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Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom

Elena Bonner

Elena Bonner (1923-2011) was a distinguished Soviet dissident, the wife and confederate of Nobel Prize-winning physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. When she was a child, during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, her mother was sent to the gulag for eight years, followed by nine years of exile. Bonner was sent to Leningrad to live with her grandmother and was drafted into the Red Army as a nurse during World War II. In 1941, Elena was seriously injured and, as a result, later suffered from problems with her eyes. Elena entered the First Pavlov Medical Institute of Leningrad but was expelled for her comments regarding the 1953 antisemitic “Doctors’ Plot”. Though previously a member of the Soviet Communist Party, a decision she later described as a serious mistake, Bonner resigned her membership in 1972 and became active in the Soviet human rights movement. She married Sakharov and co-founded the Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the leading human rights organizations in the USSR. Bonner was arrested in 1984 for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and sentence to five years of exile in Gorky. Her memoir Alone Together details her trials at the hands of the KGB, sickness, life in internal exile, experiences in the United States, future prospects, and rock-like solidarity with Sakharov. In 1999, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded her the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.