It was a reunion unimaginable 10 years ago, when all three were human rights activists in the Soviet Union. Sitting at a crowded table in a Manhattan office were three of the founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Watch group -- Anatoly Shcharansky, Yelena Bonner, and Ludmilla Alexeyeva.
Minutes earlier Mr. Shcharansky and Mrs. Bonner had a private, joyous reunion, the first since his 1977 arrest, complete with hugs and nonstop conversation. Some talk was about health (Bonner came to the US for medical treatment) and Bonner's husband, Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who is in exile in Gorky, Shcharansky said.
In the intervening years, Shcharansky was arrested for treason and spent nine years in a Soviet labor camp. Bonner, who is in the United States until early June, is sentenced to internal exile in Gorky for ``anti-Soviet slander.'' Ms. Alexeyeva emigrated in 1977 and is now a US citizen.
Shcharansky pointed to the achievement of physicist Yury Orlov, who succeeded in bringing together the disparate group of ``Zionists, monarchists, Russians, Ukrainians, and Eurocommunists'' under one banner to monitor human rights in the Soviet Union. Mr. Orlov was arrested in 1977, and after seven years in a labor camp, he is in exile in Siberia.
Shcharansky says when the Moscow group was formed, it was seen as a real test of Soviet intentions regarding compliance with the humanitarian provisions of the 1975 Helsinki accords, a trade and security pact signed by 35 nations in the East and West.
``The results you know,'' he says. In 1982 after arrests had taken their toll, the group disbanded.
The diminutive former ``refusenik'' -- the name given Soviet Jews refused exit visas by the authorities -- emigrated to Israel in February after a prisoner exchange. He said a point of ``deepest disappointment'' for those in Soviet labor camps came when signers of the Helsinki agreement met in Madrid in 1983 to renew their commitment to human rights. This came despite the fact that there were still Soviets in labor camps, that emigration was still restricted, and that harassment of ethnic minorities and religious persons had not stopped.
Bonner told of seeing Helsinki Watch members arrested or emigrating, until the group dwindled. ``Finally, when it was the annual political prisoners' day, I had to spend it all by myself,'' she said through an interpreter.
Though she is in the US under the condition that she not get involved in political activity, Bonner did not appear to temper her remarks. She said what happens to her when she returns ``depends on what the West will allow to happen to me.''
Bonner urged continued development of the Helsinki process as a forum to discuss human rights. Quoting from her husband's Nobel Peace Prize speech, she said that ``peace, progress, and human rights'' must all be kept together.
Shcharansky was in Washington yesterday to meet with President Reagan and congressional leaders. He is urging the US to keep ``political and economic pressure'' on the Soviet Union.
Seventy-two Soviet Jews were allowed to leave for the West in April, the International Committee for Migration reported Tuesday. This was a slight increase over the previous month, but still far below past levels. Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union has dropped sharply, from a peak of 51,330 in 1979. Last year, only 1,140 were allowed to leave, according to the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.