Brändström worked as delegate, advisor and co-organizer for the Swedish Red Cross. She traveled extensively throughout Russia and contributed greatly to the relief work for prisoners of war in Russia and Siberia (1914-1920). She visited prison camps, escorted prisoners home, and she organized the repatriation of German and Austrian prisoners after the war.
Elsa Brändström was born in Russia. Her father was stationed in St.Petersburg as the Swedish envoy to the Imperial Court. Her thorough knowledge of Russian society and conditions and espeicially her Russian connections gave her access to places she would otherwise not have been allowed to enter.