NEW YORK — Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov, speaking for the first time in six years with family members in the United States, said Monday he has ended a previously unreported hunger strike in a Gorky hospital.
The 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner undertook the 44-day fast--the most recent of several he has staged to protest actions by the Soviet government--in an apparently successful attempt to force Moscow to allow his wife, Yelena Bonner, to travel to the West for medical treatment.
"He now weighs 72 kilos (158 pounds)," Bonner told her daughter and son-in-law during the telephone call, which was made to a post office in Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, where the couple is in internal exile. "His normal weight is 80 kilos (176 pounds). He's gaining one kilo (2.2 pounds) each day."
Bonner said her husband, 64, weighed only about 130 pounds when she was told late last month that she could leave the Soviet Union for up to three months for medical care. She has traveled to the West three times for eye treatment, most recently in 1979. This time, she plans to travel to Siena, Italy, and to Boston to consult physicians after the Geneva summit later this month.
Bonner told her relatives she wanted them to arrange for a coronary bypass operation for her in the United States.
The sound of Sakharov's voice coming over the speaker phone surprised his family members, who had scheduled the phone call last week in an effort to confirm that Bonner is being allowed to travel again to the West. When his voice was heard, there were smiles and laughter in the Newton, Mass., living room of Bonner's daughter, Tatyana I. Yankelevich. There also was a sense of deep relief.
"He appeared to be very excited," said Yankelevich. " . . . They (Russian officials) want us to know he is alive. That's quite clear.
"Today's telephone call was certainly a major breakthrough," she added. "The isolation of the Sakharovs is broken. It was a major reversal of the government's policy of the last years toward the Sakharovs. We hope very much this is the permanent reversal."
Both Yankelevich and her husband, Efrem, said they believe the Nov. 19-20 summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev played a role in the Soviets' decision to release Bonner.
Can Leave Because of Summit
"It was very clear from what (Bonner) said that the Soviets only allowed her to go because of the summit," Yankelevich said. "It's very clear that they did not want Sakharov on a hunger strike during the summit."
She said the Soviets initially hoped Bonner would leave the Soviet Union before the summit "to maximize public perception."
Yankelevich said that her mother spoke very cautiously about the circumstances of the phone call, apparently afraid that the line might be cut. Sakharov and his wife traveled to the post office not far from their Gorky apartment to receive the call.
Family members had tried unsuccessfully twice last week to telephone Bonner. Three days ago, they booked a so-called messenger call. Under that system, a call is placed to the post office and a messenger tells the person that a phone call will be waiting at a specific time.
The conversation on Monday was the first time in 18 months that Bonner had been able to speak with relatives. Members of the family said they understood Sakharov was kept in a hospital and was on a hunger strike until he and his wife were reunited Oct. 23.
In Hospital on Anniversary
Bonner did not say when they were separated, but indicated that on Oct. 9, the anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize, her husband was already hospitalized.
She said Soviet authorities wanted her to leave the country immediately, but she asked to postpone her departure for a month. She plans to travel to Moscow at the end of the month to pick up her passport but still needs permission from local authorities in Gorky to go to the Soviet capital.
During his wife's visit to Italy and the United States, Sakharov will remain in the couple's Gorky apartment. Relatives and colleagues from the Soviet Academy of Science will be allowed to meet with the physicist, who helped the Soviet Union develop the hydrogen bomb but later became a critic of his country's nuclear buildup and human rights policies.
Sakharov was exiled to Gorky in 1980 after criticizing the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan. Last year, Bonner, a pediatrician who married Sakharov in 1971, also was exiled to Gorky.