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Arts

Why I volunteer: Russian ballerina dances for refugees

As a mother of a small child, she realizes how important it is to see beyond politics, says Russian ballet star Irina Kolesnikova. She decided to perform a ballet inspired by the refugees.

Writers, musicians, artists and actors in Europe are getting involved in helping refugees, using their popularity to call for more solidarity, collect donations or criticize racism. In three questions and three answers, DW's series "Why I volunteer" reveals why they decided to help.

DW: What do you do for refugees?

Irina Kolesnikova: I have been following the refugee crisis since it reached its peak last summer. But now I have the feeling that people have become numb to the scenes they see on their TV or on the internet. I was afraid that the media had moved on. People stuck in camps, especially those on the border between Macedonia and Serbia, seem to have been forgotten. So I thought that it was time to take action.

I heard that Oxfam is supporting these people by offering them free legal advice from Macedonian lawyers. So I visited the camps in Tabanovce and Presevo myself to get an impression of the circumstances there and to see what work Oxfam is doing.

From what I have seen there, I am going to work on an altered version of the ballet "My name is Carmen," which will be situated in a refugee camp. It will premiere at the London Coliseum in August. One pound from every sold ticket will go to support Oxfam's work in the region.

Why do you volunteer?

I am hoping to draw attention to the plight of my refugees through art. I don't have the kind of money it takes to improve the situation of the refugees. But maybe people will become aware of the help that is still needed in this crisis, and even if everyone does a little a lot can be achieved.

Irina Kolesnikova in the refugee camp in Tabanovce Copyright: Stefan Rosseau, Press Association

Kolesnikova was moved to tears by the present she got from a young girl at a camp.

Especially after visiting the camps in Presevo and Tabanovce I have become more determined to help the refugees, because simply reading about it or going out and actually talking to the people makes a big difference.

I met a young woman who had given birth a few days earlier. Her husband had successfully made his way as a refugee to Germany, but when she arrived at the Serbian-Macedonian border it was too late. Refugees were not allowed to cross it anymore. So she was stuck between two countries and eventually had to give birth in a make-shift camp. All she really wants now is to be together with her husband and somehow get to him to Germany. A lot of people I met at the camp had similar problems.

But I didn't only have negative or depressing experiences at the camp. One small girl followed me around and didn't let go of my hand the entire time. When I had to leave she gave me a small plastic ring that looks like a flower. I have been wearing it ever since and will also wear it at my performance of Carmen; I won't take it off until I know that all children like her are safe.

What do you hope to achieve?

I hope that people see what I am doing and follow the example. I can raise awareness about their plight through a dance performance. Maybe some people will see it and donate money, a doctor might see it and be inspired to volunteer and help the refugees at the camps, some might be inspired to send the refugees clothes. Everyone can do just a little bit and change the situation for the better.

I am particularly touched by the story of the woman who is stuck between the borders with a small baby and desperately wants to be reunited with her husband. I really hope that somehow she can be helped and the family is not forced to be in this terrible situation much longer.

Irina Kolesnikova in the refugee camp in Tabanovce Copyright: Stefan Rosseau, Press Association

Kolesnikova was moved by the story of a woman stuck between the borders with a small baby who desperately wants to be reunited with her husband

I also want to show that these refugees are human beings just like us. Anyone of us could be in the same situation. You could be a teacher, a mechanic or a nurse and your life is suddenly turned upside-down. We must not forget that.

Irina Kolesnikova is a renowned Russian ballet dancer. She graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in 1998 and has since been part of the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre of Konstantin Tachkin. She has performed internationally, playing the title role in "Giselle," and Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake." Other famous roles include Princess Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty" and Masha in "The Nutcracker."

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