Dina Korzun - Helping kids beat cancer in Russia with much needed treatment and medicine

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

We had the great pleasure to meet Dina Korzun a Russian theatre and film actress, writer and artist. Dina made her screen debut in Valery Todorovsky’s critically well received ‘Country of the Deaf’. In 2000, Dina was awarded the Best Newcomer on Screen by the British Independent Film Awards and received the acclaimed FIRPRESCI Prize at the London Film Festival. Since her screen debut, she has starred in many movies, TV series and miniseries such as ‘Cold Souls’ and the award winning 'Forty Shades of Blue’.


Dina is the co-founder of the non-profit organisations Podari Zhizn and Gift of Life. In Russia, treatment for cancer and other potentially fatal diseases is only partly covered by the state. A large proportion of the cost – as much as 66% – must be provided by the patient. Families with a sick child are often already living below the poverty line since medical bills accrued as a result of their child’s illness have depleted their resources. Podari Zhizn is a charity set up in Russia which includes seven hospitals. The partner charity Gift of Life registered in the UK ensures that vital medicine can be bought and sent to Russia for much needed treatment. Another affiliate charity in the United States called Podari.Life has also been set up by a long-time volunteer of Podari Zhizn. An important objective of these charities is to be politically involved and actively campaign for better medical facilities as well as improved access to oncology treatments and medicine for children in Russia.




  Dina Korzun  


  Mother, Philanthropist, Actress, Author and Artist  


  Co-Founder of Podari Zhizn and Gift of Life - Helping children in Russia beating cancer by providing much needed medicines and treatments  


  Mahatma Gandhi


  “Live, think, speak and influence others the way you would like to be treated.” – Dina Korzun  

How did your philanthropic journey start?


The story began in 2005 when myself and Chulpan Khamatova played the lead roles in the movie 'The Country of the Deaf'. Immediately we felt a connection like soulmates and we became best friends. At that time, there was a negative perception of charities in Russia. The media did not pay a great deal of attention to the positive impacts of charities and not much was known of their work. However, a group of doctors turned to Chulpan to help organize a classical music concert to raise $200,000 for a blood irradiation machine. This machine provides an essential and lifesaving therapy since it kills bacteria in donated blood before it is given to the patient so reducing the chance of infection in the child already suffering from cancer. Unfortunately, the concert only raised  $35,000. You can imagine how upset Chulpan and the other organisers were!

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

Some time after the concert, Chulpan and I were drinking tea in my kitchen and I suddenly had an epiphany: let’s try to raise money with the Sovremennik Theatre! Together with them, we organised a charity performance named “Give me life” which attracted well-known actors, musicians and other celebrities. Everyone that we approached was willing to participate in this project, and this enthusiasm, I believe, was the secret to our success. We managed to raise $300,000. This was enough money for the group of doctors to buy the much needed blood irradiation machine and an additional medical device to help diagnose potential infections in blood.

After the fundraising concert for Podari Zhizn by Chulpan Khamatova, you both decided to get further involved. How did this come about? What moved you to keep your philanthropy going?

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

For me it was always natural to care for people in need and to take action to help them.


My mother has taught me to be attentive to my surroundings, empathetic and most importantly, to take action when I see I can make a difference to make a better world.


At that time, the Russian government announced a legislative change that would complicate fundraising efforts and collaborations between artists and the medical community. However, Chulpan and I didn’t think twice and we registered “Podari Zhizn”, as a non-profit organisation in 2006. Considering our upbringing and our own convictions to make a difference, we were driven to continuously provide support for children with cancer and hematological diseases. As co-founders of this organisation we became responsible for seven hospitals that treat children with these conditions.


We also had tremendous help from wonderful individuals who supported us during our journey to set up Podari Zhizn. One person that stands out is Galina Chalikova. She believed in us and within herself that she can make a difference. Galina became the first director of our organisation. Another powerful individual was Galina Novichkova, a sensational doctor who helped us build the Children's Hematology Centre in Moscow. These are just two individuals that made an enormous difference but there are many more who blessed us with their motivation, inspiration and belief in the organisation.    

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

In 2011, you established the Gift of Life charity in the UK with the same vision as Podari Zhizn that children’s health and happiness should not be dependent on money. Why did you choose the UK to set up your charity?


