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"Come Back Alive" raises over UAH 9 billion. How the team turns it into help for the army

From 24 February 2022 to mid-October 2023, more than UAH 9 billion was donated to the Come Back Alive Foundation for Competent Assistance to the Army to help the Ukrainian Defence Forces. In total, the organisation received 2,654,568 donations during this period. The average donation amount is UAH 3,393.

The Come Back Alive Foundation has purchased the following items for the army since 24 February 2022:

  • 1460 machine guns of 7.62 mm caliber
  • 286 mortars of 120 mm caliber
  • 200 automatic machine guns of 12.7 mm caliber
  • 300 mortars of 82 mm caliber
  • 1000 hand-held grenade launchers
  • 1186 new cars
  • 11 armored vehicles
  • 10 maintenance workshops
  • 1 Bayraktar TB2 strike unmanned aerial complex
  • 26 “Leleka 100” unmanned aerial systems as part of 72 UAVs
  • 25 “Shark” unmanned aerial system as part of 75 UAVs
  • 11 PD-2 reconnaissance systems
  • 8110 copters
  • 10000 FPV-drones with ammunition
  • 36720 walkie-talkies
  • 14907 tablets
  • 7633 thermal imaging and night optics units
  • 1866 optical sights

From February to May this year, the Foundation spent more than UAH 2 billion to prepare the Defense Forces for the summer offensive campaign. In 2023, our instructors have already trained more than 1,500 military personnel in the area of “Shooting from closed firing positions using the ARMOR graphical calculation complex”. Eight tactical medicine training complexes have been deployed at training grounds of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. About 300 soldiers were trained and upgraded in mine safety. 600 marksmen are being trained as part of the Zvirolovy (Beastmen) project.

More than 7,900 people have completed online intensive training courses for UAV operators, launched last year by the Foundation’s aerial reconnaissance specialists on the Prometheus platform. Our analysts presented four important studies in the field of security and defense, including the experience of using the Territorial Defense Forces and Ukraine’s membership in NATO as the only effective guarantee of security. And this is an incomplete list of the results of the “Come Back Alive” project.

Since February 2022, our team has grown from three dozen people to a hundred. The average age of our employees is 36 years old. 60 percent are men and 40 percent are women. We asked our colleagues, who usually stay behind the scenes, about their work, achievements, and motivation.

Andrii Nahornyi, Head of the Military Department, has been working at the Foundation since February 24, 2022, and fought in Donbas in 2015-2017 as part of the 501st Separate Marine Battalion: 

– The Foundation is formed by people for whom it is not only a job but also a lifestyle,” says Andriy. “I am most motivated by the military’s feedback on the assistance they have received, when they tell us how much it has helped them. 

The number of requests for help has not decreased compared to last year, as well as the pace of work of our managers. However, we are now working more systematically and comprehensively than in the first months of the new stage of russian aggression. 

In October alone, my four colleagues and I traveled almost 18,500 kilometers on business trips to hold dozens of meetings with the military and deliver aid. As a result, over 70 units received the equipment they needed within a month. And this is only the so-called flow, which does not include most of the deliveries under the Foundation’s projects or specific highly specialized equipment, such as sniper equipment.

Lesia Melnyk, Director of the Financial Department, has been with the Come Back Alive project since January 2021:

– Patrons have donated more than UAH 9 billion to the Foundation to help the army, which is a great achievement and an indicator of the high level of trust in the organization in society. The first billion came in just five days after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Now we raise this amount in an average of three months. 

In three days in August, we raised UAH 235 million for 10,000 FPV drones and ammunition. It was awesome

My profession is related to numbers, but working with bank statements, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the comments of our patrons. For example, when elderly people donate a few dozen hryvnias and apologize that it’s not enough because they give the last of their money. There are fewer such emotional comments now compared to February-May 2022. But Ukrainians continue to support the army, and the dynamics of the fundraising is good. Donations increase when, unfortunately, major tragedies, massive shelling, etc. occur. Also, bright projects, such as The Unity Operation, encourage people to donate. In three days in August, our partners together raised UAH 235 million for 10,000 FPV drones and ammunition. It was awesome.

