Crypto Investors Have Raised More Than $30 Million to Help Ukraine—And They’re Still Going
Indre Viltrakyte recalls the experience of living under Soviet control. The Lithuanian was on a family holiday in Bali when she saw the news with growing gloom. A fashion designer turned renegade web3 creator, Viltrakyte is no stranger to the contentious politics of Eastern Europe; she was entangled in a 2013 lawsuit against her native Lithuania over free speech in her brand’s advertising, which ultimately went to the European Court of Human Rights. (She won.) Even more appropriately, the NFT project that she is currently directing is called “She won.” Rebels. But Putin’s advancement into Ukraine hit close to home in new ways. Because of the time difference, she was awake to watch Russia’s invasion unfold. “It was just like—devastating news,” she says. “The first thought that came to me was, How can we help? Because they will need help.”
After connecting with Ukrainian friends, connections and acquaintances, she converted $15,000 of Ethereum to Bitcoin. She also donated personally. SaveLife.in.UACome Back Alive is a Ukrainian-based military charity accepting Bitcoin. This was the first group she discovered that already had an accessible cryptocurrency wallet. Viltrakyte’s eagerness to help the Ukrainian cause with crypto was not unique. The amount of cryptocurrency raised to support Ukraine-based assistance had surpassed $1 million by Tuesday. More than $30 MillionThis was achieved across several funds and initiatives. A group of people raised nearly $1 million within 30 seconds.
In Kyiv, Vitaliy Deynega, founder of Come Back Alive, is hard at work managing the many millions of dollars that are flowing into his organization’s coffers. The group is well-known and popular in Ukraine, with more than 3 million Facebook fans. They purchase equipment for the Army, such as radios, drones, and thermal night-vision sets. They set up an open crypto wallet about a year ago, and with the influx in support over the past week—both in crypto and fiat currency—they’ve already bought thousands of pieces of equipment for immediate distribution. “It was not that popular,” Deynega says of the crypto option in the past. “Not all that useful. But right now, in this hot stage of the war, it is extremely useful.” Sometimes, they don’t even have to convert the crypto to Euros, but can make purchases directly. Ukrainians are not restricted to transacting in digital currency. Deynega refers to a bank system that allows for the transfer of funds between different banks. “Now instead of this banking card thing, we have this crypto thing, which gives us more flexibility because it’s international,” he says.
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To those working in web3—the next wave of decentralized virtual and digital platforms—the tendency of the community towards global philanthropy is natural. According to Pat Duffy, co-founder of donations platform The Giving Block, crypto-based giving has been steadily on the rise: a new study from Fidelity Charitable reports that “donor contributions of digital assets like Bitcoin soared nearly twelvefold over the previous year, totaling more than $330 million in total contributions in 2021.” Crypto donors were also about twice as likely to give $1,000 or more compared to other mainstream investors. While Viltrakyte might have had difficulty finding crypto-friendly causes during the initial days of conflict, Ukraine soon realized that there was an opportunity: the government even opened options. direct crypto donations.
To facilitate such transfers, a number of platforms have been created and funds are available. The Giving Block enables individuals to donate Bitcoin, Ethereum, or any of a wide list of crypto tokens to vetted humanitarian aid charities working in Ukraine—like Direct Relief and Save the Children—or to contribute to a general cause fund with a bundle of charities. “We reduce the amount of time nonprofits need to spend in this arena in order to fundraise effectively,” says Duffy. “And on the donor side, we build the connective tissue, the rails to nonprofits.” The goal: simplify giving.
Another platform, Endaoment which aims to streamline crypto-philanthropy through direct cash conversions of donations, is also available. an influxOver $500,000 has been raised in five days to support their Ukraine Fund. “We lowered our minimum donations so that more people could donate, and we integrated PayPal donations so that people could donate with just regular dollars,” says CEO Robbie Heeger. “It’s so cool to see the financial infrastructure of the crypto ecosystem lined up with that emotional impetus to do something about it. And that’s what we’re seeing play out across web3. It’s not just about likes and retweets anymore; that social engagement can now be connected to the ultimate base financial infrastructure, globally.”
Ivan VidyakinLeleka Foundation was founded by him. It is a U.S.-based, 501c3 nonprofit that distributes medical equipment and has been one of Endaoment’s main causes. From his Washington, D.C. home, he confirms that the cryptocurrency platform fulfilled its promises. Leleka got $200,000 from around the globe in just five days, with Endaoment contributing a small portion. “They reached out to us, and we did the due diligence, because who wants to give us so much money?” he says. “But… it’s a legitimate organization. So we went ahead.” Already, they are working with on-ground partners in Ukraine to purchase and distribute needed supplies like first aid medical kits, tourniquets, and blood-stopping bandages.
