Editing Manager and Documentary Photographer Maria Muravieva / The Agency for Social Information, Russia is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the ‘Angora Rabbits Project‘. To see Maria’s body of work, click on any image.
Life saving rabbits
From marketing to farming, Lada Kirisenko made a tough switch. Now she breeds Angora rabbits on her own farm near Moscow. Their wool is used to make warm clothes for premature babies.
Angora wool is considered to be the warmest, and the clothes from this wool is light and nice-looking. The farm emits live broadcasts on Instagram and has open days. Besides knitters from different places assemble every month on the farm to which to knit caps and little boots for prematurely born babies who need warmth to survive. This looks a nice story, however, breeding rabbits in Russia turned out to be a difficult task.
Angora rabbits, whose wool is highly valued across the world, ended up in Europe after originating in Turkey. (“Angora” comes from the name of the city of Ankara). These rabbits are not supposed for food at all; they are only used for their fur. One rabbit produces as much wool each year as a sheep and weighs only 11 pounds instead of 132 for the sheep. Historical fact: during the Second World War Angora rabbits were bred in Nazi concentration camps. In the recently discovered country house of Heinrich Himmler they found an album with photographs that explained how and why in the Third Reich the idea arose to clothe the army in the fluff of Angola rabbits and how many socks, mittens and underpants for the army were made from extremely warm rabbit fluff.
In the middle of the 20th century, Angora rabbits were imported to China. By 2014 China accounted for around 95% of the world’s Angola rabbit stock. Raw wool, yarn and wool knitwear from China were actively bought all over the world.
The market dramatically collapsed in 2014 when the animal rights organization Peta published a video on YouTube showing how Angora rabbit wool is collected, namely manually torn by nude hands causing rabbits to bleed and cry out in pain. Subsequently top 100 global brands declared their fundamental refusal to purchase Angora wool products. After people stopped buying Angora wool, 55 million Angora rabbits were killed out of economy.
Not a single rabbit was hurt
It is always hard to start up something especially in Russia. But Lada Kirisenko is absolutely sure that a historic moment has come to develop Angora wool industry here and become a niche world leader. Cold climate countries still need warm clothes, and people only need to be convinced that Angora rabbits are a solution, if they were handled humanely.
The motto of the entrepreneur sounds like in a Hollywood movie: “Not a single rabbit was hurt”. And indeed, all her rabbits are sound and happy: how could you eat friends?! Rabbits perform an important mission: they help to warm up babies. Besides, continues Lada, – spinning is one of the oldest women’s occupations: even the fate of the ancient Greeks was spun by the Parks. Promotion of the craft is another important project objective.
To ensure the farm’s life, Lada used for some time during winter tome to sell herself rabbit-wool items at the exhibitions and markets around Moscow, where she met different people and told them about her business.
“After five years of systematic efforts to popularize rabbit breeding and crafts in our country, I see that people have believed in me, – says the entrepreneur. – They believed that rabbits are not tortured. They just need to be well fed, kept clean and tidy, made haircut regularly – once every four months. Several problems will be solved at once: not only environmentally friendly clothes for children and adults are produced, but also with minimal waste. The rabbit fluff is very warm, and the things knot from rabbit wool can completely replace the outer clothing, and will be worn for a long time. When they fail, they will easily decay and turn into biowaste, without causing the slightest damage to the nature”.
According to the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, in 2018 99 thousand premature babies were born in Russia, which makes 6% of the total number of births. The percentage from year to year keeps approximately the same values (about 6% +/-). Modern technologies make it possible to take care of them, but this has not always been the case.
On August 9, 1963, three weeks ahead of schedule, the son of US President Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born. He lived 39 hours and died of respiratory failure. A research program was launched in America: scientists began developing methods for nursing premature babies. To do this, it was necessary to create conditions for them close to those in the womb. It turned out that the key moment is the heat.
“In 2015 I found out about medical doctors who go to battle every day for the lives of infants, – says Kirisenko. – I thought about it and I asked the needlewomen who knit things for the babies from the perinatal center to introduce me to the doctors. I wanted to understand how you can take care every day of a 500-gram baby who weighs like a kitten? And still not die from a broken heart. How can you go to such a job every day? Sometimes when I can’t nurse out a 11 pound rabbit, I cry and sob”.
It is very warm in the intensive care unit of the Zelenograd perinatal center: plus 80°F. But this is not enough. All the children wear warm hats, blouses and socks.
The working day here begins at 06.30 and it never ends: there is a 24-hour post. There are no random people here. “Those who come by chance do not linger for a long time, – says obstetrician Mikhail Tsurtsumia MD. – If your thoughts are somewhere else, you won’t be able to work”.
According to the doctor, the center is working at about 30% of its capacity. Over time, says Tsurtsumia, it will be “the epicenter of women’s health”.
– Here we hang pictures of our babies – those who let us expose them. And here there will be plaster handprints. The hands of the people who have touched these children – midwives, neonatologists, nurses …
– But these are hundreds of hands?
– Why not? The staff lives by this, works with children at night, thinks about them coming here and leaving.
Lada Kirisenko is confident that down-breeding rabbits has future. “28 loops” clubs are operating throughout the country. Women volunteers knit hats, socks and toy-octopuses, which help a baby to calm down and fall asleep. In more than 40 regions of Russia on homestead farms, and even in urban apartments today live sybaritic rabbits – the descendants of the first settlers of Lada’s farm.
Right to a miracle
Today a premature baby can survive, starting with about 1,1 lbs or less. Some children subsequently have problems with the lungs, vision, and other pathologies. But basically, like all children, they go to school, read poetry from the stage, sing and dance. Each story is unique.
Perinatology has now become one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. According to the results of the development program of perinatal centers in the Russian Federation in 2013-2016, 32 perinatal centers were built in 30 regions. The program was designed to ensure the availability and quality of medical care for mothers and children, to reduce maternal and infant mortality.
“The Right to a Miracle” charity foundation helps families to go the hard way of nursing and rehabilitating premature babies. The foundation was created in 2015 by Natalia Zotkina, who herself had an experience of giving birth to a premature baby. She understands the difficulties faced by mother and the entire family of the premature baby.
The equipment in children’s intensive care is expensive. The cuvez alone costs more than 3-4 million rubles (62,5 000$), and even more. At the same time they need to be changed periodically. Children need oxygen concentrators that are not allowed to go home with them, as this is not covered by insurance. You can only buy them, but not everyone has such an opportunity. The foundation helps to raise money for oxygen concentrators so that the family could safely return home.
“The Right to a Miracle” charity foundation provides comprehensive information and psychological assistance all over Russia. Today families in 20 regions receive assistance under the “Miracle Children” program. All without exception can use the hotline for supporting families with premature children. The foundation has helped more than 40 thousand people so far.
“Around this topic is always a good idea to shake a pear-tree, – notes Lada Kirisenko. – Here is the solution to the demographic problem: in such a way we easily increase the birth rate. This is the way to humanize the whole society as a whole. It is necessary to motivate and charge compatriots with optimism in every way”.
All images and text © The Agency for Social Information, Russia
This article was previously published in Russia by Agency of Social Information (ASI) in Russian as “Кролики, спасающие жизнь”
By Maria Muravieva
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