Elena (also spelled Yelena) Georgevna Bonner (Russian: Елена Георгиевна Боннэр) was born Merv (now Mary), Turkmenistan, to an Armenian father and Jewish mother. In 1937, when Elena was 14, her father Gevork Alikhanov was arrested, and he disappeared into Stalin’s prisons.
The following year, her mother Ruth Bonner was arrested and sent to the Soviet gulag. During World War II, Elena served as a nurse in front-line fighting against the invading Nazis. She was repeatedly wounded, and received several top military honors. After the war, she studied medicine in Leningrad and became a pediatrician. She married Ivan Semyonov, a medical school classmate, with whom she had two children. In the 1960s, she divorced her husband, quit the Communist Party, and gave up the practice of medicine to become a full-time political dissident and human rights activist. In 1972, she remarried to Andrei Sakharov, a nuclear physicist and fellow human rights activist. Though Sakharov was better known, she also worked tirelessly to improve the lives of her people. She was permitted to travel to the West for treatment of an eye injury from the war. In 1975, when Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was barred from traveling to accept it by Soviet authorities, Bonner represented him at the ceremony in Oslo. In 1980, Sakharov was exiled to Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), a city closed to foreigners, for protesting the Soviet "secret war" in Afghanistan. Bonner became his lifeline, traveling between Gorky and Moscow to visit and to bring out his writings. She was arrested in 1984 and sent to join him in Gorky for five years of exile. After Sakharov went on a hunger strike in 1985 because of her failing health, Bonner was permitted to travel to the USA for heart bypass surgery. After Sakharov died, Bonner remained outspoken on democracy and human rights in Russia and around the world for the rest of her life. She was the author of two memoirs, Alone Together (1987) and Mothers and Daughters (1992), as well as numerous articles.