On June 22, 1941, fascist Germany attacked the USSR. Thus, began a special stage of the Second World War, which in Russian historiography is called the Great Patriotic War.
In ceding to the enemy almost half of the European territory of its country in the first period of the war, the Soviet Union, at the price of enormous losses and overexertion of all its economic forces, was able to avoid destruction and in 1943 to turn the course of the war in its favor. In pursuing the retreating enemy, the Soviet army liberated from the Nazis, not only its own country, but the territories of a number of other countries of Central and Eastern Europe and finally reached Berlin. Soon, totalitarian regimes based on the Soviet model were to be established in these countries, and Europe would remain split into West and East for a long time.
The most difficult, cruel, bloody, and destructive war continued until May 8, 1945, when the USSR and its Western allies accepted Germany’s capitulation. Due to the different time zones between Berlin and Moscow, in Russia, it is customary to celebrate the Victory Day of the Great Fatherland War on May 9.
After the end of the war in Europe, the Soviet Union, fulfilling its obligations to its allies, entered the war against Japan, which continued until Japan’s capitulation on September 2, 1945, that is, until the end of World War II.
“The war was a terrible trial for the nation,” wrote Sakharov. “(...) Surely the desire for peace is overriding in the minds of people everywhere. ‘Anything but not another war!’ is the general cry – and yet for many survivors the war has remained the paramount experience of their lives, an experience that restored the pride and dignity which the daily grind of a totalitarian, bureaucratic society had all but chipped away. (...)
We all believed – or at least hoped – that the postwar world would be decent and humane. How could it be otherwise? Instead Soviet victory seemed only to intensify the regime's severity: soldiers returning from German POW camps were the first to feel the tightening of the screws but then everyone else did as well.”
Sakharov as a third-year student at the Physics Department of Moscow University at the onset of the Great Patriotic War. Due to his poor health, he had not been drafted into the army, had continued his studies, and in October 1941, together with his department, was evacuated from Moscow to Ashgabad (in Turkmenistan).
“We were expected to finish our studies in four years, as opposed to the usual five, and our curriculum, already out of date, had also been curtailed,” Sakharov recalled of that time.
"Classes were held in the Ashgabad suburb of Koshi...(...) We lived in the center of Ashgabad; at first we were housed in a school building, and then were moved into squat, single story dormitories. (...) ...we usually had to walk to class. But the worst thing was the continual hunger....”
Research to create a new type of super-powerful weapon, based on the use of the energy of a nuclear chain reaction, began in the US in 1939 in response to intelligence information obtained that Nazi Germany was developing such a weapon. American, British, and Canadian physicists, as well as Europeans who had fled Nazism, took part in the research. In August 1942, work moved to a practical phase; the secret military program was given the code name “Manhattan Project”.
The scientific research and design part of the project was led by the outstanding American theoretical physicist Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967) and the military part by Gen. Lesley Groves (1896–1970). The main base for the Manhattan Project was the National Laboratory created in the town of Los Alamos (in the state of New Mexico).
The first nuclear test in the history of humankind took place on July 16, 1945, at the testing ground in the desert near the city of Alamogordo (state of New Mexico); an atomic bomb the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT was exploded, and on August 6th and 9th, that same year, nuclear weapons were first used in war – two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first was the equivalent of 13–18 kilotons of TNT, and the second, the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT.
The nuclear weapon became the most terrible weapon of mass destruction ever created by humankind. Its appearance led to radical changes in international relations. Humankind entered a new age of its development, to be called the nuclear era.
In the Soviet Union, work on the use of nuclear energy for military purposes began in February 1943, after intelligence information was obtained about how the US and Great Britain were actively conducting such work.
Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria (1899–1953), the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs, the most influential person after Stalin in the Soviet government hierarchy became the project head, and Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov (1903–1960) was made the scientific director. Leading Soviet physicists were brought in by government order to develop the nuclear weapon.
The Soviet Atomic Project – all its works, facilities, and employees – was highly classified. The main scientific and design works were concentrated in a special design bureau (KB-11); its chief designer and scientific director was Yuly Borisovich Khariton (1904-1996). KB-11 was located in a town called Sarov, 500 kilometers from Moscow, which was totally closed to entry by outsiders and was no longer indicated on Soviet maps.
