Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was an outstanding Soviet physicist and public figure, one of the creators of the hydrogen bomb, and the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The life of this remarkable man was closely linked with Moscow. His memorial apartment and the Sakharov CentreRussian: Sakharovskiy tsentr or Сахаровский центр are among the main addresses in the capital associated with his name. Sakharov was born in Moscow and was also buried here in the Vostryakovskoye cemeteryRussian: Vostryakovskoye kladbische or Востряковское кладбище.


1919_image2_sAndrei Sakharov was born on 21 May 1921 in one of the clinics in Devichye PoleRussian: Девичье поле (at present it is affiliated with the Moscow I.M. Sechenov Medical AcademyRussian:Moskovskaya meditsinskaya Akademiya im. Sechenova or Московская медицинская Академия им. Сеченова at 6, bld.1 Bolshaya Pirogovskaya streetRussian: Большая Пироговская. His first address in Moscow was his parents’ house in the Merzlyakovsky side streetRussian: Merzlyakovskiy pereulok or Мерзляковский переулок. His family moved out of the house when Sakharov was only a few months old (10, Merzlyakovsky side street).

The house he spent his childhood in was built in 1884 (3, bld. 1, Granatny side streetRussian: Granatnyi pereulok or Гранатный переулок. The building still exists today. The family occupied two rooms in a big communal flat on the first floor. “Six families lived there and did the housekeeping separately:  his grandmother Maria Petrovna, her three sons’ families, and two other families,” Sakharov recalled.

His father, Dmitry Sakharov, was a physics and mathematics teacher. He was the author of a popular book of mathematical problems as well as popular science books. Later, Sakharov wrote about that time: “Since I was a child I have lived in the atmosphere of decency, mutual help, and tactfulness, hard work and respect for mastering a chosen occupation”. His grandfather Ivan Sakharov was an attorney of the Moscow District Court. Andrei Dmitrievich’s grandmother Maria Sakharova came from a noble family and she had a great impact on young Sakharov’s upbringing.

Sakharov recalled the time he lived in Granatny side street in the following way: “We slept and dined in the big room, there were desks for school children and a huge grand piano which occupied a quarter of the room”. Sakharov spent twenty years in this house “saturated with the traditional family spirit” until the very beginning of the second World War. During his childhood, he enjoyed reading the Gospels and Leo Tolstoi’s works.

Sakharov did not go to school until the seventh grade, instead he studied at home. His father taught him physics and maths. “At my parents’ will I studied not at school but in a domestic educational group for the first five years. This rather difficult, expensive, and hard venture seemed to be caused by their distrust of the Soviet school education of the time and their intent to give their children education of a better quality”.

His time at home helped him to develop self-directed learning skills. At the same time, this time at home shaped the future academic’s character – he was shy, reserved, and unsociable and he never overcame these personality traits.


The school where he studied SakharovIn 1936-1937, young Sakharov attended a school maths group at the Moscow State University (MSU)Russian: Moskovskiy Gosudarstvennyi universitet (MGU) or Московский Государственный университет (МГУ). At first he studied at school #110 and later at school #113 (118 B ProfsoyuznayaRussian: Профсоюзная street). In 1938 Sakharov entered the Physics Department of MSU. At the time, the department was situated in one of the buildings of the old MSU building in MokhovayaRussian: Моховая street. This building was built in 1901 by the architect M. Bykovsky especially for the Physics Department and laboratories (11, bld.7, Mokhovaya street). Currently, the V. Kotelnikov Institute of Radio-Engineering and ElectronicsRussian: Institut radiotekhniki i elektroniki im V. A. Kotelnikova or Институт радиотехники и электроники им В. А. Котельникова is located there.

When the war began, Sakharov and the university as a whole was evacuated to Ashkhabadin Turkmenistan, where he studied quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity. In 1942, he graduated from the MSU and by that time was considered the best student the department had ever seen.

In 1943, Sakharov married Klavdiya Vikhireva and they had three children: Tatiyana, Lyubov, and Dmitry.

In 1944, Sakharov became a post-graduate student of the P. Lebedev Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSRRussian: Fizicheskiy institut imeni P. N. Lebedeva Akademii nauk SSSR or Физический институт имени П. Н. Лебедева Академии наук СССР (4, Miusskaya squareRussian: Miusskaya ploschad or Миусская площадь). At present the building is occupied by the M. Keldysh Institute of Applied MathematicsRussian: Institut prikladnoy matematiki imeni M. V. Keldysha or Институт прикладной математики имени М. В. Келдыша. Sakharov’s scientific advisor was Igor Tamm, a future academic and Nobel Prize laureate. A contemporary recalled that professors Tamm and Leontovich examined Sakharov in the theory of relativity and gave him a poor grade. The night after the exam, Tamm phoned Leontovich and said: “Listen, that student was right! We did not understand a thing – we deserve a poor grade! We need to talk to him once again”. And so it was that Sakharov became Tamm’s student.