What makes the Foundation stand out is the availability of publicly available online reporting on our website. Thanks to this format, everyone who has entrusted us with their money can see their donations and purchases – they can see where every penny they raise goes. This not only increases the trust in the organization as a whole, but also serves as a kind of page in the history of our victory, which is written by every citizen of Ukraine.

Anastasiia Shvedska, warehouse operations manager, has been with the Foundation since 2016.

– Until February 2022, I worked alone in the warehouse. It was located in a room shared with an accountant and a financial director. Occasionally, the military would come to the office to pick up property themselves. Mostly, our managers or instructors went to the east of the country, sent me a list of what each unit needed, and I collected the assets and prepared the acceptance certificates. Then they would deliver the aid.

Today, the Foundation’s warehouse team consists of seven people, including two drivers and an engraver who marks almost everything the Foundation sends to the army with the labels “Come back alive” and “No sale allowed.”

Each radio, thermal imager or drone that the Foundation has handed over to the army over the past 9 years means potentially and literally saved lives of the military. This is the organization’s greatest achievement and is a daily motivation for me.

Anatoliy Gayevsky, a videographer, has been a volunteer with the Come Back Alive project since 2017: 

– On February 24, 2022, I came to the Foundation with a desire to do the maximum I could. Then we decided to evacuate part of the team to the west of Ukraine and needed a driver. We were moving along the capital’s Kiltseva (Circular) highway, and the artillerymen of the 72nd Brigade were unloading self-propelled artillery systems. I wrote to “Lefty” (Andriy Verkhoglyad, battalion commander of the 72nd Brigade, killed in June 2022 in Donetsk region – ed.) He replied: everything will be fine, the russians will not get Kyiv. I realized that there would be a battle for the capital. I had hope. 

During the six months of the new stage of the invasion, I did not film the war much, working more as a driver and military manager. Once, in the first weeks, I was driving a bus from a Polish farmer to Berdychiv for the Special Forces. And on the way back, I had to take a paratrooper’s family out of Zhytomyr-a woman and two children. They lived in a military town, and that morning the russians shelled it. The family left Donetsk in 2014, but the war caught up with them again. The very young boy was not naughty all the way, he was silent, but it was clear that he understood everything. At that moment, I realized that I would never forgive the russians. 

In March, together with “Hlib”, the head of the UAV instructor department, we traveled to Odesa, where we organized the Foundation’s southern office hub. We worked as managers, found out the needs of the units, delivered equipment, and helped to establish interaction between the units in the south of the country. The biggest request was for communication means. The troops critically lacked artillery. We got acquainted with the tankers of the 59th Separate Mechanized Brigade. The guys could not work with direct fire because of the enemy’s heavy presence of ATGMs and other means. Then our instructors Andriy Moruga and Vadym Mordanov came to them. They taught them how to shoot from closed firing positions over 10 kilometers away. Thus, the tank battalion was able to work almost like artillery. 

I saw the ships and almost cried with joy. I thought we no longer had a navy

The best day of 2022 for me was April 14, when the Moskva missile cruiser was sunk. Before that, I met our sailors. Until then, I thought that we no longer had a navy, because the ratio of forces was “one hundred to one.” I remember pulling into the bay and seeing the ships of the Ukrainian Navy – I almost cried with joy. The Foundation helped one of the divisions to rebuild its headquarters because a missile had hit theirs. We gave them printers, provided them with the Internet, shut down digital communication, etc. 

Once, the crew of a landing boat asked for a generator because the regular one was loud. This boat went to important places at night and dropped off people who made a heroic story. The generator they needed could hardly fit into the van. It was so heavy that it was hard to drive on the road. The captain of the boat was happy to receive the help, like a child, and hugged me. Then I realized as never before: without the Foundation, everything would have been much worse.

 “Come Back Alive” is a link between society and the army that does its job well. The best it can. The organization not only withstood the chaos of the beginning of a new stage of the war last year, but also grew tremendously, preserving its rules and values. The Foundation does not participate in political games. People know that we do not steal money and know how to use it effectively. And in our work, we think further than others. 

