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Yelena G. Bonner dies; Russian rights activist

WASHINGTON -- Yelena G. Bonner, a Russian human rights activist who, with her late husband, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei D. Sakharov, was one of the Soviet Union's most outspoken political dissidents, died June 18 in Boston. She was 88.

She had been hospitalized since February, had heart surgery in March and since then had had several bouts with infection, said her daughter, Tatiana Yankelevich.

Bonner was a prominent activist even before she met Sakharov, the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, at the trial of a fellow dissident in 1970. The two married in 1972 and together became symbols of resistance against Soviet political repression.

Headstrong and sharp-tongued with a no-nonsense voice deepened by years of chain-smoking acrid Russian cigarettes, Bonner helped lead a group that monitored violations of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviet government had promised to respect human rights and uphold fundamental freedoms.

In 1980, Sakharov was banished to Gorky, 250 miles from Moscow, after he publicly criticized the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Bonner became her husband's sole link to the West, ferrying his writings to Moscow and bringing him news of the outside world. State media called Bonner a CIA agent, a Zionist and a greedy schemer whose seductions had turned Sakharov against his own country.

In 1984, she too was exiled to Gorky after being convicted of slandering the Soviet state. Isolated from family and forbidden from communicating via telephone, the couple lived under constant KGB surveillance.

Bonner was eventually granted a temporary visa to the United States, where she had coronary bypass surgery in the mid-1980s.

In 1986, Bonner and her husband were allowed to return to Moscow during a period of reform under Mikhail S. Gorbachev. They revived their human rights monitoring committee and pressed on with their calls for greater freedom.

Yelena Georgievna Bonner was born Feb. 15, 1923, in Turkmenistan.

She was a teenager when Stalin's secret police arrested and shot her stepfather, an Armenian Bolshevik revolutionary. Her mother, the daughter of a Jewish family born into Siberian exile, spent 17 years in a slave labor camp as "the wife of an enemy of the people."

Bonner lived with relatives and became a nurse during World War II. She was badly wounded during the siege of Leningrad and almost lost her eyesight when a German plane strafed a medical train on which she was tending wounded soldiers.

Sakharov died in 1989. Two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

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