This January London’s Savoy Hotel hosted the ninth annual “Gift of Life” Gala to raise funds to help severely ill children. The evening raised over £720,000 for the purchase of medications and surgeries for children with oncological diseases in Russian hospitals. Elena spoke with Lyuba Galkina, Director and Trustee of “Gift of Life” about the important work the charity does every day.

Elena Shampanova: Lyuba, please can you tell us about your journey of becoming the Trustee of the “Gift of Life” charity in 2011? 

Lyuba Galkina: For 9 years as a Trustee now I’ve been using my expertise in marketing and communications to help the foundation. It is a voluntary and unpaid mission. I simply do what I know and like the most. Helping this charity is a much more rewarding job than working for corporations which I’ve been doing most of my life while working at the top managerial positions at Pepsi, Nike and consulting companies like Apple, Google, Unilever and other. The results of my work for the foundation, on the other hand, are as real as can be – the lives of the children who we help. It’s difficult for me to imagine something more important than this.

Lyuba Galkina ©Gift of Life, photo by Tania Naiden

Elena Shampanova: “Gift of Life” is a sister charity to the non-profit organisation “Podari Zhizn” in Russia. Could you please tell us, why UK was chosen as the country to open the international branch in, and how the relationship between the two branches develops?

Lyuba Galkina: “Gift of Life” was founded in 2011 to support “Podari Zhizn” through full scale fundraising and paying for the medication Erwinase, which was produced in the UK and supplied to Russian patients strictly upon request. Almost ten years past, and this life-saving medication is still unregistered and unavailable in Russia as well as many other vital cancer drugs that the charity pays for. So, reason number one was Erwinase.

Reason number two was the great potential for fundraising in Britain. There is a well-established, vibrant community of people here who associate with Russia or sympathise with its people, especially children with serious health disadvantages.

Now the two charities keep working hand in hand and do whatever they can to help children in Russia beat cancer. It is an everyday battle for thousands of families, and every little helps, be it regular smaller donations or one-off larger gifts or gifts in kind. Raising awareness about the problem of child cancer and the fact that it is curable also helps. In richer nations in Europe and the United States 90% of children with cancer survive. This figure is only 70% in today’s Russia because of limited access to effective treatments and drugs. And we do whatever we can to change that.

Elena Shampanova: How do you feel the charity has evolved from 2011?

Lyuba Galkina: In 9 years that “Gift of Life” has been operating it has become the most well-known and highly regarded charity with Russian origins in London and in the whole of UK. It is trusted and strongly supported by the local Russian speaking community as well as members of British establishment such as Stephen Fry, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Evgeny Lebedev.

Our sold-out fundraisers receive immense support from the best artists and creative minds such as Natalia Osipova, Teodor Currentzis, Vladimir Yurovskiy, Erik Bulatov, Sergey Polunin, Ulyana Lopatkina, Ksenia Rapoport, Kirill Richter, Alexander Boldachev, Nika Belotserkovskaya, Alexey Zimin and, of course, the co-founder of our sister charity “Podari Zhizn” – Chulpan Khamatova.

Among our patrons are a famous singer Katie Melua and Princess Catherine Galitzine, a descendant of Catherine the Great. We are also supported by well-known businessmen Roman Abramovich, Len Blavatnik, Evgeny Kaspersky and more. Such brands as Dior, Sotheby’s, Christies, Ralph and Russo, Pommery, Beluga regularly sponsor our fundraising events helping collect hundreds of thousands of pounds for children with cancer in Russia. Summing up our effort financially from the moment the charity was set up, with the help of our generous sponsors, partners and volunteers we’ve been able to raise over £7,500,000 and help 420 children with their treatment.

Chulpan Khamatova, Ralph Fiennes Lyuba Galkina ©Gift of Life, photo by Tania Naiden

Elena Shampanova: “Gift of Life” is raising funds for such an important cause and is quite successful in this. Could you please share with us some of the recent successes and perhaps also challenges?

Lyuba Galkina: It’s wonderful to see that each year we’re getting more and more help. We raise more funds which allows us to buy more life-saving medications. But the issue of access to modern cancer treatments in Russia is still unresolved. The number of cases does not fall, and we still need £3,000,000 per year to afford all the medication that the children cared for by “Podari Zhizn” require from abroad. New children get diagnosed every day and the money for their treatment is constantly needed.

It’s also important to note that we are developing a programme called “Doctors’ education” which allows Russian doctors from the hospitals that we work with in Moscow and other regions to go to international conferences, symposia and internships to share knowledge and experience with the leading world experts. This is an important step for the development of the oncology in Russia as a whole. This programme is supported by famous philanthropists. For example, last year it was backed by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Most importantly, we can show the results of our efforts by sharing stories of children who received life-saving treatment thanks to “Gift of Life”. Every year we bring cancer survivors to the Gala event and publish their and other children’s stories across our online platforms to inspire more people to help. When our donors, both current and potential, see what money can do for a severely ill child they feel this urge to continue supporting us and do more. The generosity of our donors is vast, and we could feel it this January at the most successful Gala 2020 which raised in excess £720,000 for our charitable needs.

Alexey Zimin, Marina Mosyakova, Lyuba Galkina ©Gift of Life, photo by Splento

These Gala dinners are grand and alluring, but they are also full of very emotional and personal moments. For example, at the Gala 2019 we made our former patient dream come true. Over ten years ago Masha Dyatlova was cured of aplastic anaemia by transplantation of bone marrow in the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital in Moscow. Masha always dreamed to see the donor, who gave her a new life. The wonderful meeting occurred during the Gala and was a total surprise to Masha. Both ladies came to London from across the United States. The donor is a US citizen, and Masha moved to New York as a teenager with her mother when her illness was a matter of the past. Half of the guests in the room could not believe it was happening in front of their very own eyes, people cried of happiness and felt deeply engaged with the cause. When you see a young lady like Masha, who almost died and now is full or life and smiling, it is the biggest reward for your donation.

Elena Shampanova: Please tell us, Lyuba, what could each of us do to help “Gift of Life”?

Lyuba Galkina: Any kind of help and support is welcome and greatly appreciated at “Gift of Life”. Whatever it is — your time, skills, a small donation or a significant one – all counts and helps us achieve a greater result. With “Gift of Life” you can make a real difference and save lives with a click. I appeal to you to visit and set up a regular donation to benefit children like Masha. This will be money well spent and a new hope for a child in need of your help. Thank you!