Illia Polosukhin, co-founder NEAR Protocol, and George Kikvadze, executive vice chairman at BitFury Group, both of whom have called Ukraine “home” at one point in their lives, discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the role crypto is playing in the war, and the various avenues crypto users can donate to. Show topics:
- George and Illia’s background in crypto
- George and Ilia’s connection to Ukraine
- why crypto is so popular in Ukraine
- what supplies are being purchased with donated crypto
- how to donate crypto to Ukraine
- why Patreon blocked donations to Come Back Alive, a Ukrainian NGO
- George and Illia’s estimation of the amount of crypto donations received by Ukraine
- what department of Ukraine’s government spearheaded its adoption of crypto
- what happened with the canceled airdrop
- the different organizations accepting crypto donations in Ukraine
Upcoming Book Events
Friday, March 25: I’ll be on the Harvard campus at HBS Aldrich 011 from 4 pm ET – 5 pm ET. This is *not* open to the general public, but we have a few spots we can give away, first come, first serve. Email email@example.com, subject line “Harvard reading.”
Wednesday, March 30: I’ll be speaking (remotely) with Six Senses about The Cryptopians at 2 pm ET. Be sure to save your spot soon – space is limited!
Tuesday, April 5: I will be doing a reading and signing hosted by the City of Miami Beach and Future Perfect Ventures at Sky Yard from 6-8 pm. Jalak Jobanputra, CEO of Future Perfect Ventures will be interviewing me. You need to RSVP by April 1 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, April 9: I will be on a panel at the Annapolis Book Festival at 11 am.
Tuesday, April 12: I will be at StartupGrind’s global event in Redwood City, which is focused this year on Web3 (time → TBD).
May 4-7: I will be at the PBS Seattle Crosscut Festival, which takes place from May 4-7.
May 23-25: I will be at the Oslo Freedom Forum which takes place from May 23 to 25. Details on these events are TBD.
Thank you to our sponsors!
Beefy Finance: https://beefy.finance
Cross River Bank: https://crossriver.com/crypto
George Kikvadze, executive vice chairman at BitFury Group
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/BitfuryGeorge
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/george-kikvadze-6256175/
Illia Polosukhin, co-founder NEAR Protocol
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/ilblackdragon
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/illia-polosukhin-77b6538/
- Raising $ for Ukraine via Unchain Fund
Unchain Fund: https://unchain.fund/
Come Back Alive: https://www.comebackalive.in.ua/
Government Website for Crypto Donations: https://donate.thedigital.gov.ua/
Ukraine x Crypto
- Ukraine purchasing supplies
- Live update from on Ukrainian crypto funds received
- Ukraine accepting crypto: https://twitter.com/Ukraine/status/1497594592438497282
- Ukraine NFT launch to reflect history
Hey, all. A few quick announcements before we begin. First, last Friday I mentioned I will be doing a reading and signing at Harvard, this coming Friday March 26. I was not aware that this is not an event open to the general public. So sorry about that. But they said I could have a few non-Harvard people there. If you’re located in Boston and interested in attending, email Hello@unchainedpodcast.com. Subject line, Harvard reading and we will give the few spots out available to the general public first come, first serve. The event, again, is Friday March 26 from 4 to 5 p.m. on the Harvard campus at HBS Aldrich 011.
I’ll be interviewed about my book by NF Castles Michelle Choi and will also do a signing. I also mentioned that I will be moderating a panel the next day, but again that is only for Harvard students.
Here are the other book events I have coming up, so if you want to see me or get your book signed, please mark your calendars for these dates. I will put all the details in the share notes and very soon we will be putting a section for tours on my website, LauraShin.com. Okay. Here’s the rest of the upcoming events.
On Tuesday April 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. I will be doing a reading and signing hosted by the City of Miami Beach and Future Perfect Ventures at Sky Yard. Jalak Jobanputra, CEO of Future Perfect Ventures will be interviewing me. You need to RSVP by April 1, information in the show notes.
On Saturday April 9 at 11 a.m. I will be on a panel at the Annapolis Book Festival.
On Tuesday April 12, at a time TBD I will be at Startup Grinds global event in Redwood City, which is focused this year on Web3.
Finally, I will be in conversation with author Jimmy Soni at the PBS Seattle Crosscut Festival, which takes place from May 4 to May 7. I will also be at the Oslo Freedom Forum, which takes place from May 23 to 25. Details on these events are TBD. And now, on to the show.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Unchained, your no-hype resource for all things crypto. I’m your host, Laura Shin, author of The Cryptopians. I started covering crypto six years ago, and as the senior editor at Forbes was the first mainstream media reporter to cover cryptocurrency full-time. This is the March 22, 2022 episode of Unchained.
Buy, earn, and spend crypto on the Crypto.com app. New users can enjoy zero credit card fees on crypto purchases in the first 30 days. Download the Crypto.com app and get 25 dollars with the code Laura. Link in the description.
This episode of Unchained is brought to you by Beefy Finance. The multichain yield optimizer. Beefy is the easiest way to earn more from your crypto. Deposit funds into Beefy’s secure value to auto compound yields across 12 blockchains. Got crypto? Choose Beefy.
Welcome to a new world of crypto-friendly banking with Cross River Bank. Request your fiat on / off ramp solution now at Crossriver.com/crypto. Today’s topic is crypto efforts to support Ukraine. Here to discuss are George Kikvadze, Vice Chair of BitFury Group and Illia Polosukhin, Cofounder of NEAR Protocol. Welcome George and Illia.