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To Endaoment’s Heeger and others, this quick-connectivity and the inherent transparency of blockchain activity makes it an ideal platform for humanitarian aid. “Especially in moments when there are crises, it underscores the importance of seamless integration between the social networks that we use every day, and the financial infrastructure that has been historically siloed from those social networks,” he says.
Twitter has played a central role in organizing. It was home to one of the most talked about donation campaigns. RELI3F was created by an eclectic group of NFT lovers: online community facilitators and artists from all over the globe. Andrew Wang, a popular Twitter connector, also helped to create it. Their collective created a fund that featured 37 NFT artists within a matter of minutes. The auction went live in under a minute. They’ve directly wired about half of that to three causes that directly accept ETH—Come Back Alive, local media vetted by the Kyiv Independent, and medical group Hospitallers—while holding the other half as “priorities may shift,” they tweetedThey want to be in a position to distribute to the most pressing needs of the day. If you are curious as to how donations are channeled, it is possible to check the wallet addresses. View Etherscan transaction histories. Transaction histories.
Ukrainian artist Vitaliy Raskalov is one of RELI3F’s organizers, coordinating with sources on the ground. “Right now, it’s a big challenge for them to change this amount of money,” he says of some of the funds learning to work with crypto. Still, there are places where transactions don’t require conversions. “You can pay [with crypto] in Poland and some other countries for equipment like bulletproof vests,” he says.
Raskalov and his RELI3F collaborators are happy to be doing something in the face of conflict and uncertainty, proving to themselves—and the world at large—that the NFT community is not just a scam, or a group of internet denizens trading jpegs. Aleksandra Artamonovskaja is a Ukrainian-born Londoner who has curated the original art collection. She finds purpose in fundraising, as have other artists such Raskalov. Sasha Maslov, HawkwardAnd Ravi Vora. “When you have a sense of at least helping in a tiny way, it helps you focus,” Artamonovskaja says. In February she left Ukraine and checked in with her family around the clock. On Monday evening, RELI3F coordinator Wang pulled together an impromptu Zoom with a dozen of the fund’s primary organizers and artist-contributors to discuss their work so far. “It’s not just about fungible tokens, or crypto making its way to another part of the world,” he said. “It’s because we have these social norms of helping each other and knowing each other and doing right by each other. We put our reputations on the line to do this. We lead with art.”
UkraineDAO has been one of the most profitable funds to date. Founded in part by Russian performance artist and activist Nadya Tolokonnikova—best known as one of the founding members of Pussy Riot—UkraineDAO raised over $4.2 million for Come Back Alive within three days of launching its first NFT collection, including from high-profile donors like Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, OnlyFans (responsible for a 500 ETH donation, about $1.5 million), and Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian. Donors can either donate crypto directly to the fund or invest in a “LOVE” token. “These tokens have NO utility nor value, but are a beautiful testament and reminder of your contribution to a noble cause,” the UkraineDAO Website warnings. For crypto investors, symbolism can be worth the price.
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That’s certainly the case for anyone purchasing the “Help Ukraine” meme token, $HUKR. It turns out that meme currencies can be used for more than just quick cash and jokes: people who purchase this token help raise money for a number of Ukrainian causes, including via Endaoment’s distributed fund. To someone like Viltrakyte, watching her online community rally for her region, it’s been an overwhelming response. “Every group, every project that I’ve followed these past few days, they’re trying to do something,” she says. She knows of one individual who, alerted of the need on Discord, donated 8 BTC to one cause—about $3 million.
The blockchain is ultimately just ones and zeros; it’s inherently and permanently neutral, even in the face of war, and is just starting to prove itself as an efficient tool to move funds around the world fast, sidestepping the bureaucracy of our fiat currency institutions. The blockchain is a decentralized, non-governmental organization that allows for the transfer of funds quickly and efficiently around the world. Last weekBitcoin markets are experiencing an upswing as Russians take control Turned awayFrom the ruble’s sinking, they sought to avoid severe sanctions. This crisis—the first instance of large-scale crypto-philanthropy mobilizing at once—is putting the blockchain to the test as a tool for good, too, however.
Before Russia’s invasion, Come Back Alive’s Deynega had quit his job and left Ukraine to travel. “But when I understood that we will have this war, I came back to participate,” he says. “I don’t feel very safe at this time, obviously. But, you know, it’s my job. So it’s okay.” Meanwhile the donations—millions each day—are “still flowing.”