Not even four years had passed since the start of the Bolshevik Revolution, which turned into bloody terror and civil war for the country.
At the head of the Soviet government still stood its leader — Vladimir Lenin; two months before Andrei Sakharov's appearance on earth, the brutal policy of military communism was replaced by the transition to NEP — the “New Economic Policy” which allowed some elements of a free market.
But in Siberia and in the Far East, the civil war continued, the famine grew worse in many regions of the country, and even in the capital people remained impoverished and half-starving.
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was born 21 May 1921 in Moscow.
His father, Dmitry Ivanovich Sakharov (1889–1961) was the son of an attorney-at-law (a lawyer). Dmitry Sakharov was a teacher of physics and author of a number of popular science books and textbooks.
His mother, Ekaterina Alexeyevna Sakharov (1893–1963), née Sofiano, came from a noble family, the men of which were traditionally military people.
“My childhood passed in a large communal apartment where, in fact most of the rooms were occupied by the families of our relatives and only some by strangers. Our home was pervaded by a strong, traditional family spirit — a vital enthusiasm for work and respect for professional skills, mutual family support, and love of literature and science”.
Andrei Sakharov. Memoirs
Andrei Sakharov with his mother. 1923–1924
Andrei Sakharov with his father and cousin, Katya Sakharova. 1924
Andrei Sakharov. 1927
Andrei Sakharov with other children playing Indians. 1928
Andrei Sakharov with his younger brother, Yury. 1932
Andrei Sakharov. 1932–1933
“Papa made me a physicist, or God knows where I would have ended up!”
Andrei received his initial school education at home. The Sakharov made a group of several children from the families of their relatives and friends and organized home-schooling for them.
In the fall of 1927, Andrei, too, began to study. When he was older, Dmitry Sakharov himself taught him mathematics and physics.
By the mid-1930s, a totalitarian society was formed in the USSR.
At its top stood the Communist Party, headed by a practically deified great leader — Joseph Stalin.
From its inception, the Soviet government conducted a policy of repressions regarding its opponents, any independent social forces, entire social groups, and even peoples. The peak of the political repressions came during the period of the Great Terror in 1937–1938.
According to official data, only in the period of 1937–1938 were more than 1.7 million people arrested on political charges, of whom no less than 725,000 were executed, and the rest sent to forced-labor camps.
Political repressions affected Andrei Sakharov's relatives as well.
Evgeny Sofiano, Sakharov's cousin, worked as a fire department inspector. Arrested in 1933. Executed at Norilsk Labor Camp in 1937.
Ivan Sakharov, little Andrei's favorite uncle, an economist. In 1924, arrested and exiled from Moscow to Kazan.
Konstantin Sofiano, uncle, electrical engineer. Arrested in 1937 and died in prison.
Tatyana Sofiano, aunt, translator. In 1937, sentenced on charges of espionage to 8 years of labor camp.
“I hardly ever heard my father condemn the current regime outright. <...>
I think that until I became an adult, Papa was afraid that if I understood too much, then I could not get along in this world. And perhaps, this hiding his thoughts from his son — very typical — most strongly characterized the horror of this era”.
Andrei Sakharov. Memoirs
Andrei Sakharov graduated from school with honors. He was given the opportunity to enter the Physics Department of Moscow State University without exams.