In 1949, testing took place of the Soviet air atomic bomb, which copied the construction of the American bomb. At the same time, however, work on the creation of a new generation of nuclear weapons – the hydrogen bomb – was under way.
In July 1942, Andrei Sakharov graduated from university on an accelerated program and received a diploma with honors. He was immediately offered a chance to enter graduate school in the Department of Theoretical Physics, but despite his great desire for involvement in science, he turned down the offer.
“I felt it would be wrong to continue studying when I could be making a contribution to the war effort, although I had no clear idea what that might be,” Sakharov recalled.
Since the young physicist preferred engineering work at a military plant to science, he was sent to Ulyanovsk to the Volodarsky Munitions Factory. There, while working at the Central Factory laboratory, he managed to successfully apply his theoretical knowledge to the solving of applied problems and already by the end of 1942 had designed a device for magnetic monitoring of the quality of the ammunitions produced by the factory.
This was Sakharov’s first invention, incorporated in manufacturing.
In late 1944, he enrols in the graduate school of the P.N. Lebedev Physics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences (FIAN), but the management of the factory, which highly valued the talented engineer, does not immediately agree to release him to Moscow. Andrei Sakharov will leave Ulyanovsk only in January of 1945.
In November 1942 in Ulyanovsk, Sakharov, then 22, met his future wife, Klavdiya Alexeyevna Vikhireva (1919-1969), a laboratory assistant at the Chemistry Department of the same Central Factory Laboratory in the metallurgy department where he worked as a research engineer.
They married on July 10, 1943.
Three children were born of their marriage: in 1945, a daughter, Tatyana; in 1949, a second daughter, Lyubov, and in 1957, a son, Dmitry.
Klavdiya devoted herself entirely to the family, accompanying her husband everywhere where he subsequently chanced to live.
“We were to live together almost twenty-six years, until Klava's death on March 8, 1969. There were happy periods in our life that sometimes lasted for years, and I am grateful to Klava for them,” wrote Sakharov.
Working at the munitions factory in Ulyanovsk, Sakharov continued independent scientific studies in the field of theoretical physics.
“I was sorry to abandon my work as an inventor just when I was starting to have some success, but my craving for science outweighed all other considerations,” he recalled.
The turning point in the war in the summer of 1943 strengthened the confidence in a final victory over Nazism, and Sakharov began to ponder leaving the factory and returning to purely scientific endeavors. In the summer of 1944, he sent an application to the Lebedev Physics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences (FIAN) for the “Theoretical Physics” major, and in December he received a notice of acceptance.
Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm (1895–1971), a prominent scientist, director of the Theoretical Department at FIAN, a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Science, and, later an academician and Nobel prize laureate in physics, was appointed as his doctoral advisor. The USSR Academy of Sciences had three levels of membership: corresponding, full, and foreign.
“Perhaps the great fortune of my early years was to have had my character molded by the Sakharov family, whose members embodied the generic virtues of the Russian intelligentsia (…), and to have then come under the influence of Igor Tamm,” wrote Sakharov.
In January 1945, Sakharov moved from Ulyanovsk to Moscow, and soon afterward, his wife joined him with their newborn daughter.
On August 7, 1945, Sakharov learned from the newspaper about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which had happened the previous day.
“I realized that my life and the lives of very many people, maybe all of them, had suddenly changed. Something new and terrible had entered our lives, and it had come from the side of the Grand Science – the one that I worshipped,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, the young scientist’s own interests were far from the problems of creating nuclear weapons. Twice – in late 1946 and in mid-1947 – he was offered to work on their design after finishing graduate school; however, he decisively refused.
On November 3, 1947, Sakharov defended his dissertation for the scientific degree of candidate of physics and mathematics on the topic, “The Theory of Type 0→0 Nuclear Transitions” and was hired to work at FIAN in the position of junior researcher at the Theoretical Department.
The first combat use of the new weapon of mass destruction – the nuclear bomb, created in the US at the Manhattan Project – took place in early August 1945.
On August 6 and 9, atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The consequences of these bombings were monstrous. In both cities, a total of about 160,000 people were killed; later, several hundred thousand more died from injuries, burns, and radiation sickness.
