Bonner was born Lusik Georgievna Alikhanova in Merv, Turkmen SSR, USSR (now Mary, Turkmenistan). Her father, Georgy Alikhanov (Armenian name Gevork Alikhanyan),
 was an Armenian who founded the Soviet Armenian Communist Party, and was a highly placed member of the Comintern; her mother, Ruf (Ruth Bonner), was a Jewish Communist activist. She had a younger brother, Igor, who became a career naval officer. Her family had a summer dacha in Sestroretsk and Bonner had fond memories there.
In 1937, Bonner's father was arrested by the NKVD and executed as part of Stalin's Great Purge; her mother was arrested a few days later as the wife of an enemy of the people, and served ten years in the Gulag near Karaganda, Kazakhstan, followed by nine years of internal exile. Bonner's 41-year-old maternal uncle, Matvei Bonner, was also executed during the purge, and his wife internally exiled. All four were exonerated (rehabilitated) following Stalin's death in 1953. In 1941 she volunteered for the Red Army´s Hospital when the Soviet Union was invaded, and she became head nurse. While serving during World War II, Bonner was wounded twice, and in 1946 was honorably discharged as a disabled veteran. In 1947 Bonner was accepted as student in the medical institute in Leningrad. After the war she earned a degree in pediatrics from the First Leningrad Medical Institute, presently First Pavlov State Medical University of St. Peterburg.
Marriage and children
In medical school she met her first husband, Ivan Semyonov. They had a daughter, Tatiana, in 1950, and a son, Alexey, in 1956. Her children emigrated to the United States in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Bonner and Semyonov separated in 1965, and eventually divorced.
In October 1970, while attending the trial of human rights activists Revol't (Ivanovich) Pimenov and Boris Vail in Kaluga, Bonner met Andrei Sakharov, a nuclear physicist and human rights activist; they married in 1972. The year before they met, 1969, Sakharov had been widowed from his wife, Klavdia Alekseyevna Vikhireva, with whom he had two daughters and a son.
Beginning as early as the 1940s, Bonner had helped political prisoners and their families. Although Bonner had joined the Soviet Communist Party in 1964 while she was working as a physician, only a few years later she was becoming active in the Soviet human rights movement. Her resolve towards dissidence was strengthened in August 1968 after Soviet bloc tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in order to crush the Prague Spring movement. That event strengthened her belief that the system could not be reformed from within.
At the Kaluga trial in 1970, Bonner and Sakharov met Natan Sharansky and began working together to defend Jews sentenced to death for attempting an escape from the USSR in a hijacked plane. Under pressure from Sakharov, the Soviet regime permitted Yelena Bonner to travel to the West in 1975, 1977 and 1979 for treatment of her wartime eye injury. When Sakharov, awarded the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize, was barred from travel by the Soviet authorities, Bonner, in Italy for treatment, represented him at the ceremony in Oslo.
Bonner became a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976. When in January 1980 Sakharov was exiled to Gorky, a city closed to foreigners, the harassed and publicly denounced Bonner became his lifeline, traveling between Gorky and Moscow to bring out his writings. Her arrest in April 1984 for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" and sentence to five years of exile in Gorky disrupted their lives again. Sakharov's several long and painful hunger strikes forced the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev to let her travel to the U.S. in 1985 for sextuple bypass heart surgery. Prior to that, in 1981, Bonner and Sakharov went on a dangerous but ultimately successful hunger strike to get Soviet officials to allow their daughter-in-law, Yelizaveta Konstantinovna ("Lisa") Alexeyeva, an exit visa to join her husband, Bonner's son Alexei Semyonov, in the United States.
In December 1986, Gorbachev allowed Sakharov and Bonner to return to Moscow. Following Sakharov's death on 14 December 1989, she established the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, and the Sakharov Archives in Moscow. In 1993, she donated Sakharov papers in the West to Brandeis University in the U.S.; in 2004 they were turned over to Harvard University. Bonner remained outspoken on democracy and human rights in Russia and worldwide. She joined the defenders of the Russian parliament during the August Coup and supported Boris Yeltsin during the constitutional crisis in early 1993.
Bonner was among the 34 first signatories of the online anti-Putin manifesto "Putin must go", published 10 March 2010. Her signature was the first.
Last years and death
From 2006, Bonner divided her time between Moscow and the United States, home to her two children, five grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and one great-grandson. She died on 18 June 2011 of heart failure in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 88, according to her daughter, Tatiana Yankelevich. She had been hospitalized since 21 February.
^ abBeckerman, Gal (22 June 2011). "Remembering Yelena Bonner - Natan Sharansky Reminisces About His Ally and Friend". The Jewish Daily Forward (issue of 1 July 2011). Archived from the original on 23 June 2011. Retrieved 2011. [...] Bonner suggested that, in addition to Sakharov's assessment of the Soviet Union and the state of the dissident movement, they provide the new president with a list of political prisoners. By memory, she then wrote out the names of the 16 most difficult cases.
Bonner, Elena (1988) . Alone together (3 ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN978-0394755380.
Bonner, Elena (1986). Un exil partagé [A shared exile] (in French). Paris: Seuil. ISBN978-2020093941.
Bonner, Elena (1986). Soli insieme in esilio con Andrej Sacharov [Alone together in exile with Andrei Sakharov] (in Italian). Alessandria: Garzanti-Vallardi.
Bonn?r, Elena (1987). ? [Alone together] (in Hebrew). ?.
Bonner, Jelena (1998) . In Einsamkeit vereint. Meine Jahre mit Andrej Sacharow in der Verbannung [Alone together. My years with Andrei Sakharov in exile] (in German) (2 ed.). München, Zürich: Piper. ISBN978-3492115223.
Bonner, Jelena (1993) . Mütter und Töchter - Erinnerungen an meine Jugend 1923 bis 1945 [Mothers and daughters - memories of my youth 1923-1945] (in German) (2 ed.). München, Zürich: Piper. ISBN978-3492034401.
, (1990). . ? [Postscript: A book about the Gorky exile] (in Russian). Moscow: .
Bonner, Elena (1991). ?... [The bell tolls... A year without Andrei Sakharov] (in Russian). Moscow: .
Sajarov, Andrei; Bonner, Elena (1989). "Al simposio de Madrid sobre las relaciones comerciales y económicas Este-Oeste" [Madrid symposium on East-West trade relations and economics]. Política Exterior (in Spanish). 3 (12): 45-47. JSTOR20642878.
Bonner, Elena (July-August 2001). "El totalitarismo ruso permanece: propaganda y mentiras" [Russian totalitarianism remains: propaganda and lies]. Política Exterior (in Spanish). 15 (82): 7-12. JSTOR20645122.
De Boer, S. P.; Driessen, Evert; Verhaar, Hendrik (1982). "Bonner, Elena Georgievna". Biographical dictionary of dissidents in the Soviet Union: 1956-1975. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 62. ISBN978-9024725380.