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‘The conscience of mankind’ Photographs from the life of Andrei Sakharov, the nuclear physicist and human rights advocate who fought to make the Soviet Union a free country

Source: Meduza

One hundred years ago today, on May 21, 1921, Andrei Sakharov was born in Moscow. He went on to become a renowned nuclear physicist and one of the Soviet Union’s top developers of thermonuclear weapons — then he joined the fight against nuclear weapons, advocating for disarmament in the midst of the Cold War. Later still, he became one of the main opponents of the Soviet Union’s communist dictatorship. After a decades-long confrontation with the Soviet authorities, which included living in exile and going on several hunger strikes, the physicist ultimately won — albeit at the expense of his health. Indeed, Sakharov only lived to see the early signs of a new era. Meduza looks back on the life of the Soviet Union’s most famous scientist, human rights activist, dissident, and Nobel Peace Prize winner — in photographs.

Andrei Sakharov with his grandmother, Zinaida Sofiano in 1922
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov at the age of six or seven. At this time, his family lived in a communal apartment in Moscow. This is where he received his primary education — he studied physics and mathematics with his father, Dmitry, a well-known teacher and popularizer of physics.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov with his younger brother, Yuri, and mother, Yekaterina Alekseyevna, at the dacha. Circa 1928.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov and his father, circa 1948. That year, Sakharov was enrolled in a Soviet research group that was developing thermonuclear weapons.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov photographed while ill, circa 1938–1940. At this time, Sakharov was a student at Moscow University’s Physics Department.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov with his first wife, Klavdia Vikhireva, and their daughters Tanya and Lyuba in the yard outside of their house, circa 1954–1955. At this time, Sakharov was working for the secret “Nuclear” Design Bureau No. 11 in the closed city of Arzamas-16. 
Sakharov Center
Testing of the RDS-6s hydrogen bomb, which was developed according to physicist Andrei Sakharov’s “first idea” — a design known as the “Sloika” (named after a layered puff pastry). 1953. 
Atomicground
Andrei Sakharov with the scientific director of the USSR’s nuclear program, Igor Kurchatov, and his dog in the park near Kurchatov’s home on the grounds of the Institute of Atomic Energy (known today as the Kurchatov Institute). Moscow, 1958.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner with friends in Leningrad in 1971. Sakharov and Bonner married in 1972, three years after his first wife, Klavdia Vikhireva, died of cancer. 
Radik Tsimerinov / Sakharov Center
Sakharov in the Armenian town of Tsakhkadzor during the Third Soviet Gravity Conference. October 11–14, 1972.
Yuri Vladimirov / Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov at a press conference for foreign correspondents on the day he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, October 9, 1975. Sakharov was awarded the prize in recognition of his struggle against “the abuse of power and violations of human dignity in all its forms.” Since he wasn’t allowed to leave the Soviet Union to accept the prize, his wife, Elena Bonner, collected it on his behalf.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov holding his Nobel diploma in 1975. He received the award after becoming one of the most famous human rights advocates in the USSR. Seven years earlier, he was suspended from classified work in Arzamas-16 due to his human rights activism. 
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov outside of the U.S. Embassy in January 1977, he was secretly photographed by KGB agents after a meeting with embassy employee Igor Belousovich. Presumably, Sakharov and the diplomat discussed his appeal condemning the closed-door trial of the suspects in the Moscow subway explosions. Sakharov had been under the surveillance of the intelligence services since the early 1960s.
Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov not far from his home in the city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) in February 1980. A month earlier, Sakharov was stripped of his Soviet awards and prizes, after which he and his wife Elena Bonner were exiled to a city closed to foreigners. Sakharov linked his exile to his speeches opposing the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. 
Elena Bonner / Sakharov Center
Sakharov and his granddaughter Marina. Gorky, 1981.
Elena Bonner / Sakharov Center
Sakharov at his desk in his Gorky apartment. April 1981.
Elena Bonner / Sakharov Center
