Like most children of high-ranking Soviet officials, Svetlana was raised by a nurse and only occasionally saw her parents. Her mother, Nadezhda Alliluyeva (Stalin's second wife), died on November 9, 1932, when Svetlana was six. Nadezhda's death was officially ruled as peritonitis resulting from a burst appendix; various other theories are that the cause was suicide, or murder on the orders of Stalin, or that she was killed by Stalin himself.
Svetlana fell in love at age 16 with a Jewish filmmaker, Alexei Kapler. Stalin vehemently disapproved of the romance, and found a pretense to sentence Kapler to ten years in a Siberian labor camp, where he died.
At 17, she fell in love with a fellow student at Moscow University[?], Grigori Morozov, also Jewish. Her father grudgingly allowed the couple to marry, although he made a point of never meeting the bridegroom. After the birth of a son Joseph in 1945, the couple divorced in 1947.
Svetlana's second husband was a close associate of Stalin's, Yari Zhdanov (son of his right-hand-man, Andrei Zhdanov). They were married in 1949, and had a daughter, Ekaterina, in 1950, but this marriage also dissolved soon afterward.
After her father's death in 1953, Svetlana adopted her mother's maiden name and worked as a teacher and translator in Moscow. In 1964 she married an Indian communist living in Moscow, Brajesh Singh. When he returned to his native country, however, she was not allowed to follow. Singh died in 1966 and his wife was allowed to travel to India to see to the remains. She stayed there for two months and became immersed in local customs.
On March 9, 1967, after first having visited the Soviet embassy in New Delhi, Alliluyeva went to the U.S. embassy and formally petitioned Ambassador Chester Bowles for political asylum. This was granted; however, concerns by the Indian government over possible ill feeling from the Soviet Union resulted in their expelling her from the country, through Rome, and into Switzerland, where she stayed for a month before proceeding to the United States.
Upon her arrival in April 1967, Alliluyeva gave a press conference denouncing her father's regime and the Soviet government. Her intention to publish her autobiographical Twenty Letters To A Friend on the fiftieth anniversary of the Soviet revolution caused a furor in the USSR, and the government there threatened to release an unauthorized version; the publication in the west was therefore moved forward, and that particular diplomatic problem defused.
Due to the high profile of Alliuyeva's defection, her outspokenness, her connections as daughter of Stalin, etc., the Soviet Union demanded and received from the United States, in December 1967, an assurance that any future Soviet defectors would be debriefed by Soviet officials before being granted asylum.
Alliluyeva became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and afterward married William Wesley Peters, a noted architect, in 1970. She has ever since used the name Lana Peters. The couple had a daughter, Olga, but the marriage dissolved soon afterward.
In 1982 she moved with her daughter to Cambridge in the UK, and in 1984 returned to the Soviet Union, where she and her daughter were granted citizenship, and settled in Tbilisi. In 1986 Alliluyeva returned to the United States, and later moved back to the UK in the 1990s, where she now lives in a retirement home.