the girl’s head. The child stopped crying. “All she has to do is put her hand on someone, and that person will calm down,” her husband told a journalist.

Sakharov was a nuclear physicist who later led the human rights movement in the former Soviet Union, winning the Nobel peace prize in 1975. Bonner compared herself with the moon, reflecting his light. After his death in 1989 she became president of the international non-governmental organisation named after him.

Bonner met Sakharov in 1970, and they married in 1972. Their Moscow apartment soon became the headquarters of the Soviet dissident movement; there they met with political rebels, persecuted Christians, Ukrainian nationalists, Crimean Tatars fighting for their right to return from exile in Uzbekistan, Soviet Jews eager to emigrate to Israel, foreign journalists, and more.

Tough critic

Until her death, Bonner remained an unbending critic of …

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