Amidst war weariness in the second full year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukrainians are finding creative ways to get donations.

It comes at a time where most Ukrainians aren’t flush with cash.

According to Prime Minister Denys Schmygal in an interview with New Voice of Ukraine (NV), Ukraine lost 35 percent of its GDP just in the first few weeks of the war.

One of the most popular charities, Come Back Alive – which helps the Ukrainian military – reports that from March 1 to Dec.1, there was approximately Hr. 4.6 billion ($125,460,000) in donations. In the same period from March 1 to Dec.1 this year, donations shrunk to about Hr.3 billion ($81,800).

But the need has not lessened. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the total amount of donations for the needs of the Armed Forces and support of humanitarian initiatives has reached almost Hr.100 billion ($2.7 billion), NV reported.

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Against this backdrop, new creative donation initiatives and inspiring stories have emerged, showcasing Ukrainian ingenuity and resilience.

Record-breaking donations: Hr.600 Million ($16.4 million) raised in just three days

On June 2022, Ukrainian TV presenter Serhiy Prytula’s foundation launched what became the largest one-time fundraisers to date, with popular mil blogger Ihor Lachenkov – who runs the Telegram channel “Lachen writes” – to raise money for three of the Turkish-made Bayrakter drones.

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Serhiy Prytula with Bayrakter drones. PHOTO: prytulafoundation.org

Some of the innovative ways that people raised money for this particular project, included schoolchildren from Lutsk picking and selling cherries for them, on Twitter, people creating fake links to Onlyfans (a social network with candid content) to collect donations for them, and cafes offering dishes and drinks with the name “Bayrakter” to raise money for them, the foundation says.

Other well-known Ukrainians got involved, including Svyatoslav Vakarchuk – the lead vocalist of the Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy, TV presenter Oleksandr Pedan, and footballer Oleksandr Zinchenko.

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“The People’s Bayraktar project has turned into a nationwide flash mob,” the site writes.

While the goal was to raise Hr.500 million ($13.7 million) within one week, Ukrainians donated Hr.600 million ($16.4 million) in three days, enough to cover the cost of four drones.

This impressed Baykar, prompting them to send the drones for free: “Baykar will send three UAVs to the Ukrainian front line for free. We are touched by such solidarity and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.”

The funds raised were eventually used to purchase the Finnish-made ICEYE satellite.

Taking support to new heights: Ukrainians hike for the military

Ukrainians embarked on long journeys to raise funds for the Armed Forces. While the idea wasn’t new, amidst the full-scale Russian invasion, it gained renewed popularity.

Vladyslav Pastushenko, a 24-year-old teacher, hiked 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Kyiv to Ukraine’s highest mountain, Hoverla, in 20 days, Radio Liberty reported. Throughout this challenging expedition, he carried the Ukrainian flag, which he unfurled at the summit of Hoverla. The flag was adorned with the names of people who made the most significant donations to Vladyslav. He managed to gather Hur.260,000 hryvnias ($7,000), which went towards buying a car for the Ukrainian army.

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Kharkiv actor Mykola Mikhaylchenko walked 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from Lviv to Kharkiv, raising Hr.500,000 ($13,700) in support of the Ukrainian volunteer medical battalion “Hospitallers.”

Mikhaylchenko’s theater closed on the day of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Feb. 24, 2022, prompting him to volunteer. Mikhaylchenko said that most of the donations he raised came from people on social media, as he documented his journey on Instagram and Twitter. Also, many folks, seeing Mikhaylchenko walking along the road, stopped to offer him a lift and ended up donating to his fundraiser.

Ukrainian comedian Mark Kutsevalov has already organized three charitable treks. The walks were also reality shows, as Kutsevalov shared every detail of his routes on social media.

During the first expedition in August 2022, he raised Hr.2,850,000 ($77,900),  walking from Chernomorsk in the Odesa region to the Carpathians, and reaching the summit of Mount Hoverla. With the funds collected, he purchased three ambulances and an off-road vehicle for the military.

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In December of the same year, Kutsevalov embarked on his second expedition from Kyiv to Kherson. The aim was to raise Hr.2 million ($54,700) for Starlink satellite systems for the hottest areas of the war in the city of Kherson, but he exceeded the goal, collecting nearly Hr. 2.5 million ($68,000).

On Dec 5, the comedian finished his third expedition which he’d started on Oct. 1, with the goal of raising Hr.40 million ($1.1 million) and was able to purchase a demining vehicle and transport truck.

The journey commenced from what is, by some estimations, the geographical center of Europe – the village of Dilove in the Rakhiv district of the Zakarpattia region, and concluded at the geographical center of Ukraine - the village of Maryanivka in the Cherkasy region.

The Ukrainian New York Marathon

On Nov. 5, 2023, the day of the start of the famous New York Marathon, another significant race started – also in New York – only this one in New York, Ukraine, a small town in the Donetsk region, just a kilometer away from the front line.

This marathon, which could be run remotely from anywhere, had more than 35,500 participants from 57 countries, the organizer, private Ukrainian postal and courier company Nova Poshta wrote.

The “Marathon No One Wants to Run” was created in 2021, to remind people of the war in Ukraine, which had actually started in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in the Donbas region.

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This year, one of the participants in the race was the renowned Ukrainian architect, Slava Balbek.

Balbek, together with a comrade, ran 42.2 km across the Donbas despite the ongoing war – going from New York to Kostiantynivka. Within a few days of running, they raised Hr.1.5 million ($41,0000) for FPV (first-person view) drones and protective equipment for friends on the front lines.

Laughing in the face of adversity

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has failed to ruin Ukrainians' sense of humor.

Comedian Anton Tymoshenko has packed comedy halls by the thousands and donated money from the shows to Ukraine’s armed forces, Forbes wrote.

In 2022, he was included in the Ukrainian edition of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list, featuring young Ukrainians under 30 who’ve made an impact on the country and the world.

Through his comedy tour, Timoshenko has so-far raised Hr.4.6 million ($125,383) for the Ukrainian military.

“If they would have told me ten years ago that they would buy armored personnel carriers from my standups,” Timoshenko wrote on Instagram.

Another Ukrainian comedian, Vasiliy Baydak, raised Hr.5 million ($136,300) in less than a day during one of his numerous fundraising drives.

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The comedian creates video covers of well-known songs by Ukrainian and international singers, altering the lyrics to include a call for donations to support the Ukrainian army.

One of his recent covers featured a video accompanied by a military orchestra for the song “He's Waiting for Her” by Ukrainian singer Alexander Ponomarev, renamed “He's Waiting for Donations.”

Baydak also covered “Just the Two of Us” by Bill Withers and Grover Washington Jr., altering it to “Just Dump the Donuts” with the appeal to “just give a donation.”

Baydak launched a comedy series titled “Let's Gather” on YouTube, offering advice on how to fundraise.

In September 2023, a new boy band named “Badstreet Boys” emerged on the Ukrainian scene. While the iconic Backstreet Boys contemplate a potential reunion, Ukrainian comedians took the initiative, covering their hit “I Want It That Way” and filming a video in an interior remarkably similar to the original.

The group included the previously mentioned Baydak and Timoshenko, along with comedians Oleg Svyshch, Bayka, Slava Kedr, and singer Volodymyr Dantes.

“The band from your childhood has been reborn to impress everyone with their vocals and style,” the creators announced.

The project, entitled “Gathering Love for 5 Million,” aimed to raise precisely that amount of money.

However, within 12 hours, it raised not Hur.5 million ($137,000) but Hur.7 million ($191,300) for drones.

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