Not too long after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine this week, the web3 community started to express its belief that NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs, could aid the Ukrainian people even as Putin’s armies attacked them by land, sea, and air.
“We have the power to help,” said the crypto investor, entrepreneur, and Bored Ape owner David Gokhshtein. “Web3 is positioned to help people during oppression,” agreed Stani Kulechov, the founder of Aave, a decentralized finance protocol. Matt Medved, the co-founder and CEO of an NFT news and analysis site, wondered how the community could “come together.” The co-founder of Origin Protocol asked if any NFT creators were “interested in linking up to do a 100% for charity drop for Ukraine relief.”
Some saw the conflict itself as proof of crypto’s might. Crypto-focused YouTuber Matt Wallace said the Ukrainian people “need[ed] to switch to cryptocurrency quickly to avoid the risk of their bank accounts being seized or frozen.” CNBC ran a headline saying Ukraine’s decision to suspend cash electronic cash transfers was “bolstering the use case for crypto.”
The societal usefulness of such technologies has been a source of intense discussion in recent years, as grifters and institutional investors alike got rich off a variety of rapidly appreciating crypto assets. Now, as Planet Earth stood on the brink of a potential world war, the blockchain community was rallying to the defense of Ukraine, eager to show that their favorite technologies could, if not fix this, at least help a little bit here and there. The difficulty came in differentiating between earnest attempts to raise funds for people in need and profiteering scam artists.
Some, like the Cosmic Cowgirls NFT group, were happy to simply express their support for the people of Ukraine and leave it at that. Others announced that Thursday was not the day to profit by dropping new digital assets. The NFT group Weather Report®—tagline: “Rain or Shine, We’re Here”—announced in a branded press release that it would be delaying the minting of its signature digital assets by 24 hours out of respect for the people of Ukraine.
“Our contract is live on mainnet, we are ready to go on our side - but today is not about us. We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people,” they wrote.
But not everyone was content to sit back and do nothing. Some instead developed art inspired by the deadly conflict, in some cases promising to donate the proceeds. “I have decided to raise money the best way I can, through NFT's and our eggs,” wrote the creators of eggsonyoface, a "free range and organic fried" NFT collection. Another artist dropped an NFT titled “Invasion.” NFTs of “ugly kitties” and Wall-E like creatures were also developed at a moment’s notice.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the 29-year-old CEO of the Bahamian cryptocurrency exchange FTX, famous for his astonishing net worth of over $20 billion, said the company was giving $25 to every Ukrainian that uses his company’s platform. “do what you gotta do,” he tweeted. News of further crypto-related donations made headlines as well, as people funneled more than $4 million worth of assets toward an NGO supporting the Ukrainian military, though $3 million of that came from a “single donor,” according to a blockchain analysis provider.
Others took more organized action. The Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot formed a DAO called UkraineDAO that hoped to use “the power of web3 tech and community to raise funds for Ukrainian organisations,” as well as buy an NFT of a Ukrainian flag. “Let’s save some lives,” said the SuperRare curator partnering with the group. A separate group named itself “NFTs for Ukraine💛💙” and said it hoped to raise funds through a three-pronged strategy of direct donations, NFT auctions, and an “independent pledge of sales.”
“✨The NFT community is coming together to help raise funds for Ukraine-✨🙏🏼💞,” wrote SpillTheNFTea.eth.
A number of crypto enthusiasts rallied around Ukrainian NFT artists themselves, putting together Twitter threads and Google spreadsheets of people to support. “Of course it’s important to also donate to official places but here we know who will receive the money and maybe it helps to go on and help their families,” wrote the anonymous NFT collector UnknownCollector.
Some, including the NFT-focused Twitch streamer Andrew Wang, worried about the potential for Ukraine-related crypto scams. “we’d have to make sure it’s not a rug and that there’s full transparency,” he wrote. “Beware of people who are launching [an NFT project] to help the affected people in Ukraine,” agreed one member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club community who claims to spend his time “gambling on jpegs and magic internet money.”
As with many aspects of crypto, it could at times be difficult to discern whether people would make good on their promises of kindness or attempt an internet savvy form of war profiteering. One NFT photo collector, for example, claimed the reason he was buying as many pieces from Ukrainian photographers as possible—and then listing them for more on the secondary market—was so that he could use the profits to further support Ukrainian artists.
An “anti-war” cryptocurrency token even launched with a complete website as an “alternative way to fight for peace.” “The programming code of the STW token allows you to leave your ‘STOP THE WAR’ message on the blockhain [sic] forever,” the creators wrote.
Still others wished the web3 vision were closer to completion, so that Russia and Ukraine could go to war not in Ukraine, but in an unnamed virtual metaverse where no one would get hurt. “Ukraine and Russia need to buy an NFT World @nftworldsNFT and build their war in the #Metaverse instead of torturing all the innocent people 🤦🏻♂️,” wrote one crypto enthusiast.
Not all cryptocurrency activity could be focused on the people of Ukraine of course, though those who continued to profit expressed reservations about selling digital images for hundreds of thousands of dollars while people lost their lives due to the senseless brutality of war.
“Mix feelings of joy and grief. that I sold a photo for 125 ETH [or over $300,000] on the saddest day on earth #StopWar.. What the actual fuck,” wrote one NFT collector. “Fuuuuck itttt 1 $ETH to 5 luckY winners. Follow, retweet, like, comment 'NFT'.”
“NFT,” someone replied, “and prayers to Ukraine 🇺🇦.”