Elena Nikitina endured and survived an unimaginable nightmare but is now thriving in the United States due to faith in God, the powerful response to her story, and a nation that would give her a fresh start.
Born in the Soviet Union in 1973, Nikitina endured eight months of captivity at the hands of Chechen criminals who were looking to make money by demanding ransom. Living two hours from Chechnya, Nikitina’s nightmare began on Oct 4, 1994, just three weeks after her twenty-first birthday.
“I was with my friends hanging out at the restaurant. I got into an argument with my boyfriend and decided to leave the party. The next thing I knew I was in a car surrounded by strange men speaking in a foreign language. For weeks, I didn’t know why I was there, who they were and what they wanted,” said Nikitina, who tells her gripping story in “Girl Taken: A True Story of Abduction, Captivity, and Survival.”
Nikitina would not discuss with us how she was treated by her captors but points out she goes into painful detail about that in her book. She was able to speak with her mother once as the abductors demanded money.
Before arrangements could be made for payment and Nikitina’s release, the first Chechen War broke out and telephone lines were cut off. But while the war ended talks between the Chechens and Nikitina’s mother, it also very likely spared her from an even darker fate.
“I was pretty sure that I was sold into slavery, but the war got in the way of the delivery,” she said.
Over the eight months, Nikitina was held at four different locations. She doesn’t remember the first location very much because she was drugged most of the time. She then was kept in a tiny room for a few months. Later, she was held in the home of a captor’s family member and eventually “in a little pit” at a house in a mountain village.
Despite the ordeal, Nikitina decided early on that she would never give up hope.
“We never know how strong we are and what we’re capable of until we’re put in a situation like that. You just have to decide if you want to stay a victim or become a survivor,” she said.
After 245 horrific days, Nikitina suddenly realized she was alone in the house and decided to escape – a journey she describes as “unbelievable and thrilling.” She had no idea where she was or how to find help, so she just started walking. However, Nikitina firmly believes someone else was guiding her steps.
“I walked and walked without knowing where I was going and what or who I could meet on my way. I couldn’t realize it then but now I understand it. I was miraculously led by something or someone,” she said, also nothing that her faith carried her through her captivity.
“I just can tell you from my personal experience is that faith in God is the best you can hope for in a moment and total and all-embracing despair like that,” said Nikitina.
Eventually, Nikitina happened upon Russian soldiers who initially mistook her as a Chechen suicide bomber. Upon further investigation, the soldiers confirmed her identity. She then went to the home of a Russian general in Dagestan to clean up, get a good meal, and await her mother’s arrival – a moment so sweet words can hardly suffice.
“It was a moment of happiness, like true, clear, ultimate happiness for me,” said Nikitina.
Nikitina may have been free of her abductors in June 1995 but the joy did not last long. Within five years, she was in the United States after being granted political asylum. She is now the mother of a 16-year-old girl. Elena’s mother joined her in the U.S. in 2006.
“I just didn’t see a way to live in my country anymore because I was threatened and I was heavily imposed upon by another religion. It took place during my ordeal and right after I came back home. I just decided to come to a better place,” said Nikitina.
She is reticent to give too many details about her asylum story, although she is considering another book to tell that story. However, Chechnya and Dagestan are heavily Muslim-populated areas.
Nikitina originally wrote down her story so her mother could fully know her ordeal, but as the details came flooding back to her mind, she decided to write a book about it. As painful as it was to relive those eight months, she says the response has been more than she ever dreamed.
“The real and true healing therapy came afterwards with the feedback that I received from people I didn’t know. For me, it means everything that my book can help in some way or make people think or move their feelings. This is amazing. This is priceless,” said Nikitina.
She is also in love with her new country.
“I just love it. It’s amazing,” said Nikitina. “I don’t have any regrets. I just really love this country.”
Please listen to the full podcast to hear all of Elena’s moving story.