Power of 10 is Gift of Life’s 10th anniversary special feature highlighting our achievements during a decade of helping children beat cancer in Russia. For the final story in December, we talked to Gift of Life Co-founder and Trustee and Zima Group Co-founder Lyuba Galkina.
Lyuba Galkina and Chulpan Khamatova, founder of Podari Zhizn
Lyuba, in ten years, Gift of Life has become the most established and well-known Russian-connection UK-charity. Do you remember how it all started for you?
Gift of Life was established ten years back with the specific purpose of supporting its sister charity Podari Zhizn, a leading Russian non-profit helping children and young adults with oncological diseases. I’d long been its supporter before the idea of setting up Gift of Life appeared and although a lot has improved in children’s oncology in Russia over the past decade, many vital medications are still unavailable in the country. Gift of Life started in the UK to purchase a life-saving chemotherapy medicine Erwinase, which then was and still is not available in Russian hospitals. At that time Erwinase was produced and sold in the UK which has of course a vibrant Russian diaspora community still passionate about helping causes at home. Raising funds in the UK and Europe and spending it on medicines for children in Russian clinics was in many ways a practical, logical decision.
Today, Gift of Life is as you say the most established UK charity with Russian heritage. For me personally, it’s a big achievement to have built that as initially we only relied on volunteers who had a strong belief in what we tried to achieve. Gift of Life held its first Old Russian New Year’s Eve Gala in 2012 and that has since become the charity’s main fundraiser and a firm fixture of the Russian London social calendar. It’s been such a shame the pandemic has forced us to postpone the Gala evening twice now. It’s a tremendous loss of funding for the charity, and the only way that Gift of Life can continue its mission is to rely on the support of each and every donor, fundraiser and volunteer of the charity for whom philanthropy is a natural, inherent part of their lives.
Lyuba with Eric and Natasha Bulatov and Gift of Life supporters, 2016 Gala evening
It’s both inspiring and hugely effective when a group of people join together to solve a problem or battle challenge. Could you talk more about how all this has been achieved?
Of course, it would have been impossible to do all Gift of Life does with only its small team of two – and in fact for many years the charity had just one full time employee. We’ve been consistently lucky to receive support from Gift of Life’s friends, predominantly Russian-speaking Londoners from all kinds of backgrounds, who’ve come together to amplify their faith in this good cause.
We’ve been helped too by many British friends and supporters, motivated by a desire to help seriously ill children. Our good friends include our Patrons Ralph Fiennes and Katie Melua, actors Stephen Fry, Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren and entrepreneurs and business people such as Evgeny Lebedev, Evgeny Chichvarkin, Roman Abramovich, Len Blavatnik and Evgeny Kaspersky. And of course, the founder of Podari Zhizn, actor Chulpan Khamatova, and key creatives and performers such as Alexey Agranovich, Natalia Osipova, Teodor Currentzis, Erik Bulatov, Igor Vernik, Alexey Zimin and particularly Nika Belotserkovskaya who supported Gift of Life for years and joined the charity as a Patron last year.
Lyuba with Nika Belotserkovskaya and Ekaterina Kashintseva (far left)
Actually, we’re very proud that our supporters and volunteers are people from all walks of life: IT specialists, teachers, graphic designers, florists, musicians, psychologists, photographers – even tattoo artists! My own daughter Nika has been a Gift of Life volunteer since she was a teen, helping at one of the Gala evenings while still at school, she’s grown up with the Foundation, and has seen many children who managed to beat cancer thanks to the donors’ support. She’s truly learnt to cherish the most precious gift – the gift of life – and I’m infinitely happy and thankful for that.
Over the past ten years, we’ve also helped to change certain pessimistic attitudes towards paediatric oncology, showing that childhood cancer can be successfully treated, and that the money donated to the charity really saves lives. We regularly share the stories of recoveries at our website and on social media. This is the Power of 10 in action that gives such a rewarding result. It gives me an incentive to work even harder for such a great cause!
Lyuba with her daughter Nika, 2020 Gala evening
Does your professional career help you to promote the work of Gift of Life?
From the early days of Gift of Life my marketing background with brands like Nike, Apple and Pepsi helped me understand the importance of clear messaging to help grow the charity’s brand awareness and audience. I’m also lucky that my professional network embraced Gift of Life’s cause and helped us develop the charity’s brand identity and digital platforms.
On a personal level I’ve always loved to be part of a community, connecting people around me to engage with charity and philanthropy, including celebrities and well-known luxury brands which have been supporting Gift of Life charity auctions over the years. We particularly enjoyed the support of ZIMA magazine which is the leading Russian-speaking media here in the UK, and as its publisher I’ve always tried to integrate Gift of Life and the charity aspect to all of ZIMA’s initiatives including editorial materials, support of the fundraising campaigns and special events. I’ve used each and every chance to utilise the magazine’s audience to promote our cause. In addition, Zima Russian Restaurant supports the charity via its Dine for Good initiative with £1 per bill going directly to Gift of Life’s programmes, helping children beat cancer. It makes me incredibly happy to know that every day my professional work and business contribute to saving children’s lives.