Hi, Laura. Great to be back.
Let’s just start with your background in crypto so people understand what your involvement was in crypto before we get to the main topic.
Sure. Yeah. Thanks for inviting us here. My journey in crypto started in mid-2018 where we were actually trying to build a crowdsourcing platform using blockchain as a payment service and have kind of struggled to use any of the existing, at the moment, platforms. Being systems engineers, being kind of ourselves geeks who like to dig in we started looking around trying to understand why platforms like Ethereum are not able to handle kind of global payment use case and realizing kind of a set of limitations like usability, like scalability. Trying to explore kind of what contributed to existing solutions and then deciding to start NEAR Protocol kind of trying to solve the scalability, security, and simplicity of usage of blockchain.
Great. And George?
Yeah. I mean actually my bitcoin story started in Ukraine in 2013. I was working with one of the largest agra holdings and the idea was to take the agra holding public with western capital markets and secure the funding for it. Through close friends of mine, I met Val Vavilov, who is the founder of BitFury. The idea was to scale the business and make it global. It’s a funny story because I met Val when bitcoin was at 20 dollars, at 50 dollars, at 100 dollars and finally the situation where it got to 400, 500 and I’m speaking to a few of my friends in Silicon Valley and getting feedback that this technology was real and the innovation was serious. I decided to leave agriculture, the field, in Ukraine and join BitFury. So, I’ve been in the crypto community since 2013, and consider myself a dinosaur and have seen a lot happening. It’s been one hell of a ride, as you know though.
So here we’re going to be discussing the crypto community efforts in Ukraine. Both of you have personal connections there. Obviously, George, you even just mentioned that that was where you were when you discovered bitcoin. Illia, why don’t we start with you. What is your connection to Ukraine?
Well, I was born there. I lived there until I was 21, so I left to US in 2012. So studied, my family live and continued living there even after I left. All my friends, classmates, friends of friends, living, many of them are still there. So yeah, have kind of pretty deep background from before and then our past year as NEAR kind of up to launch, have been scaling out. We actually started building hubs and communities around the world. I’ve actually spent a significant amount of time in Kyiv and Kharkiv kind of growing the developer community because there is a lot of Web3 intrapreneurs and developers, so engaging with them.
We were actually planning to have a BlockchainUA at end of March kind of to galvanize the community there. So yeah, it’s been an unfortunate and very devastating. Some of my people I know right now at…they’re working right now in various cities. Even colleagues in the ecosystem are there as well. I know there’s a lot of women and parents who have been fleeing from the scene there.
Yeah. I just need to express how sorry I am about everything that you and your family and all your friends have been going through. George, why don’t you also describe your connection there.
Well, Ukraine is like my second homeland. When Russia struck Georgia in 2008, I was at the time working in Moscow. Basically, overnight I had to pick everything up and leave. I was working for a large US-based hedge fund at the time where I was sort of head of the region. When the August war happened, I basically had 24 hours to pick everything up and move my family to Kyiv. I spent six years in Kyiv, have obviously a lot of friends, family members. This is the country where my first son was born. My first born was there. It’s a country where I really got the appreciation of the freedom and liberty, love of the people of Ukraine. This is a country where I experienced the first Maidan where people of Ukraine were fed up by the corruption of Yanukovych, and we all marched in the streets in 2013 in the Maidan. Actually, I was one of 33 members of the infamous list where I was deported from Ukraine. I was not let into the county and was sort of barred from entering the country for my support and affection towards the cause.
So, there is a lot of emotion. There is a lot of contact, spiritual from the standpoint of friends. We have quite a bit of presence in Ukraine as well from the standpoint of people and software developers working there. So all in all, there was just a lot of ties. Seeing this atrocity being committed in my second homeland I felt compelled to act as soon as practical in order to do whatever we could to help our friends and people of Ukraine.
So let’s talk a little bit more about that. A number of people have talked about how there has been a vibrant crypto or Web3 community in Ukraine. So, describe what that community was like there, which companies were there or which developers, what that scene was like. Was it more entrepreneurs or investors or traders? Just kind of paint a picture of what crypto community was like in Ukraine before this war.
I can maybe cover some of this because I was there in January before leaving for here. So, overall I would say the tech community in Ukraine has been growing insanely fast over the past 10, 15 years. I would say big part is because this is very much a career path that has clear kind of financial outcomes, which obviously people prefer and also you are able to work with your mind and kind of contribute to your global economy.
So, because of that there is kind of a lot of developers who are working actually for companies around the world in various ways. Some of them are directly, some of them through staff, some of them through outsourcing, but a lot of projects that people are using around the world are developed in Ukraine. This is Booking.com, Hotels.com. This is projects in crypto. I would say probably all of them have somewhere a group of developers working on them in Ukraine, including obviously NEAR, given kind of our roots from me coming from Ukraine.
On top of it, I would say because of that kind of product, the Web2 product culture did no develop in Ukraine. There was no time. There was no internal market. It’s kind of hard to break in. It was hard to break in actually into Silicon Valley if you’re a Ukrainian founder with a Ukrainian company. You need to actually move to US, spend some time there, and then you can raise funds. But that is not true about Web3 and especially became less true after COVID where investors became way more kind of I would say willing to invest in companies just after a Zoom call with founders.
