Lydia Korneievna Chukovskaya was a daughter of a literary critic and children's writer and grew up in a home in St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) frequented by prominent literary figures. She was educated at the Institute for the History of the Arts. Her first job, which lasted 10 years, was as an editor at the state children's publishing house. She published her first short story, "Leningrad-Odessa", under the pseudonym A. Uglov. At about the same time she met and married a young Jewish physicist, Mikhail (Matvei) Bronstein. In 1937, he was arrested on a false charge and executed in the Soviet gulag. She was never told of his fate. Lydia befriended others whose loved ones had also disappeared, including the poet Anna Akhmatova. She went on to become an established poet and writer herself and one of the senior editors on a liberal monthly, Literatur Naya Moskva. Her real breakthrough was a short story, "Sofia Petrovna," written in 1939-1940; it was circulated clandestinely in the late 1950s and appeared in Paris in 1965 under the title "Opustely Dom" ("An Abandoned House"). It was banned in the Soviet Union.
Her second major book, Spusk pod Vodu ("Descent Into Water"), also never appeared in her own country. In 1974, Lydia was expelled from the Writers' Union for defending Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was monitored closely by the KGB, and only her important literary status in the West saved her from arrest.
Her most important work was the two-volume journal, which she kept at great personal risk, of her meetings and conversations with Anna Akhmatova in the days of Stalin's Great Terror, Zapiski Akhmatovoi ("Akhmatova's Notes"). It was published in Paris in 1979-1980 and banned in her own country. Her works became legally available for Soviet readers beginning in 1988.