In 1945, Sakharov moved to his parents’ house in Moscow once again. Later, the Sakharov family rented rooms in Moscow and PushkinoRussian: Пушкино, located just outside Moscow.

Московский энергетический институтIn 1947, Andrei Sakharov submitted his post-graduate thesis and obtained a doctoral degree 6 years later. Upon the academic Tamm’s recommendation, Sakharov was hired by the Moscow Power Engineering InstituteRussian: Moskovskiy energeticheskiy institut or Московский энергетический институт (14, KrasnokazarmennayaRussian: Красноказарменная str.) There, he lectured on nuclear physics, the theory of relativity and electricity and had a part-time job at the Moscow Institute of MechanicsRussian: Moskovskiy mekhanicheskiy institut or Московский механический институт (MIFIRussian: МИФИ since 1953). Later, he was employed by the Ministry of Medium Machine-BuildingRussian: Ministerstvo srednego mashinostroeniya or Министерство среднего машиностроения (24, OrdynkaRussian: Ордынка str.), which was the name given to the Soviet nuclear power ministry. The 12-storey building it occupied was built in 1957. Today, it is the headquarters of the Federal Atomic Energy AgencyRussian: Federalnoe agentstvo po atomnoy energii or Федеральное агентство по атомной энергии.

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Улица Никольская, дом 4From 1947, Sakharov took part in a project which aimed to create the first Soviet hydrogen bomb. The bomb was successfully tested in November 1955. It was created to a design called “Sakharov’s sloikanamed after a type of layered puff pastry” or “Layer Cake”. Sakharov is called “the father of the hydrogen bomb” although he himself admitted that coming up with the design was the result of collaborative work. Sakharov’s works on thermonuclear weapons within a special research group (headed by I. Kurchatova Soviet nuclear physicist) did not go unnoticed; he was granted the title of Hero of Socialist Labour three times (1953, 1956, 1962), received a Stalin and a Lenin Prize (1953 and 1956, respectively) and was elected to be a full member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR at the tender age of 32.

In 1948, by the order of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, Sakharov was given a room in a house located at 4, 25 Oktyabrya street (NikolskayaRussian: Никольская street at present). This was the first place of his own in Moscow, where he settled with his wife Klavdia. At present, this building is occupied by the Nikolskaya-PlazaRussian: Никольская-плаза business centre.

This is what Sakharov recalled about his room: “The total floor space of our room was just 14sqm, we had no dining table (there was no place for it in the room), and we ‘served’ our meals on the stools and the windowsill. About 10 families lived along the long corridor. There was a small kitchen, a lavatory on the landing (to be shared by two flats), and naturally no bathroom. But we were on cloud nine. We finally had our own place to live, not a busy inn or capricious landlords who could turn us out any time. This was when the best, the happiest periods in my life with Klava began”.

In the autumn of 1949, with Kurchatov’s help, Sakharav received a flat in ZhivopisnayaRussian: Живописная street in Moscow. “We were moving into what we thought a huge separate flat on the outskirts of Moscow. Y.B. Zeldovich made a crack on the subject saying that it was the first instance of thermonuclear energy use for peaceful purposes.” While participating in the nuclear program, Sakharov worked in a closed centre for nuclear research in the town of SarovRussian: Саров from 1948 to 1968 (in the Nizhny Novgoroda city located about 400 km east of Moscow region), code name ArzamasRussian: Арзамас-16. From 1950, he lived there. At the time, Sakharov frequently visited Moscow for scientific purposes. From November 1950, his family lived in Arzamas-16 too. It is interesting that Sakharov allowed M. Agresta Russian-born Jewish mathematician and a proponent of the ancient astronaut theory and his family to live in his empty flat in Moscow. In 1953, Sakharov was allocated a new flat in Moscow (located at 3, Marshala NovikovaRussian: Маршала Новикова street). He lived there during frequent short periods away from the closed centre where he normally worked. The house still exists today and is a part of the architectural and historical ensemble “Academic Town of the USSR Academy of Sciences Laboratory #2Russian: Akademgorodok laboratorii № 2 Akademii nauk SSSR or Академгородок лаборатории № 2 Академии наук СССР”.

1923_image6_sThe casualties which were a result of the explosion of the hydrogen bomb in 1955 made Sakharov think about the humanitarian aspects of the use of this weapon and the danger of a global nuclear war. Having understood the ramifications of the technology he had created, he began to fight for the organisation and control of nuclear weapons. “We know too little about the laws of history, the future is unpredictable and we are not gods. We, every one of us, in everything we do, however big or small, should be guided by precise moral standards, not abstract arithmetics of history”, he wrote.