Sakharov on the balcony of his apartment in Gorky in November 1981, amid his hunger strike protesting the Soviet authorities refusal to grant an exit visa to his daughter-in-law, Liza Alekseyeva. Sakharov went on hunger strike four times while living in Gorky due to pressure on his family. The authorities responded by forcibly hospitalizing him. 
Elena Bonner / Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov exiting a train that arrived from Gorky. Moscow, December 23, 1986. Shortly beforehand, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called Sakharov personally and offered for him to return from exile.
Yuri Rost / Sakharov Center
Journalists meeting Andrei Sakharov at the Yaroslavl Railway Station upon his return from exile. Moscow, December 23, 1986.
Valentin Kuzmin and Valentin Sobolev / TASS
Sakharov’s car surrounded by journalists at the Yaroslavl Railway Station. December 23, 1986.
Yuri Rost / Sakharov Center
Sakharov outside of his office at the Lebedev Physical Institute in Moscow, where he continued working after returning from exile. December 30, 1986.
Yuri Rost / Sakharov Center
Sakharov and Bonner at home in Moscow. January 3, 1987.
Yuri Rost / Sakharov Center
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a meeting with Sakharov and Bonner. British Embassy in Moscow, March 31, 1987.
Steve Back / AP / Scanpix / LETA
Sakharov talking to British physicist Stephen Hawking during a seminar on quantum gravity in Moscow. May 25, 1987.
A. Zelnikov / Sakharov Center
Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner meeting her mother, daughter, and grandchildren at the airport on June 6, 1987. They had emigrated to the United States 10 years earlier under pressure from the Soviet authorities.
Yuri Shikhanovich / Sakharov Center
Mikhail Gorbachev and Andrei Sakharov photographed before the start of a private conversation. Moscow, January 15, 1988. Sakharov later described Gorbachev as “an intelligent and reserved person.”
Yuri Lizunov and Alexander Chumichev / TASS
Sakharov speaking at a rally in support of the creation of the Memorial Society. June 25, 1988.
Sakharov Center
Voting at the House of Cinema in Moscow for the nomination of Andrei Sakharov as a candidate for people’s deputy of the USSR. January 22, 1989.
Andrey Solovev / TASS
Sakharov during an interview at the House of Cinema in Moscow after being nominated as a candidate for people’s deputy of the USSR. January 22, 1989.
Andrey Solovev / TASS
Sakharov photographed at a rally “For democratic elections in the Academy” outside of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences in February 1989. Academics were outraged at the presidium’s decision not to register a number of scholars, including Sakharov, as candidates for people’s deputy of the USSR (deputies were elected from public organizations, among other groups). In the end, Sakharov was registered and elected as a deputy.
Vladimir Bogdanov / Sakharov Center
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Andrei Sakharov (at the podium) during a meeting of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR on May 25, 1989. Gorbachev was asking Sakharov to wrap up his speech, citing the regulations. Then they turned off Sakharov’s microphone
Scanpix / LETA
Andrei Sakharov speaking at the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR on May 1, 1989. During the meeting, Sakharov presented his “Decree on Power,” which called for turning the USSR into a democratic, parliamentary state. The congress did not discuss or accept the document.
Scanpix / LETA
A group of people’s deputies who advocated for the democratic transformation of the USSR — Gavriil Popov (fourth from the left), Boris Yeltsin (fifth from the left), Telman Gdlyan (second from the right), and Andrei Sakharov (right) — during a rally in Luzhniki during the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR. Moscow, May 23, 1989.
Scanpix / LETA
Sakharov at a rally in Luzhniki amid the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR. The rally in Luzhniki was the first mass protest in the USSR demanding democratic reforms. Up to 200,000 people took part in the gathering.
Scanpix / LETA
Sakharov and Bonner during a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan. November 4, 1989.
Sakharov Center
Sakharov during a warning strike demanding that the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR include in its agenda a discussion of the laws on land, property, and enterprises, and the abolition of Article 6 of the USSR’s Constitution “on the leading role of the CPSU in the life of society.” December 11, 1989.
M. Schaaf / Sakharov Center
Sakharov after his final speech at the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR. December 14, 1989. He died of a heart attack later that same day.
Sakharov’s funeral at the Vostryakovskoe Cemetery in Moscow. December 18, 1989. 
Wojtek Laski / Getty Images
Elena Bonner photographed next to Andrei Sakharov’s coffin during a memorial service at Lebedev Institute in Moscow. December 18, 1989.
Derek Hudson / Getty Images

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