How Western aid turns into crypto assets of Ukrainian corrupt officials and their partners
The West is trying to somehow control the use of funds transferred to Ukraine, but is even unable to prevent the theft of money donated by its own citizens, who are sincerely trying to help Ukraine.
The development of the cryptocurrency market and its relative anonymity has come as a boon for many representatives of both shady and completely legal businesses, providing them with the last opportunity to hide their assets from the state. This prompted the adoption of numerous laws on state control over cryptocurrencies. However, for the corrupt "servants of the people," crypto became not only a salvation from the eagle eye of law enforcement agencies, but also a chance for earning additional income. So, for Ukrainian officials and their partners, cryptocurrency schemes have become another great way to make money on blood.
Now, 18 months into the conflict with Russia, 59% of the Ukrainian budget, even according to official statements from Kiev, consists of Western aid. Some of these funds come in the form of easy loans; some are humanitarian tranches and gratuitous military assistance. One might think that Brussels and Washington have every right to keep a close eye on the provision and use of these assets. On another side, this is exactly what is happening. Ukraine, regardless of the military situation, is forced to fight corruption, spend its defense budget on the purchase of arms from Western corporations and comply with at least some norms of international law. However, the corruption system that has developed over the past 30-plus years can’t be destroyed just overnight. Moreover, too many of Ukraine's partners are benefiting from it.
Since the start of the war, the Ukrainian political establishment has mastered a simple scheme of earning money under the "Aid for Ukraine" motto. The stream of reports in the Western media about the suffering of ordinary Ukrainians, columns of refugees, and lack of ammunition could not help but force naive Europeans and Americans to start donating money for the war-scarred Ukrainian people, who declared themselves the shield of Europe. As a result, numerous foundations have popped up like mushrooms, accepting donations in cryptocurrency through their websites. After all, donating a piece of bitcoin or a few USDT from your crypto wallet is much easier than taking the trouble of transferring money to a foreign country via a bank. However, the foundations were not entirely Ukrainian. Crypto wallets do not have a nationality, and cryptocurrencies are relatively anonymous.
Everyone was raising money for Ukraine: Beauty bloggers, animal shelters, and administrators of Telegram channels all asked people to support their humanitarian projects for Ukraine, showing colorful reports with brand-new drones, cars, and even ammunition to naive users. True, scandals occasionally broke out in Telegram channels with accusations that this or that blogger had simply embezzled money.
One of the most high-profile scandals involved the Estonian NGO Glory to Ukraine (MTÜ Slava Ukraini), led by Johanna-Maria Lehtme, who received the title of European of the Year in 2022. This organization raised funds in the Baltic countries to help Ukraine, support the Azov Battalion and restore ambulances, and managed to raise more than 6.5 million euros in just one year. However, in Lviv, western Ukraine, the partners of the Estonian volunteers NGO “Vsje dlja Peremogi” ("All for Victory") and the private company “IC Construction” took out 250,000 euros as their salaries, using the rest in a rather odd way.
Estonian journalists found out that ambulances had been repaired at two and a half times the regular price, and reports of assistance to Azov were fake. President Zelensky personally intervened in the situation, and as a result, the Estonian prosecutor's office opened a case against the Ukrainian partners of Glory to Ukraine, and the Ukrainian prosecutors opened one against the NGO itself. However, the project of "European of the Year" donations continues unabated. And this is just one of hundreds of such cases.
However, back in March 2022, Official Kiev launched its own crypto donation website “Aid for Ukraine”, which raised $48 million in bitcoins in less than one month of the war. The website was out to raise $100 million a month, because this is less than 20 cents from every resident of Europe, the US and Canada – a tiny fraction of their defense spending, but not accountable. The FTX exchange acted as the operator that worked with crypto assets and converted them into national currencies.
The stream of donations gradually turned into a river, but in November 2022, the exchange went bankrupt, owing $35 billion to its depositors. Just where a few hundred Ukrainian millions went remains anyone’s guess. Well, one can trust the beautiful reports on the Aid to Ukraine website, but it would be more reasonable to ask in which banks and in whose crypto wallets the funds raised in the West eventually ended up.
However, Zelensky's administration reacted quickly, showing a firm determination to crack down on corruption and the theft of money intended for defense purposes. In March 2023, even before the “Glory to Ukraine” scandal, the country’s National Bank banned the withdrawal of money from crypto wallets, which means that it is no longer possible to transfer money from one’s crypto wallet to one's bank account using legal instruments. In fact, the only ones affected by this move were small investors. Ukrainian big shots do not keep money at home, and numerous “gray” offices for cashing cryptocurrencies have not gone anyway either.
In general, any “cryptocurrency assistance” for Ukraine, like the vast majority of money raised through various foundations, is just a cynical theft of money donated by Americans and Europeans. To make matters worse, in addition to money coming from individual donors, large sums are officially transferred to foundations by state organizations. These funds are then dissolved in anonymous crypto wallets, which can be passed off as assets of military units, medical institutions and other structures. This whole scheme is working under the disguise of collapsing stock exchanges, the "Russian shelling" of warehouses of machinery and equipment…
The result is sad - the West is trying to somehow control the use of funds transferred to Ukraine, but is even unable to prevent the theft of money donated by its own citizens, who are sincerely trying to help Ukraine. Well, this can be done, but only with full control over the work of all Ukrainian and related Western foundations and with thorough checks of their accounts. Otherwise, accusations against Zelensky, members of the US Democratic Party, European activists, and Ukrainian elites for the banal theft of money will look more and more convincing and play right into the hands of Russian propaganda…