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Near Protocol Founder: Ukraine Shows How Crypto 'Delivers Help Directly to People'

Millions in cryptocurrency have flooded into the region since the Russian invasion.

3 min read
Illia Polosukhin speaks to Decrypt at Messari Mainnet 2022 in New York.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, millions in cryptocurrency donations have found their way into the digital wallets of the Ukrainian government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the region.

Ukraine raised $63 million in crypto donations within two weeks of the invasion, according to Blockchain analytics firm, Elliptic.

"At the beginning, [cryptocurrency] was a lifeline," Near Protocol co-founder Illia Polosukhin told Decrypt at Messari Mainnet in New York City. The Ukrainian-born Polosukhin says the first thing he thought of when he heard Russia invaded Ukraine was how he could help.

Polosukhin said when he decided to donate funds to Ukraine, his concern went to Ukraine's financial sector and if any banks would still be standing. "If you send a wire transfer, it may arrive, it may not arrive, maybe there's no bank tomorrow," he said.

Because of these concerns, Polosukhin says he decided instead to donate cryptocurrency. "Crypto is actually a safe option," Polosukhin says. "It's fast, and we could deliver deployed capital."

Soon after, Polosukhin recalls, he joined with other founders to launch the Unchain Fund project that uses cryptocurrency to support global causes—one of the broad ideals of the crypto movement.

"It's resilient, it's fast, it delivers help directly to people," he said.

Several big names in blockchain have donated to Ukraine, including Ethereum co-founders Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Wood, along with FTX head Sam Bankman-Fried, who along with crypto staking provider Everstake launched an official crypto fundraising site called Aid for Ukraine.

While there is no exact accounting of how much cryptocurrency donations Ukraine has received, an April 2022 Financial Times report said the total amount is more than $100 million.

Polosukhin says that while crypto donations to Ukraine have slowed down, Unchain Fund is still active in the region. At one point, Polosukhin says, the fund had up to 5,000 volunteers operating in Ukraine. In September, Unchain Fund partnered with Ukraine DAO and Atlantis World to launch the Kyiv Tech Summit, which included a panel discussion with Ethereum co-founder and Ukraine supporter Vitalik Buterin.

In August, Buterin said he used the now sanctioned Tornado Cash mixing service and privacy tool to donate to Ukraine, a day after the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the site.

Polosukhin says the point of the summit was to bring attention to Web3 developers in Ukraine.

"Ukraine developers are outsourcing," Polosukhin told Decrypt. "A lot of companies, their clients have been cutting ties with Ukrainian companies because their risk model cannot acknowledge [working with] a company in a country which is at war."

For Polosukhin, Web3 and cryptocurrency are ways to overcome this huddle, and he hopes more people will participate in building solutions with blockchain technology.

"Web3 doesn't care," he says. "[It] doesn't care where you come from or where you are going. If you build great products and deliver them, and solve people's problems, you will be rewarded."

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