#GivingTuesday: How Sunflower Of Peace’s Backpacks Save Lives In Ukraine

How Katya Malakhova devotes her time to providing Ukraine with the medical supplies needed on the front lines.

“Giving back has been a part of my soul,” Katya Malakhova, founder of Sunflower of Peace said. “Ukraine didn’t have a volunteering or nonprofit organization movement when I was growing up. However, I always had that urge to help.”

Malakhova spent her childhood in Nova Kakhovka, her hometown in the south of Ukraine. Nova Kakhovka has now been under Russian occupation since February of 2022 and was captured within the first few hours of war. At the age of 20, Malakhova moved to America with an athletic scholarship as she had been a professional tennis player in Ukraine.


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“I was volunteering for the Red Cross and other smaller organizations for social events and it just made me feel really good,” she said.

Malakhova and her mentor, Ann Hamilton of Vanguard University, raised $30,000 during her graduation year to build a refurbished playground for the children of her home town. This was when she first realized she could be of aid to those in need, even at such a young age. Shortly after, she was interning for the International Justice Mission in Washington D.C., an organization that fights against human trafficking.

Sunflower of Peace
FACEBOOK Sunflower of Peace

In 2014 when revolution was on the rise in Ukraine, Malakhova was glued to the news. A vote had been conducted to decide whether Ukraine would be associated with Europe or Russia, in which the latter was the outcome. Ukrainian citizens were defeated to hear this news and fought back against the government. The corrupt president was successfully overthrown, however within only a few months, Russia invaded Crimea, launching a war in the Eastern part of Ukraine. All the way from the United States, Malakhova felt the need to make a change.

“At the time Ukrainian people had no army,” she said. “I received a call from my sister and all she said was ‘Katya, do something. We are sending neighbors, friends and classmates, unprepared waving Ukrainian flags on the front lines.’”

Sunflower of Peace
FACEBOOK Sunflower of Peace

This was the spark that started what would later become Sunflower of Peace. Malakhova asked her sister to send Ukrainian merchandise to the States, such as bracelets and souvenirs. She then would go to local Ukrainian churches and try to sell the merchandise. With whatever money she made from her sales, Malakhova vowed to spend it on medical supplies, uniforms, boots, etc. for those fighting for Ukraine.

“What really worked was the way I reported back to people. They would give me money and I sent them a detailed report of what I was purchasing for Ukraine. That is what established the trust and transparency between myself and my donors.”

Sunflower of Peace
FACEBOOK Sunflower of Peace

Malakhova wanted every person to really see where their money was going back when she started in 2014, and still to this day makes it a point to show on her website and social media exactly where funds are being allocated. In the beginning, Sunflower of Peace had very few donors. As time went on, however, the organization began to grow exponentially. Especially with the rise of conflict in Ukraine that emerged in 2022, Sunflower of Peace has gone from raising $30,000 a year to $9 million a year. The organization’s booming success has much to do with Malakhova’s optimism.

“What really keeps me going and gives me a sense of optimism is the people who are there. I always say to myself ‘If they are not giving up then how can I have the right to give up.’”

Sunflower of Peace
FACEBOOK Sunflower of Peace

Even though her home is a battlefield, Malakhova and Sunflower of Peace are working day and night to assist the Ukrainian army. The organization’s main focus now is sending backpacks filled with important medical supplies to those on the front lines.

“I started to see what United States medics had on the front lines. The doctor carries a backpack and he can perform surgery right in the middle of anywhere without having any equipment, just that backpack,” Malakhova said.

When the organization first started sending these backpacks over, they could save about 10 people per bag. Now, they are packed to save up to 20 people on the front lines. Sunflower of Peace team leaders, Victoria and Olga, actually took the time to interview paramedics, surgeons, trauma doctors and veterans to make these backpacks even more helpful and sophisticated than ever before. With anywhere from 200-500 backpacks being shipped weekly, it poses the question: how do they all get there? When this war began, it was extremely difficult to send aid, as they could not be directly sent to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The organization would not give up hope.

Sunflower of Peace


“We found a way to ship them to Poland,” Malakhova said. “From there, they would go to Lviv and then we would use the railroad. That’s how they got to the capital.”

Luckily, this process has become much easier as time has passed. Sunflower of Peace has discovered Ukrainian shipping companies that transport from New Jersey straight to Kiev, in only 5 days. Then they are distributed to those in need.

“We don’t give a backpack to just any random person,” Malakhova said. “A medic has to be on the front lines in the middle of the battlefield.”

A medic’s superior is required to sign a document proving that they are eligible to receive the backpack. If they refuse to sign, they simply cannot receive one. Sunflower of Peace wants to ensure that its help is going to the right people. Each recipient of a backpack will attain a multitude of supplies. From tourniquets, IV’s, surgical supplies, nasal tubes, to quick clot (a blood stopping bandage;) they are well-equipped for battle. The organization works with a variety of partners to acquire supplies.

Katya Malakhova
Katya Malakhova (middle.) FACEBOOK Sunflower of Peace

“We have a procurement team that is constantly online researching medical suppliers,” Malakhova said. “In the beginning it was very hard, the equipment was all wiped out within the first 2 weeks because other organizations were buying it too. We had to take a step back and just say ‘Okay, we have all of this donated money that we raised, let’s get our operations in order.’”

After two months of extreme organization, Sunflower of Peace was operating like never before. Gaining media attention left and right was not something Malakhova was necessarily prepared for.

“It was very surprising. I believe that if you do something out of good intentions and sincerity, it will always be recognized, even if it’s almost 10 years later,” Malakhova said. “You just have to keep going. I went unrecognized for 8 years but I did this because I wanted to make a change. I didn’t do this because I wanted to be featured in magazines. You have to start small and before you run, you need to learn how to walk.”

Now they are up and running faster than they could have ever imagined. Sunflower of Peace’s ultimate goal is to bring change and impact the lives of those in need. Malakhova’s biggest plea is for everyone to just keep helping Ukraine. To make a contribution to Sunflower of Peace, visit the donations tab on their website, check out their social media and spread the word about this charitable organization.

Alyssa Spagna

Contributing Editor

Alyssa is a spunky, fun-loving traveler who has an infatuation with theme parks! While she loves her tropical beach vacations, nothing compares to the thrill of a rollercoaster drop or a character meet and greet. Standing at only 4’9”, Alyssa lives by the motto “dynamite comes in small packages.”

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