So, I think this changes kind of a lot of new enterprises in Web3 specifically started in Ukraine because there was already a lot of technical talent or able to do this but now it could convert into funding rounds, which then are able to build bigger teams, build marketing, all those kind of other things that you need to build a proper company. So, I would say there was a kind of on the rise switch from maybe a little bit more retail community, which to be clear Ukraine is number four crypto market globally because crypto is the way to invest. Pretty much there’s only two things to invest in, real estate and crypto, before the war. Because of such a big technical, I would say, crowd, like a lot of people know how to at least…can easily figure out how to use crypto exchanges and then go beyond that, right, and have technical capability to read white papers and do all the stuff.
I was literally on the train from Kyiv to Kharkiv, somebody was talking about all the coins they invested and compared them but randomly on the side. So, I saw also this shift where there was a lot of retail, especially in between IT professionals and also beyond that but then that started to switch and convert into actual founders because it kind of gave them this freedom and ability. What we see now is actually these founders being really engaged in kind of the community to help people around the whole country as well because they’re so connected and coming from different directions as well.
Yeah. I agree. I mean Ukraine has been one of the top destinations for talent and especially early on. The government as very savvy in terms of experimenting with few blockchain applications and has been actually at the forefront of regulatory aspects of that. In terms of vibrancy of an entrepreneurship culture, I mean you have at the current moment just numerous groups that I see various tasks, whether it is setting up the Starlink systems or going in and setting up the IT army of Ukraine that’s going out and helping out with combating the cyber space or documenting the war crimes that are being committed.
So, there are dozens of these groups extremely active with savvy founders that have roots not only in Ukraine but all around the world that are collaborating on various projects and allocating resources in order to protect their motherland and ensure that this tyranny is thwarted and the peace returns and Ukraine is rebuilt much better than it was before. I’m absolutely confident that given the spirit of the people, the world has learned what it is to fight like Ukrainian. The Western hemisphere that has been very shallow on understanding what liberty and freedom is, Ukraine has exported it and exported what it means to fight for freedom, to fight for statehood and fight for liberty. I think that has lacked, to some degree. This is where the qualities that have been forgotten all around the world. Frankly speaking, in the last sort of 10, 15 years we had this advent authoritarianisms and tyrannies around the world. Little Ukraine, it was a David that has roared and has showed the world what it is to love the country, to love the freedom, and to love the liberty.
I think this will go down in the history books as the shining example, and frankly speaking, as a turning example of a civilization to really focus on really what matters and on the big stones and freedom and liberties is one of those key parameters.
Yeah. I agree. I also think this will go down in the history books because of how quickly crypto got involved in this war. I mean it was really mind blowing, frankly. As I said, I started covering this space almost seven years ago, and definitely at that time just with the way that technology had developed there was very little adoption. So, to see it become used both kind of on the ground as well as at the highest levels of government, very, very quickly or at least discussed, I mean it’s really been remarkable. Let’s talk about kind of that on the ground picture first.
As far as I understand, and obviously I’m sure you’re only aware of the picture in Ukraine, but I even saw that in Russia, everyday people are turning to crypto to transact. In Ukraine, why don’t you kind of explain what that has looked like. Why it is that people have been turning to crypto, for what purpose? Why is it that they’re choosing crypto over other forms of money and how has the demand for crypto in Ukraine kind of changed people’s ability to transact or how they’re transacting in crypto.
Well, I think it started really at the point where when we learned about this, right. I think all of us try to find a way to help and the simplest way was to donate and so the first thing I actually did was donate in bitcoin, which is what George will talk about probably. But then kind of a group of crypt entrepreneurs from Ukraine kind of came together to form a more focused on humanitarian needs of the people who will be kind of affected by this. The benefit there is that if you want to start a new nonprofit, new NGO, that’s a very complicated process. If you want to open a bank account, if you want to start accepting donations, then donations themselves, wire transfers to new NGOs. There’s lots of compliance that you need to go through.
Given we’re kind of at a very fast-moving situation that’s just not the right way. So crypto became kind of this really easy way to create an organization that has a specific mandate and is able to distribute its funds as well. So, setting up multisig, setting up DAOs as a kind of structure was super easy and was done in minutes and then we can start posting it and start spreading it around, right. So, the interesting part is that the fund we started called Unchained Fund very much was in the name of the podcast, and so kind of the goal of which was Ukraine has this very unfortunate history of being kind of hit by everyone who is fighting over and over again and Ukraine people want to stand up and have their own freedom, their own history, not history of other countries around them, and so really trying to kind of break this chain of events.
At the same time, us the blockchain, use the crypto as a driver, as an engine for doing that. It allowed to really move and start distributing money to people, to volunteers kind of on the streets of Kyiv and Kharkiv, for example, like within the same day, right. So, I think it was the first day it was already over a million dollars that were collected and then hundreds of thousands of dollars started to be kind of distributed. At this moment they’re already over 6.8 million. It was almost three million dollars being allocated already. So, really it’s kind of the speed, the agility, and also the trust because we can actually build a multisig. We can build a DAO structure that is transparent, that is accountable that we can actually see where the transactions are going and we can assign what are specific needs to be fulfilled.
Now, obviously not everything is being accepted in crypto and it still needs to be converted here and there to fiat, which by the way, big thanks to kind of crypto exchanges in Ukraine that are still running and operating are able to cash this out. At the same time, more and more people are willing to accept crypto as well because they are able…in Ukraine they are able to kind of have this asset themselves as well, which may be decorrelated of the current exchange rates.
