Kyiv Summit focuses on Ukraine's crypto

Half a year after the war’s outbreak, Kyiv Tech Summit kicks off to address challenges posed to Ukraine’s web3 community by the new reality of the Russian invasion.

Kyiv Tech Summit main scene.
Courtesy of Rev Miller

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s web3 community has mobilized to address the country’s military and humanitarian needs. Thousands of volunteers spontaneously organized to raise crypto donations, document war through digital art, and expose the wallets of sanctioned Russian politicians. And Rev Miller, one of the organizers of the Kyiv Tech Summit, quickly found himself on the frontline of this emerging digital resistance.

Our first encounter was at ETHWarsaw, where I overheard him talking about the upcoming web3 event in Kyiv. Intrigued, I approached him and that’s how we get to know each other.

“So, what’s your name once again?” I asked nervously as we were circling the lobby to find a quiet place for a talk.

“Rev. Like Revolution.”

The event Rev was talking about is Kyiv Tech Summit, a web3 hackathon bringing together Ukraine’s devs, technology providers, designers, innovators, and product evangelists on September 6-9. The goal of the summit is to engage its local web3 community and come up with solutions that will make “life within a war zone safer and more efficient for Ukrainians.”

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When the war started, Rev was outside the country. Just like many other web3 builders and founders, he’s accustomed to the life of a digital nomad, embracing the ethos of an Internet-native, borderless community of crypto enthusiasts. But for a Kyiv Tech Summit, Rev is back to Ukraine — knowing well that he won’t be able to cross the border anytime soon since most Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are banned from leaving the country, in anticipation of being drafted to fight.

Rev is 24 but looks older than his age, jokingly mocked for it by his fellow co-organizer Alyona Shevchenko, who pointed out that a fast-paced web3 environment can be quite stressful.

When I call Rev on September 8, he is sitting in a windowless office room, alone. The exact location of the event wasn’t revealed until the last minute for safety reasons, but after the live stream, it’s not a secret anymore — Kyiv Tech Summit takes place in UNIT.City, Ukraine’s first innovation park and burgeoning startup hub.

“The event has been going for three days in a row, and it’s been overall fantastic,” Rev shares. “First was a sort of big opening day, with all our special guests, from folks from Forbes to Ukrainian unicorn founders, as well as local web3 startups. And then the hacking session started — we had around 525 hackers signing up for the event, with 70 of them joining us offline.”

Due to safety reasons, only local participants based in Kyiv were invited to attend the in-person hackathon, Rev explains. “Kyiv Tech Summit was more about gathering local community, although we had around ten people traveling [from other parts of the country] to join the event. We had a hard stop limit at 150 attendees, hackers, guests, and partners included, and I think we’ve done very well.”

“When we met last time, you mentioned that you are “paranoid” about the security of the event. What could have gone wrong? What was your worst-case scenario?”

“I’m always paranoid in a way,” Rev chuckles. “Only paranoid survives. Obviously, we knew we won’t hold such event in Kharkiv, my hometown, which is heavily bombarded right now. But in Kyiv, the situation is a lot different. Sometimes there are air sirens, but the city is greatly protected. Some could argue that Lviv might be more secure than Kyiv but I would say that Kyiv is literally the heart of tech innovations, especially in web3.”

“Most folks from the industry live in Kyiv or nearby. The venue itself has advanced security, even AI recognition, which is pretty dope. Beyond that, it even has a bomb shelter, so we’ve been hacking all the time in a bomb shelter. You’ve asked me about the worst-case scenario, let’s say the missile hits us — we’re still in a bomb shelter, literally,” Rev says as he turns around his camera to show me a modern open space with low ceilings and no windows.

“Of course, we don’t want to put anybody’s lives at risk, including our own. We want to live a long and happy life,” he adds with a laugh.

Kyiv Tech Summit organizers stated that the goal of the event is to “onboard web2 talent into the web3 digital working economy through existing web3 communities.” But apart from that, the participants discussed and tried to come up with solutions to a wide range of other issues, including a disinformation campaign waged by Russia, broken Internet connection on occupied territories, post-war economic recovery, and new methods of fundraising.

The last one is of particular interest to Rev — when the war started, he co-founded Unchain, a charity fund that issues crypto debit cards to Ukrainian mothers fleeing the war zone and delivers humanitarian aid to the hardest-to-reach areas. Since February 24, Unchain raised over $9 million, including $2.5 million from Vitalik Buterin. However, as the war enters its seventh month, the stream of donations is drying up, Rev admits.

“Standard ways of fundraising aren’t working as well as they used to. Because, you know, the times change, people change, they get used to war, unfortunately. That means we, too, need to adapt to new circumstances. We can’t expect people to always donate purely out of emotional reasons. Crazy things in the world happen all the time, and I think it’s important to come up with some new ideas and make donating fun and interactive.”

In a quest for new ways to raise funds for Ukraine, hackathon participants came up with an idea of a donation lottery, where a certain amount of money is given to a randomly selected donor, and the rest goes to people in need, Rev shares. He also mentions other proposals that were worked on during the conference, including a news platform where local witnesses verify information, and a project that allows artists to rent physical space in museums to display their artwork.

Although Kyiv Tech Summit was a small and discreet gathering, it nevertheless managed to secure support from some of the big names in the crypto scene. The event received sponsorship from the Ethereum Foundation, NEAR Protocol, Filecoin, Celo, and Aave Grants DAO. And Vitalik Buterin even made a surprise appearance at the Kyiv Tech Summit to show support for the embattled country and its crypto community.

"I have been following Ukraine closely since the war started," Buterin said on the closing panel of the event. "I wanted to come and see for myself... to just also let Ukraine know that lots of people in the Blockchain, Ethereum, crypto world really care about you guys and lots of people support you."

Despite the ongoing war and economic meltdown, Rev is optimistic about Ukraine’s web3 future. When I ask him whether crypto to the Ukrainian government is something more than just a convenient way of soliciting donations, his eyes spark with enthusiasm.

“Starting even from the base layer of the government, Ukraine is incredibly crypto-friendly. Last time I checked, Ukraine had over five million crypto users, and that’s roughly 11 to 14 percent of our population. Which is already a lot, and it’s growing every year! And in wartime, I think, we actually increased that number a lot. I wouldn’t say it doubled, but people started to see its [cryptocurrency] potential. For instance, some of my friends, who are Russians, donated to Unchain money in crypto and then left Russia. If they did it with their bank accounts, they would be probably in jail right now.”

“Everything we’ve done before is literally just a start of what Ukraine may become in terms of web3 adoption. I could definitely foresee a vastly innovative, digital-first country that leverages blockchain for public goods and leads the way.”