Already, by August 10, the emperor of Japan made the decision to capitulate, and on September 2, with the participation of representations of the US, USSR and their allies, the Instrument of Surrender of Japan was signed.
In Soviet newspapers, a brief report on the first use of the atomic bomb appeared on August 7, when the scale of the disaster that had occurred was not yet completely clear. Nevertheless, Andrei Sakharov was shaken. Although he knew almost nothing about nuclear weaponry, he happened to be one of the few people in Moscow who immediately understood the significance of this terrible event for the future of humankind.
“My knees buckled. I realized that my life and the life of very many people, maybe all of them, had suddenly changed. Something new and terrible had entered our lives, and it had come from the side of the Grand Science – the one that I worshipped,” he recalled.
For the young scientist, a specialist in the field of the physics of elementary particles, the prospect of winding up involved in work on the creation of a weapon of mass destruction became practically inevitable.
The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not only ended World War II, but they also opened a new era in the history of humankind. From that moment, a necessary component of the status of a great power would be the possession of a nuclear weapon. In the post-war decades, the military and political confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West, led by the US, would revolve primarily around the design, improvement, and deployment of nuclear weapons. These processes of global significance were to determine Sakharov’s destiny.
The creation of the United Nations (UN) was the collective reaction to the shock which humankind suffered during World War II. Fifty countries were among the founders – primarily from the anti-Hitler coalition. The decision to found the UN was made in June 1945, but the day of its creation is considered the day its Charter went into force on October 24 of that year.
The UN declared as its chief goal the support and strengthening of international peace and security, and also the development of cooperation among states. Along with this, issues of education, culture and other humanitarian problems were within its purview. In 1948, the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after which global monitoring of compliance with human rights and activity to prevent their violation throughout the world would become one of the most important directions of the UN’s work.
The ideological, political, and military confrontation between the US and its allies on the one hand, and the USSR and its allies on the other after World War II was dubbed the “Cold War.”
Formally, the start of the Cold War is considered to be the speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946, in the American town of Fulton, Missouri, in which he stated that after the victory over our common enemy – Nazism – the world would be split into two camps, ideologically hostile to each other, and called on the US and Great Britain to consolidate to confront the threat coming from the Soviet Union.
The main factor determining the correlation of forces in the cold war was the possession of the nuclear weapon. After the US, which created the atomic bomb in 1945, the following countries became nuclear powers during the Cold War: the USSR (1949), Great Britain (1952), France (1960), China (1964), India (1974), and the United Arab Republic (UAR) (1979).
During the Cold War, the nuclear arms race was launched, in which the chief role would be played by scientists and designers – the creators of nuclear arms. Later Sakharov would call himself a soldier in this scientific and technical war.
The arms race would place a heavy burden on the economies of the countries drawn into it, and the more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions, of which 500 were above ground, would cause appreciable environmental damage to the planet as a whole.
The peak of the Cold war was the Caribbean Crisis (the Cuban Missile Crisis) in the fall of 1962, when humankind was on the brink of actual nuclear war.
By the late 1960s, the opposing sides would reach a parity of forces, and the 1970s saw a time of international détente. The main event of this decade was the signing in 1975 of an important international agreement in the area of global security – the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Helsinki, Finland.
The invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces in 1980 once again provoked a worsening of relations between East and West.
The end of the Cold War is usually connected with the important political changes in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, and with the conclusion in 1987 between the USSR and USA of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, as a result of which the two countries, for the first time in history, refrained from an entire class of nuclear weapons.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a fundamental international document defining the basic rights and liberties of the individual, which the members of the UN set as their goal to strive to observe, passed by the UN General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948.
The necessity of passing such a declaration came from a recognition of the horrible crimes against humanity committed during World War II, and the striving to prevent a repetition of anything like them in the future.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed as unconditional values: the right of every person to life, liberty, and security of the person; equality of people before the law; freedom of thought, political and religious belief; freedom of movement and choice of place of residence; freedom of assembly and association and other rights and liberties at the foundation of a democratic social system.
The Soviet Union abstained during the voting on this document.
The first publication of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Russia was only in 1958, during a period of a certain liberalization of public life in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin.
Despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has only the force of recommendation, it is the foundation of international human rights law, including international covenants which are obligatory to implement, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and so on.