In 1956-1962, Sakharov campaigned against conducting nuclear tests in the atmosphere and in 1963, became one of the initiators of concluding the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which would ban nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water. However, his contribution to the USSR’s nuclear program was also significant during these years. In particular, on 30 October 1961, the most powerful bomb in history was detonated in Novaya Zemlyaan archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in northern Russia. It was called the Tsar-bombRussian: Царь-бомба, alias Kuzkina MatRussian: Кузькина мать. The bomb had a yield of 57-58 megatons of TNT, which is about 4000 times more than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. One of the leading development engineers behind its construction was A. Sakharov.

The turning point was the end of the 1960s, when Sakharov became one of the leaders of the human rights campaign. For instance, on 5 December 1956 he took part in a silent demonstration for human rights and against the anticonstitutional clauses of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR by the monument to A. Pushkin on Constitution Day.


Among the most famous works of his is the article “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Co-existence, and Intellectual Freedom” (1968). In the article, he put forward the idea of bringing together two systems – socialist and capitalist – for the sake of developing a harmonious world. The work sold about 20 million copies. It also received wide recognition in western countries. In November 1970, Sakharov became one of the founders of the Human Rights Committee and campaigned in favour of political prisoners. He believed that the USSR “needs systematic protection of human rights and standards, not a political fight inevitably prompting violence”.

1924_image7_sHis outspokenness was not without consequences. In 1969, after 18 years of life in Arzamas-16, he was suspended from participation in the nuclear program and returned to Moscow, where he was employed at the P. Lebedev Physics Institute (53, Leninsky avenueRussian: Leninskiy prospekt or Ленинский проспект) as just a regular researcher – he had not held a job at this level for 25 years.

In 1969, Sakharov endured the death of his wife from cancer. Sakharov married Elena Bonner three years later. He met her in Kalugaa city located on the Oka River 150 kilometers southwest of Moscow during the trial of Revolt Pimenov and Boris Vail. Sakharov wrote about her: “She is great as an organiser, she’s my think tank”. They spent summers at a dacha (a country house) in ZhukovkaRussian: Жуковка (Moscow regionRussian: Moskovskaya oblast or Московская область, Odintsovsky districtRussian: Odintsovskiy rayon or Одинцовский район). “The Sakharovs would spend every summer in one and the same village. In the summer of 1972, Rostropovicha Soviet and Russian cellist and conductor and his guest Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived next door in the small street full of trees. Alexander Galicha Soviet poet, screenwriter, playwright, singer-songwriter, and dissident stayed with his friends close by in another summer house. Dmitry Shostakovich lived round the corner,” as L. Kopeleva Soviet author and dissident recalled.

In 1974, Sakharov held a press-conference where he spoke about the Political Prisoner Day in the USSR, which had just taken place. In summer 1975, his book “My Country and the WorldRussian: O strane i mire or О стране и мире” was published. In the same year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On 22 January, 1980 Sakharov was arrested in the street in Moscow after his speech condemning the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. The same evening he and his wife were sent into exile to the town of GorkyRussian: Горький (Nizhni Novgorod). He was accommodated in a flat infested with bugs, the telephone was switched off, and a policeman was on duty by the door 24/7. In the courtyard, there was a “police order maintenance point”; when outdoors, he was accompanied by KGB agents. By order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, he was deprived of his titles and awards. In exile, he went on hunger strike three times (1981, 1984, 1985) and was taken to the Gorky Regional HospitalRussian: Gorkovskaya oblastnaya bolnitsa or Горьковская областная больница, where he spent about 300 days in total. “We are not going to let you die, but you will become handicapped and useless,”- the chief doctor said.


In December 1986, Sakharov was allowed to return from exile and continued to work at the Physics Institute as a chief researcher. In the years of perestroikaa political movement for reformation within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s until 1991, he kept on campaigning for human rights in the USSR and putting forward peaceful initiatives.

1925_image8_sIn 1988, Sakharov was chosen as the honourable chairman of the MemorialRussian: Мемориал society. The European Parliament founded the International Sakharov Prize for humanitarian activity in the field of human rights in the same year. In 1989, Sakharov was chosen to be a people’s deputy of the USSR. At the 1st Congress of People’s Deputies, which took place at the Kremlin Palace of CongressesRussian: Kremlyovskiy dvorets s'ezdov or Кремлевский дворец съездов at that time, he proposed a project of a new Constitution of the USSR based on respect for human rights and the right of the people to sovereignty. Its first line goes like this: “All people have the right to life, freedom, and happiness” (clause 5). Not everyone shared his ideas: his speech was met with outcries and whistling from the audience, while outside the Kremlin walls, his thoughts in his capacity of a prominent scientist and human rights campaigner were appreciated and respected by many people.

