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A Letter to My Scientific Colleagues

Dear Friends,

Two years ago your support played a vital role in resolving the problem of my daughter-in-law Liza Alexeyeva’s departure to join her husband. I turn to you once again concerning a matter of critical importance which could have tragic consequences. I ask your help in securing permission for my wife to travel abroad for medical care. (Treatment for her life-threatening cardiac condition is the first priority, but she also needs treatment and an operation for her eyes.) She would like to see her children and grandchildren after a five-year separation. She could visit her mother and possibly bring her back to the Soviet Union.

We believe that medical treatment of my wife in the USSR would be dangerous. Believe me, this is not a case of unjustified “nerves” or of a search for confrontation. My wife has suffered for many years from an unprecedented campaign of slander and from intense pressure exerted directly on her as well as on her children and grandchildren. Threats were made to kill her grandchildren. Six years ago we were forced to the decision that it would be better if the children and grandchildren emigrated. This has brought about the tragic separation of our family with an almost complete lack of communication adding to our sorrow. After the departure first of our children and then of Liza Alexeyeva two years ago, my wife Elena Bonner became the sole hostage for my public activity. The whole responsibility for my statements has been shifted onto her. But that is only a part of the problem as I see it. The KGB appraises Elena’s role in my life and public activity very highly and seeks to eliminate her moral influence and, I have reason to fear, her physical presence as well. A unique and unbearable situation has been created. In thinking and speaking about the Sakharov case, you should keep this major complication in mind.

A campaign of slander has been mounted to discredit my wife. Soviet propaganda depicts her as the instigator of all my statements and as a Zionist agent of the CIA. That assertion spiced with scandalous and sophisticated slander about my wife’s moral qualities and mythical past behavior was repeated in 1983 by three publications so that millions of people have read that sensational lie: N. N. Yakovlev’s book The CIA Against the USSR (200,000 copies) and Yakovlev’s articles in the magazines Smena (1,170,000 circulation) and Chelovek i zakon (8,700,000 circulation). The appearance of Yakovlev’s articles coincided with publication in the newspaper Izvestia of a letter signed by academicians A. A. Dorodnitsyn, A. M. Prokhorov, G. K. Skryabin, and A. N. Tikhonov which deliberately and outrageously misrepresented my views on nuclear war, peace, and disarmament. In violation of common sense, my wife was saddled with that burden as well. It has been used to incite popular hatred and denunciation. Thousands of letters, passers-by on the street, passengers sharing her compartment on the train savagely accuse my wife of being a Zionist, an agitator, a traitor to the motherland, a murderer.

Elena was subjected to all this shortly after suffering a heart attack on April 25. The infarct was extensive and severe. Later attacks damaged more heart tissue. My wife’s condition is still not stabilized and remains life-threatening. Her most recent attack, a severe one, occurred in October.

We attempted during May and June to secure our joint admission to the hospital of the USSR Academy of Sciences. That would have alleviated at least some of the fears which I have mentioned. Our effort failed, even though a commission of physicians visited me in Gorky and confirmed that my health problems require my hospitalization. My wife has not, in fact, received medical care. Policemen are stationed at the door of our Moscow apartment just as in Gorky. Doctors hesitate to visit her, fearing the consequences. The telephone in our Moscow apartment was disconnected in 1980, and the nearby coin telephone was disconnected right after Elena’s heart attack. This is certainly not sheer coincidence. In case of a sudden attack, she cannot even call an ambulance.

I fear—and I believe the fear is justified—that if Elena were to be hospitalized, some means may be found to bring about her death. The risk would be greater if she were alone, but it would not be completely eliminated by my presence. (The danger, of course, is there at home as well.) Even if I am exaggerating the danger, the public harassment and constant KGB interference preclude any possibility for serious medical treatment. When my wife was a patient in the Moscow Eye Hospital in 1974, she was advised in confidence to sign herself out immediately for the sake of her life and health. The situation has grown many times worse since then! Now the only acceptable solution is for my wife to go abroad. That is the only way to save her. Elena applied for an exit visa in September 1982 when an eye operation became an urgent necessity. Elena’s eyes still require treatment. But since her infarct, treatment for her heart disease has taken priority and cannot be postponed. Her application has not been answered despite the regulations in force. I sent a letter on November 10 to the Soviet head of state Yuri Andropov requesting permission for my wife’s trip.

I appeal to my colleagues abroad and in the USSR, to public figures and government officials in all countries, to our friends everywhere. Save my wife Elena Bonner!

Gorky, November 1983

Translator’s Postscript:

In a message from Gorky dated January 12, Mr. Sakharov made an appeal to the participants in the Stockholm conference. In it he said:

Treatment for my wife in the Soviet Union where she has been subject to severe persecution, slander, and KGB interference cannot be effective and could prove dangerous in our opinion. For all practical purposes, she has been deprived of medical care. Only a trip to receive medical treatment abroad can save her life, and mine as well, since her death would mean my death.

Those who are concerned about Dr. Sakharov and Mrs. Sakharov should appeal on their behalf to the Soviet government and to the US and other Western governments. It continues to be of urgent importance that persons of Dr. Sakharov’s choice be permitted to visit him and that competent and acceptable medical care be made available to him. (Translation by Khronika Press)

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