When my family moved to London, it was a natural decision to set up an affiliate in the UK called Gift of Life. One of the organisation’s main objectives each year is to raise funds for a particular drug called Erwinase which is manufactured and sold in the UK. Each year, Erwinase is needed by approximately 60 Russian children suffering from leukemia. It is our mission to make this drug available to these Russian children. Along the way we have been supported by the UK tax relief scheme which benefits UK registered charities. Since the number of Erwinase ampoules required for the treatment of a sick child cannot be predicted, Gift of Life constantly has to raise donations to have a reserve in case immediate purchases of this medicine become necessary.

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

What are the differences and challenges between running a charity organisation in Russia and the UK?


The Podari Zhizn charity has affiliates in both the UK and US. However, it is clear that charities in these countries is much more part of daily life. For instance, making donations in the UK is an everyday occurrence and asking someone to donate is not scary; it is like saying ‘hello’. Giving back is taught at an early age. My daughters, who now live in the UK, are regularly involved in fundraising initiatives in their schools. They support all sorts of non-profit projects like saving giraffes from poachers. There is also a financial motivation behind giving since donations are supported by the government with tax relief in the UK, US and in many other countries. Sadly, in Russia fundraising is not yet a normal part of life. Fortunately, there is progress in this regard. We can directly see the change when looking at the many people helping with Podari Zhizn. Also, in Russia new charities have been established recently which are run fairly and professionally around the country. When I see this progress, it is my hope that gradually a donation and fundraising culture will be adopted in Russia.


We receive 70% of our multimillion fundraising efforts from vulnerable and less wealthy citizens, such as pensioners.


But coming back to the UK, there are thousands of charities and it is difficult for us since there is constant pressure to prove that we are sustainable. Another difference that I have noticed is that although we rely on the help of the Russian elites Gift of Life, receives 70% of our multimillion fundraising efforts from more vulnerable and less wealthy citizens, such as pensioners. These individuals are giving what they can to make difference, and it is making a difference.

What does your typical day look like?


As a co-founder, I have represented the Podari Zhizn non-profit organisation for 11 years and Gift of Life for the sixth year running now. My day starts by checking my mailbox, which is usually filled with dozens of emails. I manage all requests and questions that come through the mailbox myself; this takes up a significant part of my day. I am also a mother of three children and I make room for my creative talents as well. Apart from carrying out the organisation and planning of the charities, I give presentations on the importance of giving and organize fundraising events. I travel frequently between London and Moscow to attend key events to raise further awareness.


Please tell us about the annual event "World Children’s Winners Games" in Moscow?

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

At its heart, The World Children’s Winners Games is a voluntary project initiated by the followers and helpers of Podari Zhizn. It is an international athletic event for children who have recovered from childhood cancer. It is truly another wonderful accomplishment of our charity work. We have a number of volunteers who give their time, ideas, money and energy to make this event a success.


What I like best is that our non-profit organisations not only helps doctors and patients but we also help those individuals who have recovered to become winners in other spheres of life.


This is the main theme of the “Winners Games” which have now been organized seven times and have become a sort of tradition. In the last Games, competitors from Russia and 15 other countries took part in sporting events including athletics, swimming, chess, football, table tennis and target-shooting. Children return home with medals showing off their accomplishments. It is from these proud moments that we derive strength to move forward in our mission to provide medical care, access to medicine and ultimately to find a cure for cancer. 

Dina Korzun, Gift of Life

Can you give us some ideas on how anybody can get involved and give back?


Everybody can help by sharing resources such as funds, ideas, time and energy.


It can start with a donation - any amount that you can afford, by spreading the word about a cause, by volunteering, by starting a fundraising campaign, or by actively taking part in a charity. Every little investment, regardless what it is, will make a difference. In our case an oncology cure is extremely costly and every donation counts. Through the years of our activities and fundraising we have managed to build a solid development in cancer research. Russian doctors follow international medical protocol and their research in this field impacts the work of the international scientific community. Thus, we intermediately contribute to the global fight against cancer and contribute significantly to global cancer research.


What are your plans for Podari Zhizn and Gift of Life in 2017 and beyond?


Gift of Life helps Podari Zhizn cover the needs of children suffering from cancer in Russia CIS. We buy expensive medicines, which are not available in Russia, bring international doctors to Russian clinics to perform life saving operations and sometimes pay for consultations or treatment in international clinics. Today, our plan in the UK is to raise funds to cover all these needs, which will require approximately £3 million per year. But life changes fast and there may yet be new challenges for tomorrow.

If you would like to learn more, attend fundraising events or get involved with helping children with cancer in Russia visit the websites of Podari Zhizn (Russia), Gift of Life (UK) and Podari.Life (US) for more information.

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