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Come Back Alive: How does Ukraine’s largest charity foundation work

Since 2014, the Come Back Alive Foundation, dedicated to competent assistance to the Army, has raised more than 11 billion hryvnias, or about 341 million dollars. Today, we remain the largest non-governmental charitable organization providing aid to the Ukrainian Defense Forces. Let’s examine how we have achieved that.

By Oleh Karpenko, Deputy Director of the Come Back Alive Foundation

Oleh Karpenko.
Photo: Come Back Alive Foundation

The Foundation was established 10 years ago, in 2014, when Russia started its war against Ukraine. Since then, we have taken pride in our comprehensive, competent, and consistent approach. Our actions begin with a detailed analysis of the Defense Forces’ needs, which is informed by military leadership and frontline reports. We then develop projects based on the best cost-benefit ratio.

In March 2022, Come Back Alive was licensed to purchase military and dual-use goods, including lethal weapons, internationally—setting a new standard for charitable organizations in Ukraine. 

This has enabled us to implement projects like the “LONG ARMS OF TERRITORIAL DEFENSE (TDF)” initiative. All Territorial Defense Forces brigades received reconnaissance and strike systems with 120-mm mortars worth over 338 million hryvnias. Previously equipped with 60- and 82-mm mortars, TDF now possess weaponry capable of shooting twice as far, up to 7 km, using three to four times more powerful ammunition. We have not only enhanced the firepower of each of the 31 brigades of the TDF and provided these batteries with means of destruction and logistics but also created an entire ecosystem of reconnaissance, identification, targeting, correction, and confirmation.

We prioritize high-tech and efficiency. Advanced technologies, including vehicles, communications equipment, aerial reconnaissance, demining, power supply, attack drones, and optics, save many lives on the battlefield. By focusing on requests from units of at least battalion size, we ensure the most effective use of resources.

Photo: Come Back Alive Foundation

The Foundation’s instructors in UAVs, sniping, tactical medicine, engineering, and digital artillery have prepared more than 10,000 skilled military specialists. Only last year, we trained 556 marksmen or infantry snipers and provided them with optical or thermal sights. More than 1,600 mortar operators, grenade launchers, and tankers were taught to shoot aptly from closed firing positions to increase the safety of the people and the efficient use of ammunition on the battlefield.

We are not only directly training Ukrainian defenders. Our priority is to build the Armed Forces’ training capabilities. Through our recent project, “Holding You!” we rolled out 27 tactical medicine classes and supplied training equipment to ten Ukrainian Defense Forces training centers. By February 2024, over 120,000 service members had been trained in tactical medicine at these centers. We are currently assisting in setting up the Yatagan Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training School in the Ukrainian Ground Forces.

We enroot our activities in transparency and political non-involvement. We have established a transparent public reporting system on our website where any benefactor can track how their contributions are used.

Adherence to these principles has earned us public trust. Consequently, large companies, hundreds of thousands of private individuals, and various public, religious, and other organizations contribute to our Foundation.

Supporting the Defense Forces as a social standard

Supporting the Defense Forces has become a social standard in Ukraine since the Revolution of Dignity and the onset of Russia’s war against Ukraine in 2014. A significant part of Ukrainians regularly donate, with military needs being a crucial charity item. Given the ongoing aggressive war, this support is vital for upholding our values, democracy, freedom, and, most importantly, survival.

According to a 2024 Deloitte survey, 92% of Ukrainians contribute to supporting the Armed Forces or those affected by the war, with 33% donating regularly.

“Come Back Alive” takes pride in consistently raising substantial funds. Since May 2022, we have raised around 300 million hryvnias per month. In 2023, monthly contributions reached 377 million hryvnias. Unfortunately, this year, donations have declined, particularly in the first quarter, where we raised less than UAH 200 million in January and February. However, the situation improved in March, and we hope to improve our performance throughout the year.

Photo: Come Back Alive Foundation

Factors impacting our fundraisers range from competition among charities to international aid and situations on the battlefield.

Larger charities targeting similar donor demographics sometimes divert benefactors to other projects. Additionally, smaller charities are also very active, drawing contributions from donors. Many of our donors themselves are enlisted and raising funds to address immediate unit needs. Economic downturns also impact contributions.

International support boosts the willingness to donate among the public. The more actively Western countries support Ukraine, the more hopeful and generous we become, while news of suspension or reduction in international aid is a demotivating factor.

Battlefield developments also directly influence donations. Tactical gains quickly translate into increased revenues, and public outrage over air raids typically transforms into generous donations. On the other hand, corruption and political scandals may significantly dampen morale and contributions.

Surprisingly, humanitarian projects win the active support of businesses, especially those from abroad, compared to weaponry-related initiatives. However, with our international procurement license, we can execute arms-related projects.

It is worth mentioning that unique projects garner more attention and funding. Items like drones or thermal imagers have lost appeal, prompting us to organize raffles and shows to raise funds for familiar items. This trend requires special attention to ensure steadfast support for the Defense Forces. 

Supporting the Army should become a routine, not a one-time emotional response.

Who donates to the Come Back Alive Foundation

Individuals contribute 70% of all donations, while organizations contribute 30%. 

Even elderly individuals with modest pensions contribute, while school children forego graduation parties to support the Army. Some donors, despite being ripped off by Russians, still contribute. One such example is Max Ishchenko, founder of and, esteemed IT projects in Ukraine. Hailing from Donetsk, he fled during the 2014 occupation and has been supporting the Foundation for a decade. Businesses relocated from temporarily occupied territories to Ukraine also support us in aiding the Armed Forces.

Photo: Come Back Alive Foundation

85% of our donations come from Ukrainians residing in Ukraine, 10% from Ukrainians abroad, and 5% from foreigners.

Last year, foreign donations decreased. Foreigners were particularly supportive in 2022 when Ukraine was in the global spotlight. We are grateful for over 170,000 transfers in various currencies totaling more than 51 million dollars from people worldwide. This support has enabled us to provide competent assistance to the army, ultimately saving Ukrainian lives with advanced technology solutions.