Sakharov’s unexpected death on 14 December 1989 was a tragedy that shook the country. He died in his flat in Moscow (apt. 61 and 62, 48-B, Zemlyanoy valRussian: Земляной вал after a day of hard work at the Congresses of People’s Deputies. It was found that his death was caused by heart disease.

1926_image9_s Sakharov received this flat in 1986 after he was able to return to Moscow from exile. Flat 62 was located below flat 61, where he lived with his family, and was used as a study. After his death, the flat was given to the Sakharov Centre and remained untouched until the moment when a museum was opened here.

Sakharov’s Archive was opened on 21 May 1994 in the flat. KGB documents connected with the dissident movementit protested against violations of the law by organs of the state and demanded national and human rights are kept here. A small exhibition of archive documents dedicated to Andrei Sakharov is also affiliated with the archive.

The Sakharov Memorial FlatRussian: Memorialnaya muzey-kvartira Sakharova or Мемориальная музей-квартира Сахарова was opened here in 2013 (48-B, Zemlyanoy Val). The memorial flat is part of the Sakharov Centre. In it, you can see the restored interior of what Sakharov’s study looked like in 1987-1989 and an audiovisual installation titled “A Window in MoscowRussian: Odno moskovskoe okno or Одно московское окно” which tells the story of Elena Bonner, his second wife. There is a memorial plaque on the block of flats where Skaharov lived (48a, Zemlyanoy Val), which was installed on 21 May 1991 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of his birth. The man behind the project was sculptor Daniel Mitlyansky.

Andrei Sakharaov was buried in Vostryakovskoye cemetery in Moscow (47, OzyornayaRussian: Озерная str., grave space #80).

1916_image12_s«I am certain that our epoch in history will be called Sakharov’s era. He was a true prophet. A prophet in the old, original meaning of the word, that is, a person who urged their contemporaries to moral renewal for the sake of the future”, Soviet and Russian philologist, culture expert, fine art expert, and academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) Dmitry Likhachev said about Sakharov’s place in history. His ideas of observing human rights, restraining militarism, allowing society to exert control over state policy, bridging the segregation between people and states are as relevant today as they ever were in his time.

The Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre called “Peace, Progress, Human Rights”Russian: Muzey i obschestvennyi tsentr «Mir, progress, prava cheloveka» imeni Andreya Sakharova or Музей и общественный центр «Мир, прогресс, права человека» имени Андрея Сахарова is also located in Moscow (The Sakharov Centre) (57, bld.6, Zemlyanoy Val). The centre was opened in 1996 in the two-storey mansion which used to be the Usachevs-Naidenovs’ estate in the 17-19th centuries. Next to the main building there is an exhibition hall and a repository with a total floor space of 140 sq.m. (a converted garage). At the time, it was the first museum dedicated to the victims of reprisals. It features the following divisions: Mythology and Ideology in the USSR, Political Reprisals in the USSR, A Way through GULAGforced-labor camp in the Soviet Union, Confinement Resistance in the USSR, and Andrei Sakharov: Life and Personality.

The museum displays authentic documents, photos, the everyday items of a labour camp, prisoners’ tools, labour camp newspapers, and letters. Having visited the Sakharov Centre you will see a broad panorama of the historical process whose main focus was a fight between society and a totalitarian system, a move from confinement to freedom. You can watch the documentary titled, “Andrei Sakharov, a Free ManRussian: Svobodnyi chelovek Andrey Sakharov or Свободный человек Андрей Сахаров” here, as well. The centre also runs tours of the Sakharov Memorial Flat.

1917_image13_sOne of the central motorways in Moscow is Akademika Sakharova AvenueRussian: Prospekt akademika Sakharova or Проспект академика Сахарова, a name it was given in 1990. Currently, it is often used by the opposition to hold demonstrations and protest marches.

In the Muzeon Park of ArtsRussian: park iskusstv «Muzeon» or парк искусств «Музеон» is a bronze sculpture of Andrei Sakharov by Grigory Pototsky (2008). It was installed within the framework of the “Leaders and VictimsRussian: Vozhdi i zhertvy or Вожди и жертвы” exhibition. It stands facing the sculpture of Brezhnev, of whose politics Sakharov was a victim. Sakharov is depicted with his face exposed to the sun, looking into the sky as if his entire figure were reaching for it, but despite this, the human body seems to be enchained to the ground.
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