Sakharov, Andreĭ, 1921-1989

Alternative names
Birth 1921
Death 1989
English, Russian

Biographical notes:

Russian physicist and human rights activist.

From the description of Collection, 1890-1991. (Brandeis University Library). WorldCat record id: 122357294

Andreĭ Sakharov was a Russian physicist and human rights activist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

From the description of Andreĭ Sakharov papers, 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612829830

From the description of Andreĭ Sakharov papers, [electronic resource] 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk). (Harvard University, Wadsworth House). WorldCat record id: 777836999

Dissident Soviet physicist.

From the description of Andreĭ Sakharov letter, 1980. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754871777

Andreĭ Sakharov (1921-1989) was born May 21, 1921, into a Moscow family of cultured and liberal intelligentsia. His father was Dmitri Ivanovich Sakharov, a private school physics teacher and an amateur pianist. Sakharov's mother was Ëkaterina Alekseyevna Sakharova (née Sofiano, of Greek ancestry). Although his paternal great-grandfather had been a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church and his mother had had him baptized, his father was an atheist.

Sakharov married Klavdia Alekseyevna Vikhireva in 1943; they had two daughters and a son before her death in 1969. He met Elena Bonner in October 1970 when both were attending the trial of human rights activists in Kaluga; they subsequently worked together to defend Jews sentenced to death for attempting an escape from the USSR in a hijacked plane. In 1965 Elena Bonner had separated from her husband, Ivan Semyonov, a classmate from medical school. They had a daughter, Tatiana, in 1950, and a son, Alexei, in 1956. Bonner and Sakharov married in January 1972.

Sakharov studied physics at Moscow University where he was recognized as a brilliant student; he was exempted from military service during the war with Nazi Germany and completed his studies in 1942. At the end of the war, he was recruited for secret nuclear weapons research and studied cosmic radiation. He entered the Theoretical Department of FIAN (the Physical Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) in 1945 and received his Ph.D. in 1947.

In 1948, he participated in the Soviet atomic bomb project, testing the first Soviet atomic device in 1949. After moving to Sarova (Russia) in 1950, Sakharov played a key role in the development of the hydrogen bomb and proposed an idea for a controlled nuclear fusion reactor. The first Soviet fusion device was tested in 1953. That year he received his D.Sc. degree, was elected a full member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and was awarded the first of his three Hero of Socialist Labor titles.

In 1957, Sakharov's concern with the hazards of nuclear testing inspired him to write a pioneering article on the effects of low-level radiation; he also wrote to Soviet president Nikita Krushchev on the harm to Soviet science of the followers of Lysenkoism, a Stalinist-era extermination of scientists wrongly charged with treason. Pushing for the end of atmospheric nuclear tests, he was party to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty signed in Moscow. In 1964, with 24 other prominent intellectuals and artists, he warned Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev of the dangers of the rehabilitation of the legacy of Stalin. The publication of his essay, Reflection on Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, an indictment of the Soviet system and a call to end the Cold War, in the New York Times in 1968 propelled him onto the world stage. The "Sakharov doctrine" of the indivisibility of human rights and international security became the ideological backbone of the human rights movement.

Sakharov was fired from the Soviet weapons program as a consequence of this publication. His work in defense of prisoners of conscience and advocacy of human rights brought him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Soviets denied him a visa to receive the award in Norway, and his wife, undergoing eye surgery in Italy, went to Oslo to deliver his speech.

Sakharov's critical essays continued to develop a framework for political, economic, and legal reform. His denouncing of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 triggered his banishment in January 1980 to Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, without trial or conviction. His wife became his link to the outside world, taking to Moscow and abroad his statements on important political issues, including the major part of his Memoirs. In 1981 Sakharov and Bonner went on a hunger strike on behalf of Bonner's son's wife who was denied permission to join her husband in the United States. Sakharov went on two more hunger strikes in 1984 and 1985 insisting that Bonner be allowed to travel to the West for treatment after suffering a heart attack. During the first hunger strike in 1981, Sakharov was hospitalized forcibly and denied contact with his wife. False reports of his death and of forced treatments with mind-altering drugs were received in the West. In 1985, to impress western public opinion on the eve of the Geneva summit with Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev allowed Bonner to travel to the United States.

Elena Bonner returned to her husband and to exile after a successful sextuple heart bypass operation. The exile continued until December 16, 1986, when a telephone was installed in their apartment and Gorbachev called to invite Sakharov to come back to Moscow and to perform "patriotic work." Back from Gorky, Sakharov sought to serve as a spokesman for democracy. He was elected to the Presidium of the Academy of Science and the Congress of People's Deputies; he was appointed a member of the government commission to draft a new Soviet constitution. At the First Congress of People's Deputies in June 1989, Sakharov appealed for a radical reformation of the Soviet system and for an end to the Communist Party's dictatorship. Only a few days before his death, he completed a draft of a new constitution for the "Union of Soviet Republics of Europe and Asia." He was a free man for less than three years before his death in 1989.

(Adapted from text by Elena Bonner © 1993)

From the guide to the Andreĭ Sakharov papers, 1852-2002 (inclusive), 1960-1990 (bulk)., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Dissenters--Biography
  • Perestroĭka
  • Physicists--Sources
  • Political prisoners--Biography
  • Dissenters
  • Civil rights
  • Hunger strikes
  • Human rights advocacy--History
  • Dissenters--Sources
  • Physicists--Biography
  • Human rights workers--Biography
  • Nobel Prize winners


  • Physicists


  • Soviet Union (as recorded)
  • Soviet Union (as recorded)
  • Soviet Union (as recorded)
  • Soviet Union (as recorded)