Lyuba with Alexey Zimin. Zima Tonight, 2018
How can you describe the impact Gift of Life makes?
Gift of Life’s mission is to ensure children and young adults with cancer or haematological disease in Russia can receive the most effective and modern medical care and nonmedical support. Thanks to volunteers’ support and a small, dedicated team who always worked remotely the charity keeps its admin overheads to a minimum allowing us to focus heavily on our programme work. Since 2011, the charity has supported over 600 applications for ‘life-saving’ medicine and nonmedical treatment and helped over 500 children and their families. For many, the Gift of Life’s support remains the only chance to receive inevitable treatment be it rare and expensive chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant from a foreign donor. Without Gift of Life many lives would be lost.
You must be aware of many stories of patients’ recoveries. Can you share the one which stands out for you?
I do have one, from hundreds: In 2012, the Foundation received an application to support Margarita, who had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, with a course of Erwinase, the only chance for her to recover. As the medication was unavailable in Russia and its price (typically tens of thousands of pounds) extremely high for an ordinary Russian family, Margarita’s parents had to appeal to charity’s support. Gift of Life purchased a course of the drug which saved their daughter.
Before the illness Margarita was a promising triathlonist. She lost her sports career to cancer, but luckily won her main battle with the disease and made a full recovery. Margarita was a guest at the 2015 Annual Gala in London and was encouraged by fellow guest and supporter Stephen Fry to share story on stage. By sharing her experience as a cancer survivor, Margarita helped to raise funds for other children. A particularly touching moment that stays in my heart was Margarita meeting the donors who helped to cover costs of her treatment back in 2012.
Finally, Margarita has earned a degree in journalism, got into photography, and become a swimming instructor. She is happy and endlessly grateful to the people who gave her a helping hand when she needed it most.
Margarita with Chulpan Khamatova and Nikita Merkulov
What are the main things we all can do help address the problem of childhood cancer in Russia?
Gift of Life’s priority is to ensure children with cancer continue getting the most effective treatment despite difficult circumstances and the ongoing pandemic. This can only be achieved if we have a stream of donations to pay for treatments and sustainable cross border operations to process deliveries of medications and donor’s bone marrow cells. The crucial points for us now are:
- Donations. Every year Gift of Life invests up to £800,000 in its medical programmes to cover the costs of medications required to treat young patients for cancer and life-threatening blood diseases. Only with the regular help of our donors we can keep saving lives. You can help today by subscribing to monthly donations or making a single gift at https://giftoflife.eu/donate-now/
- Support. Adjusting to the COVID-19 restrictions Gift of Life had to withhold many physical fundraisers. But there are still ways to help! You can celebrate your birthday with donations to charity instead of presents or just join us as a volunteer fundraiser and helps maximise the total raised for children at https://giftoflife.eu/fundraising-ideas/
- Voice. If you can only share one thing on social media today let it be meaningful content. By sharing our feed with your followers, you help us reach more people able to make a difference. Read more, subscribe, and share at https://www.instagram.com/gift_of_life_charity/
Igor and Natasha Tsukanov, Chulpan Khamatova, Vadim Levin, Maria Levina, Lyuba Galkina. 2020 Gala evening
Can you share your favourite “Life Lesson” quote?
“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (c) Émile Zola
I totally relate to this as I always have something to pursue, to make great things shine brighter. If something turns out well, I instantly want to keep going even further and accomplish bigger dreams.
What is next for Gift of Life?
As the needs of children in the care of Podari Zhizn for vital medications unavailable in Russia represent approximately £3 million a year, we are aiming to fulfil these needs as much as possible. Last year, Gift of Life already covered up to 20% of the essential sums for such medications, and with our donors’ help we hope to increase this item of expenses in 2022. It is an ambitious plan, but we are no strangers to dreaming big and working hard for it.
Another major focus for Gift of Life in 2022 will be to support an infrastructure project of Podari Zhizn: the Izmalkovo Village, hospital retreat for children in Moscow region. The Izmalkovo Village is going to be a special place, where young patients can stay with their parents in lodges in a home-like environment, whilst waiting for their planned treatment at leading Moscow clinics. This approach has proven its effectiveness in the best western hospitals, and our charity is excited to support its application in Russia and invest in the Gift of Life lodge. If you’d like to support the Gift of Life lodge and the Izmalkovo Village, please get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s only through your support that we can carry on helping children beat cancer. Please donate to save lives!