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Crypto Donations for Ukraine Provide Flow of War-Related Help

Members of Congress give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation before he speaks in a virtual address to Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium in Washington, on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
Crypto Donations for Ukraine Provide Flow of War-Related Help
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Ukraine says it has received some unusual financial support in its fight against the Russian invasion: cryptocurrency donations.

People around the world have donated millions of dollars directly to Ukraine’s war effort through cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

Crypto is a digital currency that only exists online. It works as an exchange medium through computer networks that are not controlled by any bank or government.

Ukrainian officials began calling for such donations in late February, shortly after Russia’s invasion. Ukraine’s government says it has taken in almost $67 million of its $200 million goal as of March 26.

Alex Bornyakov is the country’s deputy minister for digital transformation. He wrote on the nation’s donation website that “crypto is playing a significant role in Ukraine’s defense.”

Ukraine has spent about $34 million of the funds received as of last week. It has turned about 80 percent of the donations into traditional money. It used the remainder with merchants that already accept cryptocurrencies, Bornyakov said in an email.

Michael Chobanian is the founder of a Ukrainian cryptocurrency exchange. He is one of several people helping the Ukrainian government manage the donations through an informal agreement, Bornyakov confirmed.

“We are buying so much stuff that is saving lives every single day and also are stopping the aggression, so it’s a beginning of the new world,” Chobanian said in a voice message sent through the app Telegram.

Chobanian said he was not receiving payment for his work. But he noted that some of the funds are being converted through his cryptocurrency exchange Kuna.

“It’s certainly a first,” said Bennett Tomlin. He investigates cryptocurrency scams. “We’ve never seen a sovereign nation fund their defense efforts in crypto before,” Tomlin added.

Officials have said that the speed with which they can use cryptocurrency donations has made them useful. The downside of such speed and ease is that cryptocurrencies are the currency of choice for criminal networks.

The publicity around Ukraine’s call for donations has attracted scammers – people who get money for themselves through dishonesty and trickery.

Hilary Alley is a professor at American University’s law school in Washington, D.C. She has written a book about the risks of cryptocurrencies. She said anyone who donates should carefully look at all the actors involved.

“Who is receiving the crypto? Who will be converting the crypto? You need to be thinking about them the same way you’d be thinking about any other charity or nonprofit you are donating to because they are intermediaries in just the same way,” Alley said.

Many of the donations to Ukraine’s accounts can be confirmed on public tools that follow the path of cryptocurrency dealings.

Tuan Phan is a cybersecurity professional. He examined the flow of money to and from some of Ukraine’s accounts. He did this in part because he wanted to make a donation himself. Born in Vietnam, he said he was eight years old when North Vietnamese Communist forces took Saigon in 1975.

“I’m old enough to remember what happened, so I’m very empathetic to the Ukrainians,” Phan said. “I wanted to make sure the address where I’m sending my donation is landing in the right places. There are lots of scams going on, so you have to be extra careful.”

I’m Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in this Story

currency - n. the money that a country uses; a specific kind of money

transformation - n. a complete or major change in someone's or something's appearance, form, etc.

significant - adj. large enough to be noticed or have an effect

funds - n. available money

merchant - n. someone who buys and sells goods especially in large amounts

convert - v. to change (something) into a different form or so that it can be used in a different way

scam - n. a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people

intermediary - n. a person who works with opposing sides in an argument or dispute in order to bring about an agreement

empathetic - n. showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another