Aid for Ukraine is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that donates money directly to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence. Founded by Everstake’s Sergey Vasylchuk, the government of Ukraine and founding members of the Solana Network, it has already raised close to US$1.5 million for the Ukrainian resistance effort in the form of SOL or SPL tokens, including wrapped versions of leading currencies and even non-fungible tokens.
“My goal is to build this unlimited bridge from crypto directly to the government, because who can be more efficient than the Ukraine government, which resisted the [Russian] army?” Vasylchuk said in an interview with Forkast. “Yeah, they are just rock stars, but they need support.”
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Vasylchuk spoke with Forkast while he was stranded abroad about what drove him to create the DAO and how he believes it can help provide invaluable support to the Ukrainian resistance efforts.
The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Are you in the U.S. right now?
Yes, I arrived here two days before the invasion. Two things in my life that I’m interested in are crypto and aviation. I have attended this flight school in Florida last year and plan to continue this year. So we just flew in.
For a few days, we were sleeping.
My wife was angry at me and says, “Hey, it’s happening, the war, they’ve hit!” I just wake up and think it’s probably nightmare or something, I think it sounds like a bad dream. I just went back to sleep because I didn’t believe it.
My parents are in Kyiv. I came here with my wife and kids. We plan to stay here while it’s bad weather in the winter in Kyiv and we are planning to come back in a month.
But your family’s still there?
Yeah, my parents, my sister is still in Ukraine, some of the employees and friends. No one knew what to expect. Everyone was worried. So some people were questioning the decisions, mostly for risk management, but no one was taking it seriously that it could happen. No one could believe.
How are your parents doing? And your family and friends?
Well, it’s horrific. The Russians understand that they couldn’t win in direct fire contact, so they decided to hit civilian objects with the rockets and missiles. Missile strikes on civilian residences; it’s horrific. People are hiding in their bomb shelters two times per day. Some of the older people are not able to do it because you cannot use the elevator or lifts for this. Some of them are just laying and sitting, waiting for something to happen or not, taking chances. So it’s a real war.
Let’s talk about what you have going on with Aid for Ukraine, with this DAO that you’ve set up.
For two days I was just sitting down reading the news, talking with people. And this is an online war. It means that your parents, your friends, your employees, people that you talk to just feel it on their phone, and everything is just sent groups, and you see what’s happening in real-time.
I am very happy that my wife and kids are here, but I’ve said that I couldn’t come back to a country like this. So after a few days, I was sitting here thinking that I can’t just do nothing. I need to do something.
What a human can do is just start with what he was doing before. I’m running the company for many years so I can do just a few things. I can fly the airplane and build crypto projects. Flying the airplane isn’t enough, crypto is something that could help. So, that’s why I just asked my partners to help us.
Probably one of the leading companies in the world will be leading 50 plus blockchains. All those guys are technically competitors.
But in this situation, everyone was calling me and saying, “Hey, how can I help you?”
And I said, “How can you help me? I don’t know!”
But then I was thinking, if hundreds of people want to help me, I need to find a way to do it. This is how I was mentally unblocking and started to do something. And you should understand that during this military situation, governments implement martial law and there is tight restriction for the inbound and outbound payments and transfers, especially in foreign currencies. So currently, I still have some money in a Ukrainian bank. [I] tried to pay for this accommodation in Florida here and I cannot because the martial law.
It’s good for the military situation, but it’s not good for the guys who are trying to buy, for example, night goggles or something for the refugees. You are limited and you should understand not every supplier is wanting to transact in the hryvnia — the currency from a country that is currently at war.
So this is martial law from one side. It is protecting from the capital leakage issues from the country, but at the same time, it’s limiting their volunteer and material ability to transact with suppliers. And here, crypto is the obvious tool to transact either inbound or outbound transactions, and having this engineers skillset and connection, of course, I started to do it.
And you partnered with the likes of Solana?
Solana is one of our partners, and I define the core team at Solana as my friends.
Anatoly Yakovenko is also my friend, he was born in Ukraine. He moved to America, but he was born and raised in Odessa so he feels some magnetism with Ukraine [and] people from the Ukraine. He was the first to shake me and say, “Hey, let’s do something!” So, we created this DAO.
And the reason that we are creating this DAO is because many of the American people or companies are not able to send money because of the war. So, no one’s laws or compliance will allow them to do so.
So the first problem that we need to address is to whom should people be sending their money. And that’s why I contacted the Ministry of Digital Transformation — one of the youngest but most efficient ministries in our country — and all those guys because we work with them on different projects.
