Reluctant Bonner goes back to Soviet Union, calling it `prison'

Yelena Bonner, wife of dissident Andrei Sakharov, returned here yesterday after a six-month stay in the West, during which she sought help in ending her husband's internal exile. Western reporters saw Mrs. Bonner in the baggage hall of Sheremetyevo Airport preparing to pass through customs. She arrived on an Alitalia flight from Milan.

When Bonner left for medical treatment in Italy and the United States last December, she said she had been told by Soviet authorities not to make public statements if she wanted to return.

Asked why she talked to reporters in the West despite the warning, Bonner said she felt compelled to do so ``because so many lies came from here about us.''

At Milan's Linate Airport shortly before leaving, in the last of a series of impromptu news conferences during her visit to the West, she said her only reason for returning to the Soviet Union was her longing to rejoin her husband.

``I have not the slightest desire to return,'' Bonner said through an interpreter. ``I think anyone who is in a sound mental state would not want to return from freedom to prison.''

She also lashed out against alleged Soviet disinformation on her husband and herself.

Referring to remarks by Soviet journalist Viktor Louis that only her behavior was preventing Dr. Sakharov's release from internal exile, Bonner declared: ``At the end of the 20th century, when in the whole world the rules of judicial legality are observed, it is rather odd to hear that a man is being held prisoner because his wife is judged to be bad.''

Bonner was banished to the closed city of Gorky for five years in 1984. Her husband was already in internal exile there.

She was accompanied on her return by two US congressmen, Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts and Daniel Lungren (R) of California, and by two American family friends, Richard Sobol and Robert Arsenault. Bonner was driven away from the airport in the car of a US diplomat after making brief remarks to reporters. Diplomats from Canada and the Netherlands also greeted her at the airport.

In Milan, the two congressmen praised Bonner's courage, but she said: ``Believe me, I would gladly not be the heroine described to you by the congressmen just now. I would much rather be a simple grandmother, mother, and daughter.''

``We hope by our presence to demonstrate to the Soviet Union and the world our desire that Sakharov be treated with dignity and respect,'' Mr. Frank told reporters. Frank represents the district near Boston where Bonner's relatives live.

Bonner's two children, son Alexei Semyonov and daughter Tatiana Yankelevich, who live in the Boston area, were denied entry visas by Soviet authorities.

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