"We need to develop the country's civil defense system, so that no aggressor will want to attack Ukraine" - Victor Ivanchyk

The war has set new challenges for businesses and charitable organizations, and Astarta's practice of building a socially responsible business and supporting local communities has been more useful than ever. In an interview with, Astarta CEO Viktor Ivanchyk talks about the experience of attracting assistance from foreign donors and Ukrainian partners, supporting employees and local communities, displaced persons and the military, using IT solutions for humanitarian initiatives, and uniting business around the Common Help UA platform.

On the role of humanitarian aid in business

- How have Astarta's business priorities changed since the start of the full-scale war?

- Since then, everything personal has been subordinated to the general. That is why we focused primarily on solving humanitarian problems and helping the military.

- Was this the beginning of the Common Help UA humanitarian project?

- It became a mission for our team. And we realized that we needed to systematize this work to be more effective and increase the volume of assistance. In March 2022, together with the Believe in Yourself charitable foundation, we decided to create the Common Help UA humanitarian project.

- A project that helped bring Astarta's charitable activities to a new level?

- During the acute phase of the war, the project helped to mobilize the team, gave new meaning and directed its energy to finding new solutions in critical conditions.

It significantly scaled up Astarta's social activities. While hundreds of employees used to join our social initiatives, today there are thousands of them.

To ensure full transparency of all processes, our experts have developed a digital platform.

During these 10 months, we managed to help more than 799 thousand Ukrainians affected by the war and 433 medical and social institutions in Ukraine.

About business cooperation and partner engagement

- More than 25 international and Ukrainian organizations have united around Common Help UA. Was it your purposeful work to attract donors?

- Cooperation with each donor has its own peculiarities. But the most important thing for them is that they see who, when and how received their help. We did not organize special promotions or large fundraising events, but instead provide each of our partners with detailed reports on the results of the joint project. This way, we can track how our support has grown.

Our longtime partner, the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine, was the first to respond. The Swiss government financed 5100 tons of food for local communities. Another joint project is currently underway - we are restoring the inclusive resource center in Borodyanka, which was destroyed during the Russian occupation.

Almost simultaneously, the horizontal connections of our employees worked, and we established cooperation with the Portuguese community of Ukrainians, Ukrainian Refugees UAPT. Roman Kurtish is the organizer. They sent over 100 tons of medicine, clothes and food to Poland by air. And we brought them to Ukraine with our trucks and distributed them to hospitals and people through our own hubs.

Ukrainians who have businesses in Cleveland, USA, also provided powerful assistance. When the war broke out in 2014, Oleksandr Sharanevych and Andriy Voetsky founded the Cleveland Maidan Association, a charitable organization that has been providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine ever since. Since February 2022, they have been personally transporting humanitarian aid in ordinary bags. Later, they organized transportation by truck and provided us with tens of tons of medical devices, which we distributed among medical institutions.

- What is the current geography of humanitarian supplies?

- They are coming to us from the US, Canada, Portugal, Germany, Denmark, France, the UK, Georgia, Sweden, Spain, Poland and France.

- It is not easy to set up logistics to deliver cargo from these countries, especially in a full-scale war.

- Astarta's logistics service's many years of experience in foreign economic activity helped. Based on our assets, we have created a network of regional hubs where we received and sorted humanitarian cargo and then distributed it throughout Ukraine.

Our cooperation with the UN World Food Organization has become an important development for us. At the first stages, we transported their humanitarian cargo. It was international and domestic transportation. Then we started participating in their food supply tenders. The result of our cooperation to date is more than 17,200 tons of food delivered to Ukrainians.

I believe that Ukrainian business is capable of producing quality products to support the food programs of an international organization both in Ukraine and abroad. Therefore, our current cooperation has good prospects.

- Are humanitarian initiatives mostly supported by domestic donors or external international partners?

- Approximately equally. But some of our projects are not just humanitarian or charitable aid, they are designed to develop small and medium-sized businesses in communities. Later, these entrepreneurs will be able to become the basis for rebuilding Ukraine together with big business.

For three years in a row, we have been implementing the Wings program together with Pact Ukraine and with the support of the Government of Canada to help women in rural areas start their own businesses. Dozens of business ideas have already been funded.

When we showed the results of this project to our partner, the German development bank DEG, they liked our approach and last November provided €1 million in grants to finance 60 local agribusinesses that produce food, process agricultural products, and provide services (the "Course to Independence" project). We have a similar project called "Courageous" with Raiffeisen Bank, which supports small entrepreneurs who were on the verge of survival due to the war.

The geography of the holding's activities covers the territory from Kharkiv to Ternopil regions. And it so happened that these communities were home to many people who moved from the areas of active hostilities to safer places. We set ourselves the task of helping the communities cope with this large influx of people, so we provided food, basic necessities, and arranged places for temporary residence. At the same time, we started cooperating with the civil-military administrations. We delivered the necessary goods, in particular to the combat areas, and on the way back we took out people who wanted to evacuate.

- You mentioned the experience of partnership with the German Development Bank. Who else dares to invest in the development of Ukrainian business during the war and is it easy to attract such investors?

- We have been working with banks for almost 25 years. Since the beginning of the company's public history, the ability to attract loans has been a key element of dynamic development. We have a good reputation and credit history, so they have supported us during all the crises since Ukraine's independence. In 2022, we also managed to find an understanding and continue financing the company. Almost all of our partner banks have remained active in Ukraine. Yes, they have significantly reduced their financing programs and support only reliable and impeccable companies with good reputation and business projects. Therefore, we have no problems with financing. But we keep our loan portfolio quite conservative.

