Fintech

A Ukrainian crypto pioneer’s crusade: 'We need to protect our home'

Sergey Vasylchuk, who helped start up the Aid for Ukraine crypto donation project, didn’t even vote for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but he’s a believer now.

Aid for Ukraine founder and Everstake CEO Sergey Vasylchuk

Aid for Ukraine founder and Everstake CEO Sergey Vasylchuk joined other Ukrainians in setting up a crypto donation campaign.

Photo: Everstake

Sergey Vasylchuk didn’t vote for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and he thought Ukrainians who voted in the former actor as president three years ago were crazy.

Russia’s invasion of his homeland changed the crypto entrepreneur’s mind.

Vasylchuk, who is founder and CEO of the Ukrainian crypto company Everstake, now sees Zelenskyy as the leader who is “fighting and protecting his country.” And Vasylchuk is doing his part for the resistance from abroad, in part by launching a DAO called Aid for Ukraine to funnel crypto donations to his country.

He had just arrived in the U.S. with his family to attend flight school in Florida when Russia invaded Ukraine. It was a tough time for all of them. His parents and most of his employees bore the brunt of what quickly turned into a brutal offensive.

“I was just emotionally drained,” he said. To “stop feeling useless and helpless,” Vasylchuk joined other Ukrainians in setting up a crypto donation campaign with FTX and Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. The campaign has already raised more than $60 million in crypto donations.

In an interview with Protocol, Vasylchuk talked about how the war has affected his family and colleagues, the crypto relief effort and the future of crypto in his homeland.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you find out that the war had started?

I probably will never forget this day. It was night, and my wife woke up and said, “It started.” My brain was like, “It’s probably a nightmare.” I just went to sleep and did not pay attention. It was hard to even imagine that it would happen. But then I woke up and opened my phone. I saw thousands of messages, and I was thinking, “What the hell is going on?”

I was just shocked. My parents are still in Ukraine. Many of my friends and employees, they're still there. I could not believe it. It was just shock. I was emotionally drained. I didn’t feel anything.

Then, after one or two days, I tried to gather myself together and said, “This is not an option, to sit and do nothing. It will not help anyone.” So I started to do something.

You had just arrived in the States when Russia invaded.

Yeah, I came from Ukraine just two days before. I was planning to [go] to flight school here in Florida. Luckily, I took my kids. My plan was, while I attended school, my family could spend time on the shore instead of fog and rain. This is something that saved my family from the missiles and guns.

You still have a team in Ukraine.

We are close to a hundred. Many of them are working remotely because of COVID.

I understand some of them have joined the resistance.

Currently the feeling of probably 99% of all Ukrainians, it doesn't depend on where they are, they try to resist. Everyone is working. I don't know anyone in Ukraine who's just sitting around and observing what is going on.

Can you share conversations you’ve had with team members who have joined the fight?

Some have military experience. The conversation is simple. We need to protect our home.

How did you set up Aid for Ukraine?

I went to the guys from the Ministry of Digital Information and said, “We need to find some way to ensure that the money will be spent and accepted in the proper way.” The DAO was the only way. People were dying. We needed to act right now. It was the most fast and proven and efficient way to show the outside world that this is a group of people who have this partnership.

How long did it take you to set it up?

It took two hours.

How is it different from the Kuna Exchange initiative led by Michael Chobanian?

I’ve worked with Michael Chobanian in the crypto scene in Ukraine. All those people who are currently trying to help have known each other for years.

We have different blockchain groups inside Ukraine. They started to do their own initiatives independently.

I started to see the complaints from the tech community: “Hey guys, what’s going on?” Then we connected with the Ministry of Digital Information. We needed to unite all this stuff under the umbrella of the ministry, because we need to speak officially to the people.

So you also accept NFTs?

We cannot deny people who want to donate any type of asset. NFTs are just another type of asset which could be helpful to protect our home country.

Do you have any information on what the funds were used for?

There are two different accounts. One account is humanitarian. Another account belongs to the Ministry of Defense. I see the results. I see that our country is beating the second-biggest [military] in the world. So I'm pretty sure that they know what to do.

How is your family doing in Ukraine?

My parents are still in Ukraine. They don't want to leave. I tried to convince them. But they don't want to. I'm happy that I’m here with my family.

I'm guessing you have a lot of Russian friends and colleagues. What have been some of the conversations you've had with them? What has that been like for you?

For me personally, there's two types of Russian people. One of them just uses the TV instead of the brains. Others use their brains and don't do the TV. I'm surprised that Russia could build such an efficient propaganda machine.

For the people who are under the influence of propaganda, I do not even talk [to them]. It’s a waste of time. You can't convince them.

How do you view Putin? How did that view change over time?

I never liked Putin. But before, I didn't care. Right now, the majority of the people just hate him. I can assure you that. 99% personally hate him.

Do you have any thoughts on Zelenskyy?

I voted against him.

Wait, you voted against him?

I voted against him initially. I was depressed knowing that this guy who was making movies became the president. It was like this funny movie. I was like, “What? How did you use your brain?” I was disappointed.

Did you watch his show, “Servant of the People”?

Yeah, it was funny. Really, it was funny. And this was the reason why they voted for him. Those emotions were used to put him in this position. I was super angry and I was super disappointed [with] the way Ukrainians were thinking.

How do you see Zelenskyy now?

Right now, I see that the guy who has no political experience, hasn't experienced playing political games, he's doing what he can. He's fighting and protecting his country. He is playing a very significant role.

I believe that if we had any other politician that previously had this experience of political shady games, probably we will likely lose or I don't know what will happen.

So right now, you’re happy that Zelenskyy is in charge.

Yes, I'm proud that we currently have a president who is not scared to go to fight with the second-biggest army in the world.

One thing that I really like, after all the community efforts which raised more than $50 million in crypto, he took it seriously and the next day he signed the law which currently makes crypto legal in Ukraine.

This is another reason that I want to come back as soon as possible. You will be amazed what we will be able to build [with crypto].

What has been the low point for you so far in this conflict?

I cannot understand that people are killing the old and young. They’re killing seniors and they’re killing kids. I couldn't understand. If you see it, you start to hate it because … people who are bombing delivery hospitals, they’re animals. People who are using weapons against people who are not able to leave, they’re animals. You should understand, there’s a lot of hate.

What are your personal plans?

My personal plan is to return home as soon as it is safe.

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