Something that interests me about what you said is…so, I obviously totally get how fundraising would be a lot faster and easier. But even when you were saying that the people who are kind of buying supplies and stuff that the suppliers are starting to accept it. What’s in it for them? Why would they be compelled to do this as well? Is that kind of the normal payment system is breaking down or what’s happening that would even cause them to start transacting in crypto?
I would say it was moving down. So, first volunteers who would be going out into the store, they started accepting crypto.
By that do you mean bitcoin and ether or define what you mean.
Anything that’s liquid and has a dollar amount was good enough, for example, because they could actually convert it to green to their card and actually is very much instant. So, they can actually get it to their cards from any crypto through exchanges to their card and pay for it in a store.
These are like prepaid cards like debit cards?
Yeah. Like a debit card. Credit cards are not used as much. But that was kind of first step and so the reasoning to do that actually are limits. So, there are limits on exchanges, limits on the central bank, how much currency you can exchange and stuff like this. So this way, kind of by pretty much crowd sourcing the exchanging itself was already powerful. But then beyond that, the suppliers started accepting it as well because they wanted to deal with dollars. Dollars actually are in circulation in Ukraine, right. So, if they want to de-risk their exchange rate they can actually accept stable coins, for example, for themselves.
Yeah. Because I was hearing that Tether is now more valuable than US dollars. That there’s a premium of four to five percent and even then people won’t want to sell you their tether because they view it as more valuable in US dollars. Is that something that you’ve also heard or what’s your sense of that?
Yeah. That happens every time there’s a crunch on demand on going into crypto. That happens every few months or every six months and then before when there’s something in the market the tether price goes up locally on the spot because it’s hard to get it. If you are in Ukraine it’s actually hard to get tether from Bitfinex because the flow of money is complicated.
I would say beyond that is people want to convert currencies back and forth depending on what is their steps going to be. So, kind of stable coins have been growing in adoption for sure in Ukraine.
George, did you want to add any of this about kind of how everyday people are transacting in crypto?
Yeah. I mean I think to step back a little bit, the whole purpose of kind of realizing, okay, this is quite serious and people of Ukraine will need help, and they will need a lot of help fast. You step back and obviously I’m quite familiar with the key crypto community players. You’ve got to step back that crypto itself and the people behind crypto, to a large extent, are the people that have gotten into it to make a world a better place. They have gotten in to improve things, to alter the status quo, and when we saw the pictures of the Russian planes attacking innocent civilians that channeled energy. In our community, that energy and its support on the crypto community, crypto was just a means of channeling that energy of the support to the people in Ukraine.
As soon as the invasion started, which ironically started at 4 in the morning, same time when Hitler invaded Soviet Union in 1941 at 4 a.m. Some twisted Kremlin sort of applaud. In the morning when I woke up and we saw the news, first of all, I woke up, I looked at the bitcoin price. It was down and I knew, oh, shit, something really must have happened. Interestingly, throughout this sort of war, ever time I’ve been waking up…I haven’t been getting much sleep but I’m seeing prices. It’s amazing how sort of the prices reacted when the situation got worse versus towards a peace settlement. It really is profound how momentarily the sort of bitcoin price has been reacting to that obviously crypto market.
I contacted a few of my friends whom I trust on the ground, and I said, listen, we’re here. We’re here to help. How can we help? Through one of the few of the trusted parties is Come Back Alive. I started going out and how can we make donations. I realized that their USD account that was with Patreon, the accounts was blocked because Patreon considered them to be buying military equipment, and it was complete BS because the funds they allocated from Come Back Alive were focused primarily on getting defensive gear such as bulletproof vests, helmets, medications, various protective gear to protect the cities.
I realized it would not even be worth right now to get the best legal council and going and storing that out. I realized why don’t we get the BTC address, rev it up, and start promoting it. That’s what we started doing. In a very short period of time, a lot of that energy was channeled into the bitcoin wallet, and the volunteers on the ground used that to acquire those helmets. Frankly speaking, a lot of the sellers of this equipment, they’re completely fine getting paid in the crypto. These are the entities located in Finland, in Sweden, in Germany, in United States and there was no issue whatsoever.
I’ll tell you more. We actually ran a few of the extraction operations by the Ex-Green Berets on the ground and they were completely fine to be paid in bitcoin to go and get the job done and to get the innocent civilians from Chernihiv, from Sumy, from Kharkiv, and other places. So, in an environment where there is instability and upheaval in a financial system, what I realized is that people view having an option outside of existing system is extremely valuable. You just don’t know. You may have green notes but God forbid the national bank gets bombed. As you have seen, they are bombing maternity wards, what precludes them bombing central bank and a major bank. All of a sudden, you’re stuck. Your system is frozen. Crypto has provided this alternative, which is extremely valuable in turbulent times like this.
So, we had great success and we raised close to 16 million dollars, which a big chunk has been allocated. We’re very proud that many of the crypto community folks that have come in and made allocations have made an impact. That’s where I met with Illia, through common friends, through discussions. One of the first things was Illia being sort of operational. What are the logistics? How can we improve it? What is the procurement system? We’re sort of getting the funds but actually how do you make sure that those funds get allocated to the right equipment that get to the right people on the ground that are used in the right operational environment? So, we had a few collaborations, and I’m glad that in this time of need many people stepped up from the crypto community through our efforts or outside our efforts like CZ from Binance has donated 10 million dollars. Gavin from Polka has donated five. Solana has had a big effort.
