To celebrate the release of Elena Nikitina's new book Girl, Taken, she tells us a little about herself. 

Elena Nikitina

Elena Nikitina

I was abducted by a Chechen gang.  Then I got trapped in a war.

The year was 1994, and I was 21 years old.  I lived in Astrakhan, Russia, the city where I grew up.  Every woman’s nightmare – I was simply stolen off the street, drugged and driven through the night to Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

I was held captive in a tiny room.

The gang was trying to ransom me back to my mother.  This was a common occurrence in Russia after the Soviet collapse.  The room I was locked inside was small – perhaps 10 feet by 12 feet.  There was a narrow bed, and a chair.  The sole window was painted black – on the outside.  Strangely, there was a tape cassette player in the room, with a cassette in it – The Gypsy Kings.  That beautiful music was my only companion.

While I was being held, the First Russian-Chechen War broke out.

Kidnapped and held captive, I started to believe that my situation couldn’t get any worse.  Naturally, it almost immediately did get worse.  Much, much worse.  In a case of very bad timing, war broke out between Chechnya and Russia.  All communications collapsed.  There could be no negotiations for my release. 

I witnessed the horror of war.

The mighty Russian military invaded tiny Chechnya while I was there.  More than 100,000 people were killed.  I saw and experienced horrible things – wrecked war machines on the blood-stained streets of Grozny, the decapitated heads of young Russian soldiers decorating the trees like grotesque Christmas bulbs.  I wish that was all of it.

I believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I am tougher because of what happened, and I thrive as a result.  I am like the green plants that push through the concrete and grow in the middle of the sidewalk.  You are not a victim unless you agree to be one.  You can be a survivor instead.

I was an excellent student in school.

Russia had a very good educational system when I was young, and I was a good student. My favorite subject was a military class, but I wanted to become an actress one day.  Instead I went to the teaching university after high school.

I love America.

I emigrated to the United States in 2000, where I raise my teenage daughter. It is a different world from the one in which I was raised.  I wish with all my heart that the political situation between our countries will change for the better.

I love fitness and I love to dance.

I have been a Zumba teacher for 5 years.  I often dance Salsa. You should join me sometime. 

I love art of any kind.

As a teenager, I graduated from art school.  I love fashion and my dream is to one day create a fashion clothing line.

I'm obsessed with taking pictures.

A photograph I took was chosen as a finalist for Best World Photography, 2012. 

GIRL, TAKEN by Elena Nikitina is available now.  Watch for it in paperback December, 2017.