When planning the photoshoot for our Defender Collection, we didn’t want to select just regular models. Our goal was to find people who represent the values and vision that inspired us to make this line in the first place. All our models – Nazar, Ihor, and Dasha – have each made a significant contribution to the freedom and defense of Ukraine. It’s our honor to highlight their personal stories as part of the Defender campaign. In this article, we introduce you to Dasha Chervona, a volunteer and the co-founder of the Tylovyky fundraising initiative.
Before the full-scale invasion, Dasha worked as a retoucher for eight years and enjoyed the meditative nature of the job. In 2021, she started thinking about a career change, wishing to interact more with people and work collaboratively in a team setting. Reflecting on that time, Dasha says she achieved what she desired, albeit in unfortunate circumstances. Today, together with the team of 2 other women, Dasha runs one of the biggest public fundraising initiatives in Ukraine called Tylovyky. Since the summer of 2023, they managed to raise over 35 MLN hryvnia (approximately $1 MNL) for the Azov Brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine.
When russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine, Dasha evacuated from Kyiv to Shepetivka, a town in the Western part of the country. She stayed there for 3 weeks, helping to weave camouflage nets for the defenders, yet she felt that help wasn’t essential. Upon returning to Kyiv in the Spring of 2022, she started helping friends who had a café where they cooked for hospitals and the military. Dasha recounts the toll that following the events at Azovstal Iron and Steel Works took on her well-being. Stress triggered diffuse alopecia, leading to hair loss. Despite facing chronic stress, she remained committed to staying informed about the situation. The connection to her people and land fueled her determination, although immersing herself in the daunting info cycle was emotionally challenging.
Camouflage net weaving at a local school in the first weeks of the full-scale invasion.
At the same time, Dasha was getting more active on social media, sharing fundraisers and connecting volunteers with people in need. She noticed that simple reposts weren’t working – she had to have a creative approach to capture people’s attention.
— I called it “military SMM”. I tried to leave a personal mark on every post I was sharing. It would take me four hours to write descriptions for four reposts. But I realized that was my goal: to share information and draw attention [to russian crimes and fundraising campaigns and initiatives], – Dasha shares.
Dasha’s first personal fundraiser was spontaneous. Learning about the needs of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade in Bakhmut, she impulsively suggested, “Why don’t we raise a million [hryvnia] and buy a tank?” Although told it wasn't feasible, she focused on providing heaters and armored vests, naming the fundraiser “For Heat and Armor.” Due to Instagram's ban on the word “Azov” at the time, Dasha organized the fundraiser on her account without mentioning the name of the official foundation of the brigade, “Azov One”. Despite these challenges, Dasha’s audience proved extremely loyal and engaged – raising the necessary funds within a remarkable 24 hours.
Dasha Chervona with Gandalf, an Azov officer, who survived 120 days in russian captivity.
The idea of creating a public fundraising campaign came to Dasha a year later, in the summer of 2023. After discussing with friends their fears and hesitations regarding starting their fundraisers for the military, she learned that most of them were unsure how to design exciting visuals and write compelling text. Recognizing an opportunity, Dasha realized that creating easily shareable visuals and text templates for an online fundraiser would be straightforward, allowing numerous participants to distribute them with minimal effort. The Tylovyky fundraising campaign quickly gained viral popularity in Ukraine.
— I thought it should be something like an achievement badge in video games, something that would signal to other people: “Look, I’m a volunteer”. I thought it would be a positive kind of an ego boost. This has made that fundraising format viral, – Dasha says.
The individual fundraising cards of the Tylovyky volunteers.
Anticipating a slow process of finding participants for their fundraiser, Dasha and her team planned to ask friends for support, expecting it to take at least a month. Anxious that no one would join initially, she reached out to her retouching students, asking for their support in liking her post. Contrary to expectations, within just an hour of posting about the Tylovyky (ukr. – those in the rear) fundraiser, they received hundreds of comments, exceeding their projections. The rapid response left Dasha feeling euphoric, experiencing a powerful unity among the participants.
The Tylovyky fundraiser transformed the public approach to crowdfunding military campaigns in Ukraine. Now, many organizations and individual volunteers follow a group fundraising format, where individual participants collect donations from their networks and put everything in one pool in the end. While lots of people are talking about the war fatigue and the slowdown in donations, the Ukrainian bank Monobank, which is commonly used for fundraising, reported that in 2023, Ukrainians collectively donated 27.4 billion hryvnias ($720 million) to different fundraising and charity initiatives which is 3.2 times more than the previous year.
Dasha shares why she continues donating and has no plan of stopping:
— Investing in our country means investing in ourselves. We can’t afford to relax and stop growing. I often think about the words of Oleksandr Hrianyk’s photo; he was a soldier killed at the Azovstal. I talked to him a lot while he was there. I learned a lot from those conversations. He said: “When we can’t undo a loss, we must it’s our duty to ensure it wasn’t in vain.” It’s imperative to me to embody the values of the fallen heroes.
Donate to the Azov One Foundation here.
Shop the Defender Collection here.
This article was written based on the interview published at The Village Ukraine.