Outside of crypto, Ashton Kutcher and Mila…Mila is from Chernivtsi actually from West Ukraine and they started a GoFund campaign. They’re nearing 30 million dollars in donations. The team at Ministry, they’re nearing all in all with all the Ukraine close to 70. So all in all, with these efforts we are kind of approaching 150 million-ish, which properly allocated for the right sort of targeted approaches I think is making tremendous impact. Frankly speaking, this is the first time during a war of such scale, such scale has been organized so rapidly and dispersed so efficiently in the time horizon that we have seen.
Yeah. It’s honestly really remarkable to be watching it from the outside. I mean it’s obviously historic. One point I wanted to clarify, when you talked about posting the bitcoin address, where was that? Because obviously there were multiple different fundraising efforts. For the one that you helped organize, which one was that?
It was purely Come Back Alive Foundation. So, we focused on that. Actually, they have had such huge inflow of not only crypto but also donations in kind and also fiat donations that has sorted out that they are well funded right now. The next effort that we will be announcing in a couple of weeks is actually an effort to help the children of Ukraine, children that have lost their parents during bombing or during military, during the war. We’ll be raising a foundation to help the children of Heroes. It’s Children of Hero Foundation and we’ll be announcing it in the next couple of weeks’ time so stay tuned for that.
All right. So, in a moment we’ll talk more about how these funds will be deployed but first a quick word from the sponsors who make the show possible.
Finance is changing, strategies are changing, holding is changing. Beefy Finance, the multichain yield optimizer, allows you to maximize passive income while you sleep. Simply deposit your crypto into Beefy’s secure, industry-leading auto-compounding vaults to put your funds to work. Each one of Beefy’s 740 vaults automatically reinvests the interest gained on your crypto deposits earning you more, while saving you time and fees.
Beefy’s strategies create bank-busting APYs with zero percent deposit fees at the click of a button. Join 1.4 billion dollars of investments and understand why so many users trust Beefy with their financial independence. Visit Beefy.finance and take control of your financial future.
Join over 10 million people using Crypto.com, the easiest place to buy, earn, and spend over 150 cryptocurrencies. New users enjoy zero credit card fees on crypto purchases in their first 30 days. With Crypto.com Earn, you can get industry-leading interest rates of up to 8.5 percent on over 40 coins, including Bitcoin and earn up to 14 percent on stable coins. With the Crypto.com Visa card you can spend your crypto anywhere. Enjoy up to eight percent cash back instantly. Plus, 100 percent rebates for your Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime subscriptions and zero annual fees. Download the Crypto.com app and get 25 dollars with the code Laura. Link in the description.
Building the next big thing in crypto? Cross River has your back, whether you are a crypto exchange, NFT marketplace, or wallet, Cross River’s integrated API-based platform provides the payment solutions you need to grow. Cross River is powering the future of financial services. A Cryptofin industry award-winner and an early partner for companies like Coinbase, Cross River’s tech stack supports crypto partners and enables real-time money movement for consumers. Welcome to a new world of crypto-friendly banking. Request your fiat on / off ramp solution now at Crossriver.com/crypto.
Back to my conversation with George and Illia. So, we kind of discussed a little bit about how you’re using the funds. I have seen some chatter where people have said, oh, you know, do people realize what this money is going toward? You talked about how Patreon blocked those efforts because they, I guess, have a policy against funding the purchase of military equipment. But I did want to ask…so I’ve heard from some people that some of the funds are being used to purchase military equipment and then from others that it’s being used to purchase other things such as bullet proof vests or night vision goggles or tourniquets. So, can you just talk a little bit about how it is that these funds are being used and how those decisions are being made?
For us, kind of the original goal was to focus specifically on humanitarian needs. So, what are all the food, shelter, recreation kind of funds needed and then kind of over time there definitely appeared a need that literally our friends who are such…or for some people their family who actually signed up for territorial defense were pretty much sitting there without defensive gear. They did not have a bulletproof vest. They did not have kind of basic task type of equipment because it was not delivered. So, this is where kind of Unchained Fund, a lot of it was focused on kind of this food, medicine, things that are needed for civilians to survive, get out of the place they are, settle down for example in Western Ukraine. Then this is where I actually connected with George and with Come Back Alive because there was a huge need in how do we get defensive equipment to our friends, pretty much who are in this kind of frontline side.
Again, my friends are in Kharkiv. They are actually in active combat like every day, and so at the same time there are other friends who are in Europe who actually are procuring, can get a lot of this equipment. So, that’s where Come Back Alive I think became a very important piece at least for me, and I know George kind of was there from day one.
Yeah. I mean you’ve got to understand, Laura, when the extent of the invasion was realized by the Ukrainians, you had the situation where the country was being attacked from five different sides by arguably the world’s second largest army. Now we know what years of corruption has done to the Russian army and how sort of strong it is. Nevertheless, it’s a massive army that has attacked from Belarus, from Russian side, from the southern flanks and Ukrainians started mass mobilization. You had a case where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians would be showing up including women and there would be not enough not only weapons but protective gear. So, you basically had, all of a sudden, hundreds of thousands of volunteers ready to stand up and protect the country but they were completely unprotected.
The priority was sort of a signal that if you have this full-stage invasion where the major Ukrainian army’s bogged down actually in the east with the Donetsk and Lugansk region and you have this major onslaught coming from the north, from the east, and from the south, you need to have these people have protective gear because if you don’t, first they’re not going to be protecting the civilians and you’ve seen cases of innocent civilians being completely shot out by the Russian soldiers. Second, you’re just going to have exaggeration of the humanitarian crisis because you will need the medications to treat these people and the healthcare system is not equipped to be all of a sudden treating so many wounded and incapacitated people.
