Michael Chobanian never fires a shot in the war and still becomes a little national hero of Ukraine. In the desperate fight against Russian supremacy, the 38-year-old uses a new weapon: the power of cryptocurrencies.
Since the beginning of the invasion, Michael Chobanian has been collecting donations in Bitcoin, Ethereum and co. for the Ukrainian government worldwide. She uses it to buy food and medicine for civilians, bulletproof vests and helmets for the soldiers. Over $100 million in crypto donations will come together in March.
It is an unprecedented solidarity campaign in the young history of the crypto space. And one of many crazy twists in the wild life of the young Ukrainian. In his homeland, he is considered the “godfather of cryptocurrencies”. Therefore, before the war, he was almost arrested.
At the beginning of April we contact Michael Chobanian for the first time. We want to know more about the fundraising campaign and his life story. The Ukrainian immediately responds to our request. He does not make it to the agreed video call. After two failed attempts, we communicate via the Telegram messaging service. We send questions, Michael Chobanian answers with short voice messages. They are snippets from a unique life, condensed into units ranging from thirty seconds to a minute, spoken in almost perfect British English.
Chobanian’s father mines coal and Michael Bitcoin
Michael Chobanian was born in 1984 in the east of Ukraine, the Donbass region. The fiercest battles are currently raging there. At the age of 13, parents send their son to an English boarding school. He should have it better than you once. “My father worked all his life in the coal mine, just like his father before,” Chobanian reports. “I later mined Bitcoin in his office.“ The digital gold will be his ticket out of the dirty family business – to freedom.
The graduate economist from the London School of Economics did not even believe in the value of Bitcoin when he first heard about it in 2011. He does it as a spin-off – like so many at the time. The revelation for Chobanian comes only two years later, with the banking crisis in Cyprus. “The government took the people’s money,” Chobanian said. “Buying Bitcoin was the only way people could save their wealth. I thought: if Bitcoin can protect you from the tyranny of the state, I should study it. And I did, almost a year and a half. It was overwhelming.“
Michael Chobanian reads and learns about Bitcoin and Co. every day, connects with the global crypto community, finds friends and allies on the Internet, including in Ukraine. In the summer of 2014, he set up his first Bitcoin farm with ASIC miners in his father’s work kitchen. A year later, he establishes the first Ukrainian crypto exchange, Kuna, and sets up the first Bitcoin ATM in the country. Michael Chobanian becomes the face of the local crypto scene, appears everywhere in the media, speaks at conferences, with banks. This also makes him a target for government agencies.
In September 2015, police officers stormed his apartment in Kiev. They seize hard drives, CDs and mobile phones and are looking for material with which they can blackmail the crypto-banker. You won’t find anything. Michael Chobanian published the incident on the Internet. This finally makes him famous throughout the country.
Crypto is spreading like wildfire in Ukraine these years. According to Chainalysis, it is already one of the countries with the strongest adoption in the world by 2020. Kiev becomes the center of this vibrant scene. Many large companies are settling in the Ukrainian capital. Every week, nerds meet by the hundreds at programming competitions, so-called hackathons. They celebrate parties. “It was a wild time,” Chobanian says.
With two vintage cars on the run from Ukraine
On February 24, 2022, at five o’clock in the morning, this chapter will finally come to an end. The first Russian bombs fall over Ukraine, including in Kiev. The flight alarm wakes Michael Chobanian and his family. You have been prepared for the emergency for weeks. In the garage there are two fully refueled vintage cars, the backpacks are packed with US dollars, euros and their crypto assets, stored on hardware wallets. The Chobanians flee to other European countries via Western Ukraine, 700 kilometers, 36 hours drive, a huge traffic jam at the border. In the meantime, millions of Ukrainians were on the run.
One day after his arrival abroad, Michael Chobanian launches a crypto fundraising campaign, first via his Telegram channel with over 100,000 followers. Then the Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation calls him. Chobanian is to lead the official crypto fundraising campaign of Ukraine with his platform Kuna. They are posting the call on social media. The action goes viral, the entire press reports, even BTC-ECHO. Crypto stars such as Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and Polkadot founder Gavin Wood are participating with millions of dollars. In April, President Zelensky even legalized cryptocurrencies as a means of payment in a fast procedure.
“The campaign has saved many lives,” Chobanian says. “A Bitcoin transaction takes fifteen minutes to send money from abroad via SWIFT two days or longer. Even the last skeptics in the military and the government now understand: crypto has a value for them – and for our country.“
Michael Chobanian is taking his Bitcoin message all over the world today. Every week he is on a different continent, advertises at conferences for the support of the crypto community. “I’m currently living on a plane,” he says. He is currently in Asia, next week in the USA, then Europe.
Although thousands of kilometers separate him from the fighting, the shock of the war remains with him. “When I hear the cicadas here at night, I have to think of the flight alarm and the bombs. Then I get nervous, ” says the Ukrainian.
Belief in the power of cryptocurrencies has taken the son of a miner far. Michael Chobanian even addresses the US Senate in mid-April. The title of his short but moving speech: “Cryptocurrencies – the defenders of freedom and democracy”.