Looking strained and pale, Soviet dissident Yelena Bonner arrived in the United States today and said she was "very concerned and anxious" for her husband, Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet human-rights advocate and Nobel laureate.
Bonner, who praised American support for her husband, said she will attempt to telephone Sakharov in Gorki, a remote Soviet city where he is held under virtual house arrest by the KGB secret police.
Bonner received a 90-day visa to visit doctors in Italy and to come here for treatment of a severe heart ailment and to visit her mother and children.
Although Bonner refused to say more about her concerns for Sakharov, her son, Alexei Semyonov, said that if Soviet authorities refuse to allow the telephone call to go through, his mother's quest for medical help here "may be pointless. She will be worried too much to have the operation."
He told reporters gathered at Logan International Airport here that he expected a call would go through by Tuesday. "We feel it is the right of the public to know what is happening to Sakharov," he said.
Semyonov expressed outrage at a report distributed today by Tass, the official Soviet press service, claiming that Sakharov, 64, is in good health.
Sakharov, who was banished to internal exile in the Soviet Union six years ago for his human-rights activities, launched a six-month hunger strike this year to force authorities to allow his wife to leave that country for medical treatment. Last week, the family said Sakharov had been confined and force-fed by Soviet doctors who clamped his nose shut for weeks to break his hunger strike.
Semyonov, calling the Tass account false, accused Soviet doctors of violating medical ethics by "knowingly allowing intrusion for political purposes" into their treatment of Sakharov, a physicist and winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.
Doctors in Gorki, a city 250 miles east of Moscow that is closed to foreigners, "are under the control of the KGB," Semyonov said. "We cannot trust the doctors there."
Bonner, who had made an agreement with Soviet authorities not to talk to the news media, was met at the airport here by her 85-year-old mother, Ruf, her daughter, Tatiana, her daughter-in-law, Lisa Semyonov, and three grandchildren. She arrived in Boston accompanied by Alexei Semyonov and son-in-law Yefrem Yankelevich, who both went to Italy to meet her on Dec. 2.
Bonner, who also had been confined to Gorki, was arrested in the spring of 1984 and sentenced to five years of internal exile on charges of slandering the Soviet state. Until then, she had been able to travel to Moscow, maintaining telephone communication with her children here.
Soviet authorities monitor international telephone calls, censor foreign mail and otherwise attempt close surveillance of contacts between foreigners and Soviet citizens.
Last week, the family said they had learned that Soviet officials had altered the wording of telegrams in the last year from Bonner and Sakharov to make it seem they were in good health and that his hunger strike had ended.
Before the Geneva summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Bonner's family here was able to get a telephone call through to Gorki and was allowed to talk to Sakharov directly for the first time in six years.
Today, as reporters gathered outside No. 54 Maplewood Ave. in the Boston suburb of Newton, Bonner's family went about final, hectic and utterly jovial housecleaning.
To a visitor, it could have been any pleasant Saturday most anywhere in America. But inside this house are incredible memories -- threads of remembrance and reality that go back to the days of the czars.
On this day, Tatiana (Tanya) Yankelevich, 35, wielded a vacuum cleaner in the living room. In a dining room corner across the hall, a 10-year-old girl practiced her piano lessons. A 12-year-old boy played with toy soldiers in the upstairs hall. And a family friend scrubbed windows and woodwork in the sunny downstairs alcove off the living room that had been set aside for Yelena Bonner.
In this American household are resilient survivors of political oppression in the Soviet Union. Leading them is Bonner's mother, Ruf. As the household paused for a light lunch, this gaunt octogenarian, whose husband was executed in 1937 at the start of the Great Terror, reminisced about her years of survival in Joseph Stalin's slave labor camps.
"Nothing was pleasant, to be sure," she said, smiling wanly. "We survived, and here I am to talk about it."
Her thoughts moved quickly to Sakharov and Gorki. Ruf Bonner knows that city well: She was exiled there after completing an eight-year prison term as the "wife of an enemy of the people" during the purges.
"The best thing of all would be to allow all the people who want to leave the country to go ahead and leave," she said.
Ruf Bonner came to the United States several years ago after being hounded by the KGB in Moscow. She has lived here ever since with her daughter's children by an earlier marriage.
Tanya and Yefrem Yankelevich have two children, Matvei, the 12-year-old boy, and Anya, the 10-year-old musician. Alexei and Lisa Semyonov have a daughter, Alexandra, 2. In the household, only that youngest child, born here, has not been touched directly by Soviet political repression. And only her mother, Lisa, and her great-grandmother, Ruf Bonner, are not yet U.S. citizens.
The Yankeleviches and Alexei Semyonov were allowed to leave the Soviet Union in 1978 after the state moved against them in retaliation for the human-rights activities of Sakharov and Yelena Bonner. Alexei's wife Lisa was barred from joining him here until Sakharov launched a hunger strike in 1981 while in Gorki.
Until this evening's joyful reunion, first at the airport and later in the house on Maplewood, no one except Lisa had seen Yelena Bonner in the last four years.
For Tanya Yankelevich, the realization that reunion was imminent after six years of separation came with breathtaking suddenness today. When an old friend arrived at the door with flowers and congratulations that her mother was en route from Italy, Yankelevich could not speak. She hugged and smiled.
When a call came later that her mother had arrived safely in New York and was on a flight to Boston, Tanya Yankelevich took a step backward, stared ahead and said with a shaking voice, "I don't believe it. I can't believe it."
The joy in this house seemed for a moment to efface all the trouble attending Yelena Bonner and Andrei Sakharov. That she is free at all represents one consequence of the Geneva summit.
Earlier, as the sun reddened and sank, a call announced that Bonner would arrive at 5:05 p.m. in Boston.
The family erupted in last-minute chaos. Tanya rushed about emptying bags of groceries, answering a burst of phone calls, accepting flowers at the front door.
"There are going to be 10, 12, perhaps 18 people staying here," fretted Ruf Bonner. "An endless stream of friends.