A good example of the Foundation’s competence is the Prytsilno (“Aimed”) project. The cost of the project is small in terms of the scale of the war and the organization’s resources. But to implement it, it was necessary to have a specialist, Andriy Moruga, who could design a sight that would allow firing a grenade launcher from closed firing positions, and to implement its production. This device is a huge advantage for the unit, as the enemy cannot calculate where our guys are, and most importantly, the device increases the range of fire. 

Or the ” Pack the Sky – Upgrade Air Defense” project. I don’t believe that anyone will ever figure out how to invest 330 million hryvnias in air defense with greater efficiency. 

Last summer I returned to my work as a videographer. Each time, the challenge is to tell people how their help works in an understandable way. Just think about it: In 2022, the Foundation covered the basic need for communication equipment for all brigades on the Eastern Front! This gave our army one of the key advantages against the Russians. How to show it?

Sofia Yurchenko, information line operator since April 2023:

– Every month we receive about 400 calls and a lot of letters. About a hundred are requests for assistance from the military. We also get calls from potential suppliers and partners. Or just people who want to support the army through the Foundation. For example, in October, we sent a sight and a starlink to the army through the information line.

I like the fact that the Foundation is constantly developing. This is achieved thanks to the work of the entire team, which is constantly adjusting, streamlining and modernizing processes within. It is inspiring when we manage to help with the requests I pass on. The most distressing thing is that it is not always possible. It hurts when the military tell us about their losses.

Ruslan Shpakovych, a sniping instructor at the Come Back Alive Foundation since 2017:

– The incredibly large number of donors in February last year was a challenge for the Foundation. However, in the end, the organization has only gotten stronger and remains a leader among those who help the Armed Forces. “We had a small group of staff, but we managed thanks to the team. We had developed logistics, contacts, and experience. We knew what to do. The Foundation is like a family. Mutual assistance and team spirit helped us survive. Everyone took a part of the work and everything worked effectively. 

After February 24, 2022, my work has not changed, but the volume has increased significantly. In 2017-2018, I had a few dozen departments, with which I took turns training for a week or two. Now there are several hundred of them. We don’t do much training, we don’t have enough time. First of all, we try to at least provide snipers with whatever we can. We are also training marksmen – medium-range shooters. We are training 600 such fighters for ten combat brigades.

Sniping saves lives

Until February 24, snipers accounted for up to half of the enemies eliminated at the front. Now UAVs and artillery have come to the fore, adjusting fire and defeating a convoy of vehicles. Sniping doesn’t produce the same result, but it does save lives. For example, in Bakhmut, a sniper at a high altitude saw russians approaching the position. He covered the guys, fired his entire ammunition and our men survived. I am sure that soon the enemy will freeze the front line and long-range sniping will again play a key role.

Training a specialist sniper takes two years of continuous work. It is not difficult to teach people this if they really want to. I have been shooting for 41 years. In fact, sniping is boring. Only in movies and videos everything is fast, because you can see only the final part – the shot. But preparing for it takes a long time. Sometimes you have to wait for the target for three or four days.

Olha Husakova, a specialist in the veterans’ department of the Come Back Alive organization since August 2023:

– Since 2019, the Come Back Alive team has been involved in organizing the participation of the Ukrainian national team in the Invictus Games international competition. Last spring, we participated in it against all odds. This year’s competition has also become one of the achievements of our veterans’ department. In Düsseldorf in September, the team performed well. All participants enjoyed the competition and returned inspired. Our team was actively involved in the process of selecting, training and supporting the team.

It is extremely motivating to communicate with guys and girls at veteran competitions and rehabilitation centers. As part of the Sports Ambassadors project, we visited 10 such centers and hospitals, where we told veterans and military personnel about adaptive sports. We managed to motivate them to challenge themselves in them. It’s incredible to see a person get on a handbike for the first time or try to play basketball and enjoy the process. At these moments, I realized that my work is valuable. 

“Come Back Alive” has been helping the army since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2014. Since then and until February 24, 2022, patrons have donated more than UAH 281.6 million to the Foundation for the needs of the army. In August of this year, “Come Back Alive” announced that it had raised over UAH 8 billion.

The Foundation does not finance its own administrative expenses from the funds received from patrons to help the army. Those wishing to support the organization’s team can donate to a separate account.

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