So, we had to scramble. We had to scramble right away to start getting the vests, to start getting the helmets. These were the priorities, and 80 percent of the resources were allocated towards that and then channeling them towards Sumy, toward Kharkiv, toward the Chernihiv, frankly speaking, the reason Kyiv has stood and actually thwarted the invasion and now kind of are counterattacking and throwing out because of heroic defensive of the Kharkiv ad Sumy of Chernihiv. Because if the Russian army came through there from the eastern flanks they would have been already in Kyiv. That army was held in the eastern part and a lot of defensive weapon gear was there.
In terms of getting obviously the west had this wakeup call and they realized, okay, well you know what, guess what, if Ukraine falls we are next. We’re next means that in very high probability NATO Fifth Article and you’re looking at sort of a World War III actually in that regard. So, they scrambled, to their credit, and they started providing lots of military gear. So, a lot of miliary equipment has been provided by governments directly. Obviously, they have made a big difference. They have made a big difference. It’s great to have courage. It’s important but having modern equipment and modern military equipment does help. Ukrainians have shown their courage in terms of going out and thwarting the attacks, and we played a small role in terms of making sure that when the army attacks and when the bombs fall at least they have protective gear so they don’t get injured and they don’t put additional strain on the healthcare system.
Listen, in addition, Come Back Alive has been doing a lot of evacuation missions to be taking out women and children from places as far away as Mariupol, for example, like you were saying. Assisting their refugees, over two-and-a-half million refugees now have gone outside of Ukraine, predominantly towards Poland and other places in Western Europe and Georgia as well. So, that has been a primary sort of effort that we’ve been funding.
And so Illia, you mentioned how some of your friends are fighting in the front lines. During all this, as we discussed, there is this vibrant crypto community in the Ukraine. So where did the crypto community go? Are some of those people fighting or did they go to other countries or what has happened to that community?
Yeah. I would say there’s a combination. I would say there’s a subset of people who either had a military training before or had some kind of training who have decided to stay back and fight. It doesn’t actually make sense to fight if you don’t know because there’s been a lot of kind of training prior. It’s just indeed like hundreds of thousands of volunteers. So, those people are…literally, some of them in Kharkiv right now that I know that we have been helping with protective gear, with getting mobility for example because their cars keep breaking down. The weather is really bad. They’re also under attack all the time.
The other set of people have been kind of helping. So, there’s a lot of volunteers on the ground who are helping driving food, water, I mean things are getting bombed, cars are getting shot at. So, there’s people actually who are driving around delivering food and water and other supplies to people. I can actually send over some pictures of people who have been funding.
There is a set of people who have been helping out to evacuate others, especially when we talk about women, children, kind of grandparents including mine, for example, to get them out of this and kind of move them toward Western Ukraine and over the border for women and children. There is a set of people who are not fighters who are in Western Ukraine now who are kind of…one of the other things we need to continue doing is actually working because we will need to restore Ukraine, which means we need to continue making the economy work. So, there’s a lot of people who are continue working as kind of much as possible, including engineers and folks we’re working with who are trying to contribute even though sometimes you need to go to bomb shelters when there is a siren.
So, I think the people who have left, they’re kind of starting to aggregate in different hubs. For us, we decided Portugal will be one of those hubs. We’re setting up infrastructure here for our teams for NEAR community more broadly and also kind of trying to help out working with city hall here and some of the other district level folks to see how we can help. We actually launched away from Ukraine as a portal for all the information that people need when they are away from Ukraine, immigration, healthcare, and kind of starting to collect volunteer information as well because a lot of people around the whole Europe are willing to help, but they don’t know how and they don’t know how to get matched with people who need help, right.
We have people offering translation services. We have people who are drivers. There were some volunteers in Romania who helped to drive my family over the border outside. So, people like this who are right now driving food and other supplies through Romanian border into Ukraine and get it distributed back to volunteers that drive it to Kharkiv. All those people, they’re willing to help and so coordinating that, making sure there is a clear kind of place where people can find information and then kind of building a little bit of tech around that, like question answering bots and stuff like this to kind of help coordinate that.
In terms of this issue of people needing help and trying to coordinate that help, one of my personal friends tweeted about how her grandmother and father were trapped there. I can’t remember, I think it was a while before I myself saw the tweet, like hours after she posted it. By the time I saw it and retweeted it, it already had 90 thousand likes and another tens of thousands of retweets. Then later she tweeted that they were rescued and stuff, but definitely people were doing all these could from our homes on our phones and on Twitter, but still it actually…her cry for help from San Francisco finally actually did result in her grandmother and father being rescued. I mean it’s really fascinating how this is all happening. In a similar vein, I did want to talk a little bit about how the Ukrainian government has been making these appeals and has been using crypto as a tool. I don’t know how much insight you have there, but I was just curious how it is that the Ukrainian government was so kind of savvy about crypto and if you have an intel on how they had these ideas to just tweet out their various crypto addresses and stuff like that. I think it’s very fascinating, because I personally don’t think that if the US were in the same situation that we would see high level administration officials tweeting out a bitcoin or ether address for the US. I was just interested kind of how they became so savvy.
