All images courtesy of Mehul Derodra “We are not in exile, we are on a mission,” – the expats like to say.  If a mission implies spending £330,000 on charity in one night, then certainly it’s one worth embarking on! It’s not the nominal figure that matters, but the very real amount of life-saving medicine for Russian children diagnosed with cancer that this money can buy. Erwinase is a UK medicine that is not available in Russia; at a cost of £3000 a pack it is the only hope for children with leukemia who are allergic to other treatments. It is thanks to the activities of Russian Podari Zhizn foundation and their local branch the Gift of Life, that many of those children whose families cannot afford the expensive treatment can now be treated and cured. Exactly one month ago, on 13 January 2014, Gift of Life foundation held its third charity evening and auction at the Savoy Hotel in London. Having witnessed the last two out of three events, I can say that it’s probably one of the most glamorous annual Russian occasions in London, and, certainly, one that supports the noblest cause. The event, packed with both Russian and international celebrities, was hosted as usual by two founders of the foundation – the brilliant actress Dina Korzun and the unforgettable Chulpan Khamatova. The live auction was conducted by the Prince Charming of the London art market, Lord Mark Poltimore of Sotheby’s who then handed over to the Russian actors and TV stars, Mikhail Shatz and Tatiana Lazareva. The smartly-dressed guests battled over the many precious lots such as a three-day trip to Tuscany to visit some of the most beautiful castles and wineries, tickets for Evgeny Mironov’s performance in Hamlet, directed by Robert Lepage at the Theatre of Nations, and my personal favourite – a chance to watch Prima Ballerina Uliana Lopatkina dance Giselle at the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg. All these highly artistic and inspirational prizes were matched perfectly by the highly cultural audience of the evening, with guests including Georgian-British singer Katie Melua, artist Erik Bulatov, director of the Moscow Multimedia Art Museum Olga Sviblova, collector Igor Tsukanov, contemporary art patron Maria Baibakova, gallerist Vladimir Tsarenkov, patrons of Tate’s Russia & Eastern Europe Acquisition committee, and many others. In the breaks between the heated bidding, the evening offered numerous cultural experiences, such as a vibrant performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by maestro Vladimir Jurowski, and a very special opportunity to see Ulyana Lopatkina’s gracious dance in the intimate setting of a splendidly decorated ballroom, rather than on an imposing big stage. Another highlight of the evening was a touching speech by a beautiful and delicate young lady Galya Bolshova, a former cancer patient who overcame a frightful disease thanks to Erwinase supplied by the Gift of Life foundation. Galya spoke about her own experience, as well as about another little patient whose life is now under threat, just like hers was a few years ago. With a great relief I can report that owing to the abundant pledges on the night of 13th, this new patient can now buy a sufficient amount of the medicine for a course of the treatment. Other generous but more timid donors, as well as those who could not attend the event, could indulge into socially-conscious online shopping where over 20 luxury items and experiences were offered to bidders around the globe, including trips to Sicily, Uruguay and Munich, diamond jewellery pieces, Katie Melua’s signed guitar, and performances and backstage experiences at the Royal Opera House, The ENO, and Cirque de Soleil. The prices for such once in a lifetime opportunities rocketed sky-high, and I’d be curious to see whether Lord Poltimore will replicate his Savoy success at the Russian art sales next June (the next Russian Art Week in London will take place from 30 May to 6 June 2014). In the meantime, the foundation is transforming the money it has gathered with the auction revenues and pledges into packs of a life-saving treatment for ill Russian children – and that is definitely the real bright side of the all-shiny and glamorous Russian Old New Year celebrations at the Savoy. Gift of Life Foundation Text by Aliya Sayakhova Images by Mehul Derodra