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Daily Briefing: Long on Ukraine

Vitalik Buterin was spotted at Kyiv Tech Summit over the weekend. Jacob Oliver explains why his appearance was notable.

Daily Briefing: Long on Ukraine
Shutterstock cover by Andreas Wolochow

Key Takeaways

  • Vitalik Buterin was seen at Kyiv Tech Summit this weekend.
  • Buterin's visit to Ukraine marks a positive moment for the crypto space.
  • The conference discussed the various ways Ukraine could leverage blockchain technology to defeat Russia in the ongoing war.

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Buterin made a surprise visit to Kyiv despite “the Merge” looming.

Buterin Heads to Ukraine

This is a big week, as you all undoubtedly know—Ethereum’s long-fabled “Merge” is set to happen in just over two days’ time, and all eyes are upon it. There will be a lot of people scrambling to make as much money as possible these next few days—we’ve even covered how you can get in on the action here and here. But with two days to go, the moment for action is nigh if you plan to take it.

But the weekend brought other interesting Ethereum news, this time more directly intertwined with the world of geopolitical affairs. This weekend, UkraineDAO and Unchain Ukraine Together, two blockchain-based charity organizations working to combat the Russian invasion of that country, hosted the Kyiv Tech Summit. Held in a secure, undisclosed location within the city, the event was set to host only local residents in person while streaming events to the rest of the world.

There was one extremely notable exception, however—Vitalik Buterin, the primary inventor of Ethereum and probably the world’s most notable crypto personality, made a surprise visit to Kyiv to attend the Tech Summit. Twitter and LinkedIn were alight with selfies taken alongside Buterin at the conference, almost universally expressing their surprise, delight, and admiration that such a figure would visit what is essentially an active warzone as a sign of support.

The Kyiv Tech Summit distinguishes itself from other blockchain conferences for the simple reason that it is entirely constructed around addressing a specific, immediate, and very real-world problem: How can Ukraine leverage this technology to defeat the invasion? Just a few of the proposed tracks included how blockchain tech could be used to combat Russian disinformation, repair information and communications infrastructure, tokenize the economy to facilitate rebuilding, explore new fundraising options, and onboard more Ukrainian Web3 professionals into the remote global Web3 economy.

While much of the crypto narrative in 2022 has coalesced around market downturns, imploding projects, and the much-hyped Merge narrative, Vitalik’s surprise visit to Ukraine marks a sobering but encouraging moment in the space’s history. It’s easy to lump all crypto people together into a disinterested mass of chart-watchers, day-traders, grifters, and hype-men; Ukraine’s work reminds us, however, that this movement can be more than one big money game on Twitter.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Buterin feels Ukraine could soon accept its place as a hub for Web3 development and innovation. Ukraine has long enjoyed a reputation for producing some of the most talented developers in the world (sharing a border with an on-again, off-again imperial aggressor with a penchant for cyberattacks has a way of doing that), and companies all over the world were eager to scout Ukrainian tech talent, even in a remote capacity, as Russian missiles battered Kyiv and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the work continues. We like to tell ourselves during bear markets that they are the time to build, but where else in the world are developers building like their lives (literally) depend on it?

I’m not in the business of prognosticating, and everything I say about any potential future is merely an extrapolation from what I see at present and what has led up to it in the past. But the situation on the ground in Ukraine, as far as most reporting can make it out, is that the Russian war machine is collapsing.

In the last few weeks, Ukrainian forces have recaptured more than 3,000 square kilometers of Russian-held territory as it mounted an aggressive push into the Kharkiv region. Last month, Ukrainian forces destroyed a critical command center for the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organization that answers directly to Putin, wears no insignia, and engages regularly in war crimes. American-made missiles fired from Kyiv keep raining down on Russian forces like an endless monsoon, and it’s been widely reported that demoralized Russian soldiers are losing their will to fight.

Of course, the course of things could change again, but the popular will asserting itself is that Ukraine could still have a very bright future ahead of it if its neighbor to the east ever pulls its head out of the 15th Century. As if its reputation as a noble coding community working to better the world around it needed bolstering, Vitalik Buterin’s visit and words of heartfelt endorsement ought to go a long way toward forging the narrative that Ukraine and its people are exceptional. I hope they have the chance to keep on building.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owned ETH, BTC, and several other cryptocurrencies.

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