MOSCOW -- A tired but apparently undaunted Andrei Sakharov returned to Moscow today after almost seven years of forced silence in internal exile, vowing to continue his struggle to free political prisoners.
The dissident physicist, 65, accompanied by his wife, Yelena Bonner, 63, stepped from the green express train that brought them from the closed city of Gorky into a frigid pre-dawn Moscow and a barrage of more than 200 newsmen and dozens of curious Soviet bystanders.
As to his physical condition, a weary Sakharov said he was tired but struck a positive note, although he appeared bewildered by the onslaught of the Western press after years of isolation.
'My heart is better now than it was when I was in the hospital,' Sakharov said, referring to his hospitalization and forced feeding after he undertook a lengthy hunger strike in 1985. That fast followed two others undertaken in 1984 to pressure Soviet authorities to allow Bonner to go to the West for medical treatment. He described violent treatment at the hands of Soviet authorities in letters smuggled to the West in February.
'That year, when I was saved from the doctors in Gorky, began the improvement in my health,' he said, in his first acknowledgement of the period in which KGB secret police interfered with his medical care.
He said the force feeding was 'agonizing' and he called the 'total isolation' the most difficult part of the seven years.
The physicist found out first hand about his release from exile in the industrial city of Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called him on the telephone last Tuesday, but the release wasn't announced publicly until a government news conference Friday.
The recipient of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights activities, Sakharov appeared determined to continue his struggle. He was imprisoned in 1980 for speaking against the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and other alleged Moscow human rights violations.
'I have a feeling of joy, a feeling of emotion and a feeling of tragedy over the fate of my friends who are in the camps today,' Sakharov said. 'I cannot free myself from it for one minute, from the horror and torment of deaths.'
'I hope that I will be absolutely free,' Sakharov said as he prepared to resume his life in Moscow, after isolation, hunger strikes, hospitalization and official harassment in drab Gorky.
Sakharov said he did not ask permission to emigrate to the West because the Soviets have indicated it would be 'impossible' because of his involvement with state secrets as a nuclear physicist. Sakharov was instrumental in development of the Soviet H-bomb.
Sakharov broke down when he spoke about his friend and fellow activist, Anatoly Marchenko, who died in a prison hospital earlier this month after a lengthy hunger strike.
Sakharov indicated his opposition to the Afghan invasion had not diminished, calling it 'the most unhealthy' part of Kremlin foreign policy.
Appearing drawn and pale, a silvery stubble on his face and his silver hair thinning at top, Sakharov said he planned to rest 'a little' today and then participate in a physics seminar at the Academy of Sciences.
With a slight grin revealing gold teeth, he said he was happy to be back in the capital and anxious to return to work.
Two friends, a dissident and an artist, greeted Sakharov at the station and helped him through the throng into a yellow Soviet Zhigili, tying four tattered suitcases to the top. Bonner made her own way to the car, refusing to speak.
Sakharov's two sons were not at the station, but he said he would see them 'later.'
At their apartment on the city's main Ring road, Bonner firmly shut the door, saying her husband needed rest. Monday, two friends prepared the two-bedroom apartment for their homecoming, cooking and cleaning.
At Moscow's Yaroslavsky station, crowds of Soviets gathered, asking who was attracting all the attention. Some replied, 'The academic'; others said, 'Sakharov.'
One woman in the crowd cursed him, while a man said he had come just to get a glimpse of the man whose name he had heard for years.
'It is wonderful he has returned, I am very happy,' said the elderly man. 'He is a good man.'
Sakharov said the most difficult part of his last seven years was the 'total isolation.'