This article was written in collaboration with Taylor McAuliffe, Researcher and Interactive Media Writer from Altitude Accelerator, a non-profit innovation hub and business incubator which provides programs to help founders grow and scale.
It’s been almost 5 months since Russia invaded Ukraine – a war Putin waged but confidently assumed would be one and done within weeks, not months. The affliction Ukraine and its citizens have experienced in the time since the day Putin declared war on this nation has been unsettling: the displacement of almost 5 MM refugees, the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, almost 4700 civilian deaths, and according to the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine, an estimated $95B in damages with approximately 30% of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg believes Russia’s war in Ukraine will take years before it’s resolved. Reports have surfaced about “compassion fatigue” as the media headlines about Ukraine have receded from the front pages in recent months:
“This is not to say, of course, that people outside Ukraine have lost sympathy for what has happened and continues to happen to people inside Ukraine. But the intensity of that concern and the preoccupation with another war in Europe have started to fade into the rear view.”
In the meantime, two activists continue their impassioned plea to support the efforts in Ukraine with each dire circumstance as Russian encroachment progresses. Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica, who became a whistleblower and testified about her company’s use of Facebook data, impacting both Brexit and the 2016 US elections, launched her organization, Own Your Data to give people the resources to protect their online information. She spoke at Collision 2022, along with Olive Allen, former Russian citizen, who has denounced her country’s aggressions against Ukraine.
Kaiser declared that days before February 24, 2022 when Putin announced a special military operation in Ukraine that resulted in this sovereign nation’s invasion, a first crypto initiative, called Ukraine DAO, was established by Alona Shevchenko, raising the first $8M in crypto for Ukraine. As per Kaiser, on February 26th,
“I was honored to be able to support the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine in launching the Aid for Ukraine crypto fundraising campaign… Within days, $100 million was raised across the wallets for the government and top NGOs, like Come Back Alive and World Central Kitchen. That was the same day where the European Union said that they would give 100 million euro in humanitarian aid but 109 million had already hit wallets and was being spent in crypto: Bitcoin and Tether (USDT) were being used to purchase medical supplies, food rations… the first defensive equipment to protect lives in Ukraine. The speed at which the crypto community was able to react saved so many lives and has continued to play a massive role in supporting humanitarian aid operations within the country and for refugees over the border.”
In times of war, where we’ve seen companies suspend operations during the conflict, where communication can be infiltrated, and where local, finance, transportation and energy infrastructures traditional systems are vulnerable to enemy cyber attacks, the only real certainty in recent months has been crypto.
The advent of cryptocurrency and blockchain has brought countless innovations, and now we are witnessing crypto, and NFTs specifically, as significant components in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, serving as possible lifelines for survival on all fronts. The presence of crypto and NFTs as fundraising tools have drawn over $63.8 million in crypto donations to the Ukrainian government, with over $100 million in donations to the Ukrainian army and efforts to rebuild the country. With numbers as staggering as these, many people are asking, why crypto?
Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation, summarizes the importance of secure and direct access to funds, stating that:
“The fact that it can’t be frozen, the fact that it can’t be censored, and the fact that it can be used without ID is very, very important…and why Bitcoin is such an important humanitarian tool.”
What is crucial about this war is the Russia-Ukraine conflict isn’t happening exclusively on the ground. This is the first major conflict “involving large-scale cyber operations.” With an elevated risk of damage to infrastructure and data, the security of cryptocurrency is particularly appealing to government and military operations. Kaiser details the Ukrainian governments welcoming of crypto donations, recognizing the need for secure and fast funds at this time:
“President Zelensky, wearing combat gear, signed a bill legalizing digital assets within the country, and now the official government wallets on the Aid for Ukraine campaign, accepts 16 Different cryptocurrencies officially.”
Crypto and NFTs have proven themselves as highly effective fundraising tools in the Russia-Ukraine crisis allowing funds to land directly in the hand of displaced Ukrainians without the need of a central bank. NGOs and CBOs have maximized the use of crypto donations, accepting funds that have gone directly to “bringing the most vulnerable children, elderly, and single mothers with their children to safety; both internally displaced and refugees,” says Kaiser.
