Elena Kozhina was only 8 years old when Nazi Germany invaded Russia in World War II. She survived the Siege of Leningrad with her mother while the rest of her family died. She described her wartime experience and recovery in a memoir called Through the Burning Steppe: A Wartime Memoir, published in the USA in 2000. Elena grew up to graduate from Leningrad State University with a degree in art history and earn a doctorate in the field in 1967. Besides Russian, she spoke French, English and Italian fluently. She worked at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) for 20 years, serving as a curator of French paintings, and published numerous books and articles about French art. In 1985, she emigrated to the USA with her husband and son and lived in New York City for the rest of her life. She worked at McGraw-Hill Publishing for several years before retiring.