WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States expressed sadness Sunday over the death of former Soviet dissident Yelena Bonner, hailing the tireless critic of Vladimir Putin as an “extraordinary voice” for human rights.
“We note with profound sadness the death of Yelena Bonner, an extraordinary voice among human rights defenders in the former Soviet Union and the Russian Federation,” State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said.
“Bonner’s own history, from the political arrests of her parents in the 1930s to the years of exile with her husband Andrei Sakharov, is an important part of the human rights community in Russia and around the world today.”
Bonner died Saturday at age 88 in the US city of Boston after undergoing heart surgery for a third time, her friend and Moscow-based fellow rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told AFP.
After a suburban Boston ceremony, Bonner’s ashes will be interred next to her husband’s remains at Moscow’s Vostryakovo Cemetery, her daughter said in a statement released Sunday.
As the Cold War raged, Bonner served as the West’s only link to her exiled husband — the nuclear scientist Sakharov, who won the Nobel peace prize — and other dissidents in the 1980s, exposed abuses in Chechnya a decade later and demanded action over recent media restrictions.
With the country in disarray after the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, Bonner helped organize Russia’s nascent human rights movement.
But she spent her last years in the United States after expressing dismay with Russia’s course under Putin, an era that saw the state win back control of major television stations and rights groups come under a new wave of pressure.