He would bristle at the term but you might describe Dylan Schultz as a crypto bro. He runs Lavender.Five, a crypto validator service that authenticates transactions on the blockchain (imagine a deregulated branch of the Securities and Exchange Commission).
On 25 February, he issued a plea to his 1,700 Twitter followers, “We’ll match any donation made to a charity in support of Ukraine, up to a total of $1,000.” The next day, Schultz posted the fruits of his initiative; 0.028 bitcoin, equaling the total donations of about $1,100, sent to a crypto wallet operated by a Ukrainian military NGO called Come Back Alive. He’s one tiny part of a chorus of countless other crypto holders all over the world who’ve raced to back Ukrainians in the face of an invading force. Reports claim that more than $30m in cryptocurrency has been funneled to the country since the war began. So has charity finally become decentralized?
“I decided early on that Lavender.Five would use its platform to make a positive difference, no matter how small,” says Schultz. “Crypto is inherently worldwide. To donate using traditional currency often requires intermediaries. You can’t donate USD directly, you first need to convert it in some way, or find an intermediary. … Cryptocurrency solves this by simplifying the process. If you have the address for the charity, you can simply enter the address, enter the amount to donate, and hit send.”
Ukraine, like many former Soviet states, has battled corruption and a severe dearth of international funding since gaining independence in 1991. So maybe that is why the Ukrainian government took the unusual step of tweeting out crypto wallet codes for global financing through both bitcoin and Ethereum – the two most popular digital tokens – from official accounts. “Stand with the people of Ukraine Now accepting cryptocurrency donations,” wrote Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice-prime minister, on 26 February. Nonprofits and local businesses in the besieged country have mirrored the government’s request. The Kyiv Independent, an English language newspaper in the capital city, is accepting patronage through bitcoin.
Come Back Alive, the NGO that Schultz contributed to, was previously active on Patreon – processing traditional currency donations – before being terminated from the platform because it violated an existing moratorium on military fundraisers. Naturally, the firm found a second life thanks to a “crypto collective” called UkraineDAO which is collecting decentralized aid for a variety of Ukrainian organizations. As the state is gradually dragged into brutal urban warfare, perhaps it makes sense that the residents are petitioning for an untrackable currency – particularly as donations can be anonymous and therefore avoid any retaliation from the Russian state.
“Blockchain allows us to scale our efforts in a way that wasn’t possible for us before,” said Nadya Tolokonnikova, a spokeswoman for Ukraine DAO, in an interview with The New York Times. “The old ways of raising money sometimes are really slow and just clumsy.”
For the most ardent cryptocurrency diehards, the crisis in Ukraine is a perfect encapsulation of the reasons why they believe the global economic hegemony needs to be broken up. The Ukrainian people need help, and they argue that bitcoin’s ability to eschew bureaucratic red tape is the best way to provide immediate service to a vulnerable population. “It’s just the cheapest, fastest, and most secure way to transact financially,” says Artemis, who declined to offer his real name but says he’s from Canada and donated $280 in bitcoin to Come Back Alive. “They can safely store it without any fear of the invading force stealing it, or the banking system collapsing due to war.”
That said, donors still need to be doing their due diligence to avoid potential scams, particularly in a chaotic active war zone. Nobody should trust a stray crypto wallet floating through social media without corroborating the details. Especially when there are organizations such as The Giving Block, a charity curator that opens up blockchain pathways to nonprofits, which requires a vetting process to be featured on the platform. Even in the wild west of crypto, it is possible for patrons to know their alms are going to the right place – although not all the Ukrainian groups currently accepting crypto donations have opened themselves up to this kind of transparency.
There’s also plenty of evidence that the crypto revolution could threaten the Ukrainian homefront. Foreign policy experts are warning that the Russian economy could become increasingly reliant on the blockchain as crippling sanctions wreak havoc on Moscow. The ruble is worth less than one cent after a 30% swoon after the US and Europe cut off Russian banks from Swift. Crypto is much more resistant to punitive financial assault, and that provides an escape route for a country that’s been completely isolated from civic banking.
“It is most likely already happening. We know Russia is already developing its own digital currency, the digital ruble, that it will use to trade globally. Sanctions aimed at hurting Putin will only hurt the Russian people. What is certain is that Putin has already thought about this prior to the conflict with Ukraine and has a plan that probably involves crypto,” says Mark Bosa, HOKK Finance global brand and business manager.
The war efforts, on both sides, may be funded in the inky blackness of the blockchain. Crypto is often simultaneously a force for good and a force for evil, but the stakes of that dichotomy have never been quite this high. For his part, Schultz intends to keep supporting Ukrainians with his tokens. “Ukraine didn’t want this, and is fighting the battle on their own,” she says. “I wanted to help however I can, by reaching as many as I can.”