- In your opinion, what is more important in the aid coming to Ukraine - loans or grant funding?

- As for military aid, I see it as non-repayable financial assistance, weapons, equipment, etc. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with loan assistance, which has to be repaid. And this is normal. As for business, it's only credit, except for donations for humanitarian projects.

Regarding the value approach, it is important to keep in mind that Europe is moving to a sustainable development paradigm and is ready to finance similar projects in Ukraine. And this is a serious opportunity to start developing such programs now. These are decarbonization and energy efficiency projects. And our company can be a pioneer here. We always try to be at the forefront of modern trends and are already working in this direction with banks and powerful global players.

On the challenges of war for business

- Ukraine is currently experiencing problems with electricity distribution, and many wind and solar power facilities have been destroyed by Russia. How has the lack of electricity affected the company's operations?

- We had been focusing on autonomy in energy consumption even before the full-scale war, as it is critical for us to ensure continuity of production. Almost ten years ago, we built a bioenergy complex that produces biogas from organic residues of sugar production and thanks to which our soybean processing plant is 100% self-sufficient in both biogas and electricity. All of our livestock farms and elevators are equipped with generators for autonomous operation. Sugar factories also generate electricity on their own during the processing season. I believe that decentralization of electricity supply will be a new culture.

- The agricultural business has suffered heavy losses during almost a year of large-scale war. How significant are these losses for Astarta? How do you keep the business going and still have the resources to help citizens and the military?

- Our assets are located mostly in the center and west of the country, so we have lost almost nothing. And what we have lost is a rather painful topic for us. In April, a Russian plane fired a guided missile at our tractor in Kharkiv region, killing an employee. This is a great tragedy.

Thirteen of our mobilized employees were also killed on the battlefield, and 21 were wounded. Today, 346 employees of our company are defending us in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We provide them with everything they need, pay their salaries, support their families and will continue to do so until our victory.

Since February last year, our company has mobilized as much as possible to save people, help families of evacuees, preserve assets, jobs and food production, continue paying taxes and providing assistance. We have the numbers. In 2022, we paid more taxes than in 2021 - UAH 1.620 billion versus UAH 1.59 billion. The financial value of charitable contributions and humanitarian aid from the Common Help UA project is almost UAH 600 million. In addition, UAH 41 million was allocated to entrepreneurship development projects.

On cooperation with the government and rebuilding Ukraine

- How is the cooperation with the Ukrainian government organized today? What misunderstandings do you see between business and the government?

- We can find many negative examples, but I want to focus on the positive ones. Since the first days of the full-scale war, we have been in close communication with the civil-military administrations, responding to all their requests, and have donated 139 vehicles, among other things.

The partnership with the government has improved in this regard, and I want these developments to form the basis for further cooperation between the government and business. The state should be a true partner of business, provided that partnership is based on mutual trust and respect.

And the duty of business is to conduct its activities transparently, ethically and responsibly.

Neither party can make excuses such as the difficult situation, the war, or "it's not the right time." Otherwise, we will not build a new Ukraine and we will not be able to join the European Union with our heads held high.

- What issues and directions will business, charitable organizations and the government have to focus on when rebuilding the country after the victory?

- First, the most urgent issues will have to be addressed. These include rebuilding housing, modernizing the energy sector, and restoring the environment, especially the soils damaged by the war. All of this will have to be done in line with the requirements of sustainable development-environmental, social, and governance sustainability-and on the basis of modern IT solutions that today allow for effective warfare and will help to effectively restore the economy.

An important condition for post-war recovery will be the ability of Ukrainian businesses to enter global markets. During the war, Ukrainians managed to create a new culture of charitable and humanitarian activities. And I want us to transfer this culture and our joint efforts to business and create an ecosystem of socially responsible business to enter foreign markets with our technologies and high value-added products. The world should know the brand of Ukraine not only as a brand of a brave, courageous and resilient people, but also as a brand of Ukraine and a people capable of producing modern high-tech and high-quality products. And this is fundamental. We need to create production here in Ukraine so that our most entrepreneurial people come back from abroad to set up new production facilities.

- Do you think that those who are now abroad will return?

- They will come back when we start this activity here. We (those who have not left, were not going to leave and will never leave) must create this foundation for our children and grandchildren who are currently studying or temporarily living abroad. When they come back here, they will be able to use this foundation and restore or rebuild the country.

- What is the role of charitable foundations, including the Common Help UA platform, in the post-war reconstruction?

- Of course, we will be involved in the reconstruction as much as possible. Through educational initiatives. The development of education is one of the key investments in Ukraine's recovery and helping people adapt to new realities. Through entrepreneurship development projects. The projects "Course for Independence", "Wings", "Courageous", which I have already mentioned, have already shown their viability. They need to be replicated as much as possible.

Most volunteers and foundations will need to reorient themselves from supporting military programs to civilian, humanitarian development programs. I think there will be enough space for everyone.

However, we realize that the threat of invasion will not disappear with Ukraine's victory. We will need to develop the country's civil defense system and prepare people for possible resistance. To prepare hundreds of thousands or even millions of people (I emphasize, only if necessary) to leave their civilian jobs and stand up to defend their homeland, we need very serious investments and efforts. But when we do this, and we will definitely do this, no aggressor will want to attack Ukraine, because they will realize that our country is capable of defending itself. This is a matter of today's agenda, and everyone should join forces in this direction, because this is our future.