So it’s just people like us from the IT industry; we know the projects so it’s all the same language and I say, “Hey guys, I can help you, but we need to have some credibility. Could you join us and sign up for this multi-sig and DAO?”
And they said, “Yes, of course! If you think this will help, we will do whatever you say.”
So, I onboarded the deputy of the ministry as a signer. I also called up my friends in the crypto community of Ukraine. They also agreed to help. So, we just created a bank of capable people and created this DAO. Everyone is sure that this money, at least, will be controlled by people who want you to help this country, and we should understand the situation.
Another thing that is also terribly important is that the majority of these signers live in Ukraine, so they could just disappear sometime.
So, the DAO was the first step to solve a few problems — one of security, and the other, credibility. After this, I understood that the second challenge is that some small suppliers can learn to transact in crypto, so they can sell crypto, then maybe hide something from bookkeeping because it’s mostly an emergency situation and they try to help, maybe to even bypass some regulation law. But, we are struggling with one of the biggest army in the world, and to resist, just small things are not enough. We need to do something sustainable and huge. And I talked to the guys who were trying to manage this money the proper way and they said, “Yeah, our ability to transact is still limited.”
Not everyone is able to just snap $2 million in crypto. 100,000 is probably good, but 100 million or 10 million is impossible. So we urgently need some solution in order to transfer this money to fiat. And again, just went back to the Solana team to say, “Help me to find a solution.” They connected me with FTX and also some type of exchange which usually put in their compliance.
They started to do some unexpected things. They tried to onboard the central bank. They try to onboard this DAO because the central bank probably is the only entity who is able to transact in huge amounts, in unlimited amounts. So we’re forced to onboard them despite the bureaucracy monster. We suffer the bureaucracy.
But still, so much is actually happening. We were ready to oversee activities with just Signal chats. So imagine, Ministry of Digital Transformation, the central bank, FTX, Solana, we were trying to solve the serious solution to have unlimited flow from the crypto to cash just in a single loop. So I’m still amazed and very thankful for the guys who are trying to help us.
How much has the aid for Ukraine DAO raised thus far?
So almost one and a half million dollars?
Initially, we just launched it without any huge promotion, and then my company just donated all the rewards that were available and it was close to half a million. And then I see another half a million, then another. And a few big guys donated. And then I see many smaller guys are donating $1, $2, $100, $1,000, so it continues growing. Some people donate NFTs. But I hope it’s just the beginning.
Does Everstake have employees currently in Ukraine who are still there?
Some of them are and probably the 95% of the people who left just picked up the guns and went to fight. I mean, for the males. Females try to help with one direction. We try to support them as much as possible.
Some of your employees stayed and have joined the fight.
What are your feelings right now? You have employees there, you have your family there.
It is hard to explain. I’m understanding that probably, Everstake is the only thing that unites us right now. So people are spread around the world, they are all shocked and if you do nothing you will become homeless refugees. So, we just have to try to do something, we need to become twice as efficient to grow and to fight the competition still in this space because we need this revenue stream with these resources to feed more than half of the people around the world and their families. So, it’s the only source of money for them.
At the same time, I am waiting for when I can come back home to rebuild our land and our houses, so we need the resources. It is very hard. I cannot show my people that I’m weak, I need to show leadership, I need to keep it even more efficient. At the same time, sometimes, it is very difficult.
At the same time, old friends and people and relatives share these videos of how the missile strikes a house which is one mile from your house. I can’t explain to you. I still wake up in the morning, open my eyes, and ask if this nightmare has ended or not, take the phone and see another 1,000 messages with the videos, with all these things like why Russian troops are destroying the country, or other strikes are hitting new cities. I’m still probably sleeping in this nightmare, so mentally I still cannot believe.
The global crypto community support through this must be heartwarming, though. It has united the community, really. What are your thoughts about that?
I will continue to do this. I will continue building DAO. I will continue to promote. I will continue to give interviews. I will continue to talk to the people to tell the story, to show and open their eyes of the people with this strategy. I hope the world will be able to act and will be more brave than now, until something crazy happens.
Ukraine has 15 nuclear plants. Chernobyl was just a tiny part of all of this nuclear power. If these idiots will strike another nuclear power plant it could be a disaster for the whole of the world. I still cannot understand how they do it.
I think that we can do proper things after every single crypto holder will donate $1 and we will see that the Minister of Defence will be able to buy some new equipment to protect this land against these crazy people. It will be impactful.