When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Bonner served in the army as a nurse and was partially blinded. During 1947–1953 she studied medicine in Leningrad and earned a degree in pediatrics. She practiced medicine as a district doctor, a maternity home pediatrician, and a foreign aid health worker in Iraq.
In 1965 Bonner joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), but she became disillusioned after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and abandoned the party permanently in 1972. Between 1968 and 1972, she became one of the most active members of the Soviet dissident community. It was also during this period that she met famed Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, whom she married in January 1972. In 1975 Bonner cofounded the human rights organization Helsinki Watch. When she publicly criticized the Soviet regime for human rights violations, she was sentenced to five years of internment in 1984 but was released in 1985.
After Sakharov's death in 1989, Bonner continued her human rights activism, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. She vigorously campaigned against the war in Chechnya and in favor of self-determination for the people in Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed region between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Bonner will always be remembered for having helped push Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev into implementing glasnost and perestroika, policies that ultimately contributed to the end of the Cold War.
Sakharov, Andrei. Memoirs. Translated by Richard Lourie. New York: Knopf, 1990.