Crypto also provides security and transparency for those donating funds. Kaiser describes the revolutionary visibility to track fund transfers, providing a way for donors to see how their contributions have materialized:
“You can see an itemized list of everything that was spent out of those wallets, which is absolutely incredible for government transparency. You can look on the blockchain and see all the money that has come in publicly and all of the money that has come out and where it’s gone. [This fund transfer] is for medical kits… this was for bulletproof vests… this was night vision goggles. That’s a revolution because most governments do not have this level of transparency… So the last report that came out, published the last $45 million in cryptocurrencies that were spent. You can see an itemized list of everything that was spent from those wallets”
Olive Allen is an activist. She escaped the Russian government more than 10 years ago to the US:
“I decided to burn my passport because I don’t see myself ever being able to exist in that reality… or ever coming back to live in the country supporting this government. Burning my passport at the Russian Consulate was my way of saying I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”
It was then that she realized she could do more. She had been an NFT artist since 2018, since its inception. She gathered her teammates in the space and began creating NFTs to raise funds mainly for children and the humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Allen explains her efforts so far:
“People are realizing that NFT’s are not as evil as they’ve been portrayed in the media so far, but it’s very valuable fundraising tool and a great way to make a difference very quickly… In basically a matter of hours the money makes it into the wallets of where it’s needed. That wouldn’t happen in the traditional art world or a charity gala… and the fact that the country is embracing digital currency speaks to a growing acceptance of cryptocurrency.”
Kaiser underscores the much needed for aid in a country that Putin presumed had expected to occupy with weeks, not months.
“Obviously now that we are nearly five months past the start of the invasion, press attention on the war in Ukraine and therefore, donations to both the government and to all of the humanitarian aid organizations that are accepting money in both crypto and fiat, have drastically declined. It’s important that the world does not forget that Ukraine is still at war.”
Recently Bitcoin’s value has dropped 70% to $20,000 from its highest value at $68,000 November, 2021. Losses in the Crypto community have been estimated at $1.5 trillion, its trickling effects felt across Ethereum (down 65%), XRP (down78%).
Kaiser has pointed out that donations commenced prior to this crypto decline. The momentum of this campaign had began to ease so they have relaunched the initiative to announce other ways that people can provide support.
“In Austin at Consensus, we announced on a panel with the Ministry of Digital, NEAR Protocol and the Blockchain Association of Ukraine, a new initiative to digitize all of Ukraine’s cultural sites and artifacts in a Heritage Hub starting with items that are in museums and cultural heritage sites that have not yet sustained any damage by doing 3D renderings and modeling so they are permanently preserved in a digital museum… And then we will begin to work on sites that have already been destroyed, rebuild them digitally and use NFT auctions and metaverse business models in order to fund the reconstruction of the physical sites once the war is over.”
As Cofounder for the Heritage Hub, Kaiser explains what compelled her to create this project:
“I spent most of my life training as a human rights lawyer with a concentration in prevention and punishment of atrocity crimes, specifically genocide. When an aggressor plots to commit genocide, they are trying to wipe away all evidence of a certain culture or race. The systematic targeting of cultural heritage sites by the Russian military made this project urgent, and especially emotive for me as a Ukrainian Jew. I am currently spending much of my time getting this project to scale as quickly as possible so we can preserve and protect both the heritage and the hope of the Ukrainian people for the future.”
Kaiser does not accept that the momentum has stalled,
“There are still important sites all over Ukraine that are being bombed. The aggressor is specifically seeking to wipe out the cultural heritage monuments which is an sign of the crime of genocide… so it’s important that the world’s eyes continue to remain on Ukraine and that everything is done to come to the aid of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.”
Here is a list of initiatives where people can donate:
Meta History.Gallery – The first government and NFT collection called the Museum of War. The initiative aims to encrypt on the blockchain, facts, time, places and location of events since the invasion to blunt Russia’s disinformation campaigns from altering the truth. Immutable. Permanent.
Aid for Ukraine via Ministry of Digital Transformation in Ukraine – The site accepts donations from 16 different cryptocurrencies
Ukraine Heritage Hub – The newly announced project to preserve and reconstruct Ukraine’s cultural heritage sites and artifacts on the blockchain, in the metaverse, and then physically.
Save Ukraine: The most active NGO working in Ukraine, founded in 2014, and has now evacuated over 46,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced people and refugees from the war.
About Taylor McAuliffe
Taylor McAuliffe is a 4th year student at McGill University studying a major in Industrial Relations and double minor in Economics and Communications. Her work experience centres around content creation and copywriting. She currently works as the Interactive Media Writer Intern at Altitude Accelerator.
About Altitude Accelerator
Altitude Accelerator is a not-for-profit innovation hub and business incubator committed to commercializing impactful technology in Southern Ontario. Altitude’s team of more than 100 expert industry, academic, and government partners and advisors helps start-ups in cleantech, advanced manufacturing, internet of things (IoT), hardware, software, and life sciences grow faster, stronger, commercialize their products, and get to market. Headquartered in Brampton, Ontario’s Innovation District, Altitude Accelerator was created through a partnership with the University of Toronto Mississauga, the Mississauga Board of Trade, and the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation, & Trade.