Specifically, there is a Ministry of Digital Transformation who has been driving all of these efforts, so all credit to them. They’ve actually been proponents of crypto for a long time and actually Ukraine has passed crypto clarification laws a few weeks before this whole thing started, which we all were super happy about and wanted to celebrate a the BlockchainUA. So, in general, I mean the digital transformation ministry is kind of extremely savvy in everything digital in general. They have built an amazing platform called DIA that functions inside Ukraine, which was kind of a single platform for all the services that you would usually engage with the government. Everything from taxation, creation of company, medical, all of those things were in one place, and it worked with your banking account as well, so it kind of created a whole ecosystem. I mean they are very savvy.
Actually, we were in the same coworking space as DIA development team, which is led directly by the Digital Transformation Group. So, kind of in general they know very well kind of how all those things work and they started creating accounts pretty rapidly to collect this. They also are working with a lot of entrepreneurs and kind of are connected with a whole ecosystem. I don’t know how much of this is public but they are working with tons of entrepreneurs in crypto kind of both to get help as well as to ask for connections and some of the technical help as well.
They have started the IT army kind of initiative as well to kind of galvanize the technical talent that Ukraine has to kind of help with a lot of the problems both kind of on the defensive front, like there have been cyber attacks from Russia’s side well as limiting kind of the spread of information that Russia has been having.
I mean if you look, I think it has been profound what Ukrainian government and the leadership has done in terms of utilizing social media platform for reaching out hearts of minds of not just politicians but of common people all around the world. Not only Ukrainians have been sort of kicking ass on the military front but they completely kicked ass and obliterated Russian propaganda machine to the point where the propaganda even inside Russia is starting to take…its seams are coming off. Obviously, it comes in from the leadership of President Zelensky. I met him on a couple of occasions. This is a very patriotic man that stood up to the challenge. He has, on a very human level reached out and pierced through the feelings of people around the world.
I think the team around him has rallied behind and have used social media, whether it’s enlisting Elon to get the Starlinks or going out and kind of calling out Samsung or Apple or Google or YouTube in order to do this or that. Obviously, when those messages kind of come alive they get caught by media and then people that know people talk directly to the decision makers and say, hey, what’s going on. Can you do this or can you do that?
We’ve been calling in, frankly, a lot of favors. Not just favors, just asking directly, hey, you want to be on the right side of the history. This is the situation and this is the ask. We had a very high convert rate. So, the government itself has been very savvy from the reforms that have been doing up to that and now with this situation they have completely sort of a slam dunk in terms of using social media and channels in terms of getting the message out, rallying out support through common people and rallying up governments. Frankly speaking, if we didn’t have social media and this conflict happened 20 years ago it would have been a very, very different outcome. It would have been a very, very hard sort of push and hard struggle. It would have been much more tragic and many more atrocities committed and such. But now everything is live basically. You have tanks coming out and Ukrainian partisans are FaceTiming their locations in real time. The satellite images or the recordings and all of that is giving you sort of a live situation of things on the ground that’s helping tremendously the armed forces and obviously information war using the toolsets have been done marvelously and given a lot of positive to Ukrainian people.
Yeah. I agree. I said this repeatedly throughout the episode but it is just so fascinating to watch because clearly things would have turned out very differently if it weren’t for the various ways that the technology both of Web2 and Web3 is being used here. One thing that I did want to ask about was obviously there was a moment when the Ukrainian government promised an air drop for people who contributed. Obviously, they ended up kind of saying that they were decided against going through with that. But what did you make of that move and then the decision to reverse course? What do you think kind of maybe happened there that initially caused them to make that announcement but then change their minds?
I don’t know the reasoning behind kind of making the decision and changing mind, but I would say the idea was definitely to kind of highlight the people who have contributed, right. So kind of the idea to give out NFTs that would show that you supported through donations to this, but we can speculate on kind of changing the mind. I think generally right now it’s just not the right time. They have plenty of more immediate things to do. So, kind of the NFT project, there’s a lot of NFT projects right now to support Ukraine that are happening. Their goal is to actually raise more funds to then fund them to help people.
So, I think there will be a time hopefully soon when this war ends and we’re going to switch to recovery mode where we should highlight people who have helped and who have done a job here but it’s not right now. Right now it’s really kind of how do we stop this? How do we help people who are still in immediate danger and how we kind of help people who are not in immediate danger but actually will be running out of food or right now kind of outside of Ukraine now kind of in a new environment and actually have huge PTSD. This is something that I haven’t heard anyone talking about. Even just from the friends who are arriving now in Portugal who have been there or my family, they all have PTSD in some form. They’ve been under bombs. They’ve been under shooting. They’ve been forcefully relocated. This will be kind of a lot of time to recover and this is actually something that I hope we can…this war, there’s a peace at least some ceasefire where we can start recovering and rebuilding because we can actually rebuild a way stronger country from this and help people kind of to really…with this rallying around get even stronger and bigger country out of Ukraine.
One thing I will say, obviously, people probably know already but after the air drop was announced then of course there were a bunch of wallets that were farming the air drop, sending tiny donations, so I do wonder if that played a role. Clearly, it’s interesting because of course the war has brought out, I think, such a great response from the crypto community. It really highlights kind of all the wonderful things about it but then of course we’ve also seen the same kind of shady or just opportunistic behaviors that we’re all familiar with in crypto as well. We’ve seen both sides.
