Ballet star calls for more protection of refugee children and announces artistic project with Oxfam

Published: 20th April 2016

Global ballet star Irina Kolesnikova is swapping her dancing shoes to join some of the 3000 or more refugees now stranded after the closure of the so-called “Western Balkans Route”. Irina is using her trip to two refugee reception centers on the Macedonian-Serbian border to raise awareness for the situation of vulnerable people – nearly half of those in camp being children.

Irina, with the support of international aid agency Oxfam, aims to show how art can respond to one of Europe’s most urgent crises. Irina and her choreographer at the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre hope to draw on their experience to create a new ballet of 'Carmen' set in a refugee center.

Irina said: “The Carmen story speaks to timeless themes of hope and despair, suffering and a thirst for a better life. The plight of the refugees is a very urgent expression of these concerns. As a mother of a small child myself, I realize how important it is to see beyond the politics to the beating human heart. If my dance can help raise more awareness, I am happy, for surely every little contribution has value.”

Irina is visiting Preševo in Serbia and Tabanovce in Macedonia. Both were set up as temporary transit centers but have seen resident populations rise after border closures. Out of the hundreds of people who live in Tabanovce, around half are children, most under the age of five. Many are thought to be unaccompanied and highly vulnerable to smugglers.

Irina will see how Oxfam is working to provide refugees with hygiene kits, protection services and other aid. In Belgrade she will see how the city is processing refugees and hear their stories.  At the Serbian capital’s asylum centers, Irina will meet with refugees who have made the long and treacherous crossing to Belgrade, often suffering abuse and persecution and who now face an uncertain future.

Irina will be appealing to the governments of the region to do all they can to protect vulnerable children. She joins Oxfam in calling for an end to discriminatory measures adopted by many countries to deter vulnerable people from seeking safety.  

Oxfam’s Regional Humanitarian Director, Vincent Koch, said: “Irina and the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre are deeply committed to use their special artistic expertise to highlight one of world’s most pressing human crises and its root causes of inequality and violence. We hope this unique collaboration might help to reach new audiences, including in South-Eastern Europe and Russia, and also support the work that Oxfam is doing with our partners on the ground.”

The ballet 'Her Name Was Carmen' will run at London’s Coliseum from 25th-28th August before going on a world tour. A pound from every ticket sold will go to support Oxfam’s work in the region.

Irina’s visit is being facilitated by Oxfam’s local partners: in Tabanovce, the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) and Open Gate (La Strada); in Preševo ATINA and in Belgrade the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights.

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Notes to editors

For more information about Irina and 'Her name was Carmen', please visit:

Contact information

For interviews with Irina, please contact: / +44 7511 403 547 

For interviews with Oxfam staff, please contact: | +44 7471 142 974

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.