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Ukraine’s KUNA Exchange Says Crypto Has Been Vital During Russia Invasion

3 mins
Updated by Levy Prata

In Brief

  • Ukraine's largest crypto exchange, KUNA, says crypto has been vital during the Russia conflict.
  • Prior to Russia's invasion, KUNA saw daily trading volumes of between $1 to $4 million.
  • He now sees it as a saving grace in the country’s effort to repel the invasion and defend its citizens.
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KUNA, Ukraine’s biggest crypto exchange believes that cryptocurrency has proven vital during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as its founder, Michael Chobanian continues to facilitate donations for the government.

Prior to Russia’s invasion, KUNA saw daily trading volumes of between $1 to $4 million, while Chobanian simultaneously led the Blockchain Association of Ukraine. While many Ukrainian men have joined the army to support the country’s resistance in the face of Russia’s invasion, Chobanian has seen his role as the father of his country’s crypto scene elevated to become the “crypto banker for the government.”

“I’m in charge of collecting, fundraising, and storing crypto, and also exchanging crypto to crypto and crypto to fiat, opening bank accounts for intermediaries or for the government, and then buying whatever is required by the Ministry of Defense,” he told Bloomberg Markets.

“We also find the suppliers who are willing to sell us humanitarian goods, or helmets, or bulletproof vests for crypto.”

According to Ukraine’s deputy minister for digital transformation Alex Bornyakov, crypto donations by mid-March had helped the army purchase 5,500 bulletproof vests, 500 helmets, night-vision goggles, and medicine.

Crypto preparation

Chobanian notes that in some sense, cryptocurrencies have helped Ukraine prepare for the conflict, which to many had seemed impending since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In his years as one of Ukraine leading crypto advocates, Chobanian had made connections all across the world.

“I knew that a lot of big crypto billionaires from around the world would definitely help us because they knew us personally,” he said. “I know a lot of rich Ukrainian crypto guys who live abroad, so I definitely knew they would help. Yesterday we were competitors, now we are all one big family.” 

However, apart from crypto executives marshaling crypto resources to support the war effort, cryptocurrencies have helped Chobanian and KUNA prepare in a more immediate sense.

“In crypto you’re always prepared for the worst. You’re prepared for the hackers or for police raids, or something like that,” Chobanian said. “Health issues, stress, and internet access—for me personally—was the hardest. The rest was just business as usual.”

Crypto saves lives

Having always had faith in the technology, Chobanian now sees it as a saving grace in the country’s effort to repel the invasion and defend its citizens. Instead of taking three days through the traditional financial system, Bitcoin’s block creation time of 10 minutes is orders of magnitude more expedient.

“So if we can save a minute, it means that we can save at least someone’s life, so we are trying to speed up the process and crypto is helping us here,” he emphasized.

In addition to facilitating payments for the government, regular Ukrainians have also taken to using cryptocurrencies as a safer and more portable means of migrating their money. Chobanian relates that another reason crypto adoption has been so high in Ukraine is the history of instability of the late Soviet era, corruption, and a weak currency. Ukraine, he points out, was the No. 1 crypto country in the world according to the Chainalysis 2020 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report.

Chobanian believes that this war could serve as a turning point in the legitimization of cryptocurrencies, given the essential role they have come to play.

“Now there is no skepticism because they understand that we save lives every single minute with crypto,” he emphasized. “You can try to ignore it, but you cannot ignore when their families are actually fed with crypto, or when the soldiers are dressed in bulletproof vests and helmets with crypto.”

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