That’s been one of the, I would say, major issues that we actually need Web3 to solve and kind of understand the reputation of people that you’re dealing with because especially now, a lot of it is in Telegram and Signal, which is useful for many reasons but then we don’t actually understand who is the person on the other side. What’s their reputation, who they are connected to, which community they’re a part of. So, having that information being kind of private but also available in some summarized, zero-knowledge forum that you can judge based on connecting those people when engaging with someone to prevent these kind of forms of…there is actually scams happening. People are trying, even with Unchained Fund, we are open for volunteers who are helping on the ground, but we’re doing deep KYC with proof of location, and we keep actually finding people who are trying to scam this, right.
So, actually building out a kind of working…not KYC but actually reputation system that works beyond just kind of basic identity but what are the things that you’ve done already. What are the things that are kind of positive that you bring to the world? Who are the other friends who you’re working with, communities that you’re participating in? Kind of encompassing that into some form that others can work on and judge on when they’re engaging with you is super important. I think I’m excited about, again, after we hopefully get into a stable state and start rebuilding to start engaging in.
Yeah. I actually just did an interview. I have this new premium offering where people can subscribe and they get additional content, and I just did an interview with a project called Galaxy. They’re actually doing just what you’re talking about. So, it was a very interesting interview. It sort of made you realize kind of finally how because it’s long been promised that blockchain technology could be applied to identity and reputation. Yet, this is one project that is kind of working on that. George, did you want to add anything on this air drop or even the subsequent NFT that they announced they were going to drop?
Yeah. I mean I’ve been so kind of focusing on the fundraising efforts and kind of evacuating friends and relatives from Chernihiv and Kharkiv that I saw that in the news, but frankly speaking, it’s been overshadowed by bombs dropping and maternity wards being blow up, getting help on the ground, but I’m sure once the dust settles that will be one of the questions. I think the team should provide the answer, what was the reasoning behind and see what can be done to make people whole so to speak. That would be my advice.
Yeah. My understanding it was just NFT. It wasn’t supposed to be like a token air drop. It was supposed to be just NFT for people who have contributed to kind of showcase their support.
Oh, oh. Okay. I thought originally it was a token and then they changed to NFTs but you’re saying that originally it was NFTs.
Yeah. Again, they’re very overworked. Twitter for that is something kind of that they’re doing. I mean they were trying to kind of, again, as my understanding, to highlight the people who have been contributing and helping. That’s really been the goal. Not to create some kind of other token economics.
At least as far as I understand.
All right. Well, let’s talk a little bit more about kind of what it is that the crypto community can do going forward. I feel like this was obviously in the news in a much bigger way just even a little while ago but I feel like there’s been less news about it at least in the crypto world. So, what would you want for people to know or to have them do based off of listening to this episode?
Yeah. I think there are a few things I mean obviously beyond just kind of contributing to various of these efforts depending on what kind of you align with most or what kind of you directly want to contribute to. I think they are looking for volunteers to help out with a lot of this…if we’re talking somebody who is in the European Union, people who can help with all these refugees and kind of people who have been displaced. Again, I mention away from Ukraine is a portal we’re trying to build to kind of organize this information and options.
Then beyond that, I think supporting Ukrainians, honestly even in kind of mental friendly way because everyone’s having a hard time and they need your support. They need your kind of friendship as well.
Yeah. I mean I just want to thank everybody in a major way who has come in times of need. I’ve been overwhelmed and my heart has been warmed by the help and assistance from many and in some cases from unexpected places. There have been a few surprises on the other side as well that have kind of stayed aloof and stayed…I wouldn’t say indifferent but not as active as I would have expected, but it is what it is. Ninety-five percent of people I reached out and discussions have came out in a small way and big way, in unexpected way. Thanks. It’s a great karma for the world. In times of this, I think when the world comes together to help each other and to give a caring hand is what matters. Crypto community to a large extent, all this infighting between various protocols sometimes and twitter wars and stuff. I came to witness that when there was a human tragedy and human need that people put aside all this and united together to do. I want to thank everybody, thank you, Illia, for all the work you’re doing. He actually has a great group on Telegram and so many participants. Every day there is a soup kitchen or evacuating people with pictures. It’s a very vibrant community. It’s wonderful seeing people from all over the world coming.
Here in Georgia, we’re also putting together trucks of humanitarian stuff and sending out. We have thousands and thousands of Ukrainians that are coming that are being lodged free of charge and staying and sort of cared for. I just want to thank everyone who has come in. You’ve done a great thing and something to be proud of so thank you.
All right. So, for people who want to get involved, what are all the handles and websites and groups that they should know about?
Yeah. I mean Unchained.Fund is kind of this humanitarian fund. I mean Come Back Alive is kind of what George has been working with. You can also check out the Ministry of Digital Transformation, their website and then Away From Ukraine is for helping people who are outside of Ukraine now and who need help because they’ve been kind of forcefully removed.
Yeah. I think exactly what Illia said. I also pay now to many in United States that…Ashton’s and Mila’s GoFund campaign. I think it’s a great effort and they’re nearing their sort of target. That’s a great way to get engaged. In a couple weeks’ time we’ll announce the Heroes of Ukraine Children’s Fund. I’ll be more than happy to then promote and get the crypto community engaged and continue sort of helping and doing good.
Great. Well, thank you both so much for coming on Unchained.
Thanks so much, Laura.
Thanks so much for joining us today. To learn more about George, Illia, and their efforts in Ukraine, check out the show notes for this episode. Unchained is produced by me, Laura Shin, with help from Anthony Yoon, Daniel Nuss, Mark Murdoch, Shashank, and CLK Transcription. Thanks for listening.