Alona Shevchenko: Ukraine DAO is more than just fundraising

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How does the crypto community help Ukraine? What are the aims and the needs of Ukraine DAO? We’ve asked these questions to a Ukrainian who has been living in London for several years and created the first DAO platform that connects Ukrainian supporters around the crypto world.
Gаgarin News:  Hello, Alona, we are very grateful that you agreed to do this interview. We have a lot of questions for you regarding Ukraine DAO and your job as the coordinator of Aid to Ukraine in Great Britain. Let's try to be concise.

The first question is: are you in the mood for doing an interview now? Do you have enough time and energy for it? 

Alona: I do some kind of public speaking almost every day. Most of my interviews are pre-planned, and some of them occur spontaneously. I think it is important to communicate with a broad audience to convey an authentic Ukrainian message. I want to be heard, therefore I need to talk to a lot of people.

I used to be very afraid of public speaking and I didn't enjoy it. But after February 24, things changed for me and now I'm always speaking out.

A couple of days ago I went to Oxford and spoke in front of the Oxford Union - the most influential debating society that unites graduates of this university. We received a very warm welcome. It turns out that they have their own Ukraine DAO fan club. I'm happy that the young generation, which will soon enter politics and will make key decisions, is very sympathetic to our problems. That's why I spend all my time and energy communicating with people. 

Gаgarin News:  We know that you have been living in London for a long time. You have an interesting job and it can be said that your life took a good turn.  What was the catalyst that led to Ukraine DAO’s creation? Did the war affect you personally?

Alona: I wouldn't say my life “took a good turn” because there is no life right now. When I knew that there would be an invasion (which happened at the end of January 2022), my old life was over. And a new life has begun. I joined protests, rallies, and pickets near the Russian embassy every day. It was a desperate attempt to tell others what was about to happen. But we weren't heard and nobody paid attention to our words.  

On February 24, life stopped. I don’t have any free time now, no personal life. My focus is on the war. I work in the info space 24/7. There are days when I miss out on sleep. But I am glad that I can be useful to Ukraine at this moment.

The war affected me personally as well. I’m from eastern Ukraine. It’s a living hell there right now. My parents managed to move to western Ukraine, so they are relatively safe. But my hometown has been under shelling for 6 months now. That's why I take everything very personally, even if it doesn't affect me directly. 

Gаgarin News:  Who helped you? Perhaps you have some practical advice? Creating such a colossus hardly seems like an easy task. 

Alona: Last January, I was completely immersed in another DAO project, and my friends who watched me attend protests said: “You should create Ukraine DAO”. I told them I don’t have time or resources, and that I won’t manage to do it on my own. So they helped me out and supported me. And they continue to do so. Everything I do now would be impossible without them. 

Ukraine DAO started its work on February 21, even before the invasion. The project was intended as a fan platform but it grew into something bigger. We raise funds, but being present in the informational field is our priority right now. 

We have a big community that consists of mostly Ukrainians. We do most tasks collectively. I wouldn’t be able to do this work on my own. And people continue to join our cause and it's very nice.

We have already formed a powerful community. I would call it a "proud" community. In Britain, we are trying to promote a sense of respect for Ukraine, for our dignity, and for our values. We have one rule: you either respect Ukraine and hear us, or you don't belong here. 

Ukrainians have a priority vote in our space. That's the main thing. Illia Polosukhin introduced me to Vitalik Buterin, and Vitalik introduced me to his father. People I didn't know at all called me and texted me, and offered their help. And they did – with information and financial support, as well as help with their program development skills. That's why we can do certain things that are beyond DAO, for example, fight Russia on the front lines of the information war. 

Gаgarin News:  Why did you choose the Ethereum blockchain?

Alona: It’s a blockchain that is most familiar to me. In addition, it is a usual thing to launch DAOs on Ethereum, and it is pretty convenient for developers.

Gаgarin News:  Do you feel supported by the Buterin family? How is it expressed?

Alona: Their support is constant and we are in touch all the time. Dima (Vitalik’s father) acts more like a mentor. He helped me grow as a leader in the DAO community. He is a very wise man, very experienced. Dima is a sensei of sorts for me. He teaches me to fish instead of giving me the fish. And it works better for our cause. 

Vitalik Buterin is very humble, he helps a lot but does not advertise it. He never speaks about donations and his help. And I always say: “If you like Vitalik, you are going to love his father”. Their family helps a lot, but few people know how much they actually do. 

I remembered a funny story. I invited Vitalik to visit the Kyiv Tech Summit and we were praying that nothing would happen to him because it was a few days before the Merge. The crypto community would kill us if something happened to Vitalik in Ukraine. By the way, Buterin was guarded by guys from “Azov”. But that was on the ground, and the threat was from the sky. 

Gаgarin News:  We know that most donations you receive are anonymous. But perhaps some benefactors have not hidden their involvement, and you can name them.

Alona: There was a big donation from OnlyFans (500 ETH) and Alexis Ohanian (Reddit). But I always say that we need other kinds of help: we need time and skill investments. Right now we are not focused on fundraising. We are more interested in finding good translators, for example. We are working on video content about the war, and we work on subtitles. We are also translating articles for mass media. 

For me, this is the most valuable thing we do right now - it’s my line of defense.

Gаgarin News:  You have probably heard about Serhiy Prytula and his Foundation. He once revealed that the smallest donation he ever received brought him the most money. He was on stream talking about a new fundraiser. Somebody transferred him 2 hryvnias. Serhiy showed his smartphone's screen to the viewers. The money transfer contained a memo: “The largest fundraisers consist of huge amounts of smallest donations”. After that stream, a huge number of transfers with small amounts poured into his account, so that particular fundraiser for drones was closed within a few hours.

People often think their help is so insignificant that they are shy to make a small donation if they know that others are sending amounts with several zeroes. Can you name the smallest donation that Ukraine DAO ever received?

Alona: I always say that the best way to help Ukraine is not through donations and not through humanitarian aid. Strangely enough, it is the attitude towards Ukraine as a state that matters. This is what we critically lack right now, even more than money. And this is the most important problem that must be solved so that we do not end up in the terrible situation that we find ourselves in now. We need to solve it in order for it never to happen again.  

I work a lot with Western audiences and I notice that they are delusional about Russia and underestimate Ukraine. They will make a donation somewhere but at the same time do not perceive us as their equal. And I try to help them eliminate the "inner Russian" within themselves.

Gаgarin News:  Can you provide more details on that?

Alona: Some of our Western partners, friends, and even admirers sometimes do not perceive Ukrainians as their equals and do not perceive Ukraine as an independent state. Some of them have the same imperial disease as Russians. And I think it’s a big problem.

We are now in a difficult situation precisely because they think they know how to live and how to deal with Russia better than us. They tried to teach us how to do the right thing and did not pay attention to our voices. That's why everything turned out the way it did. And my main goal is to change this superficial view of Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation. 

Gаgarin News:  Alona, you also coordinated the relief efforts for Ross Ulbricht. This is a very controversial figure in the crypto world. But we believe that two life sentences is too harsh for his crime. What are the goals of FreeRossDAO?

Alona: Thanks for asking that question. I have been following the Ross Ulbricht case for some time now. I have two college degrees in law, Ukrainian and British, so I have this professional curiosity. As a lawyer, I could not believe that a person was given such a huge term without the right of appeal for a first offense. He is not inclined to violence and cruelty, he does not have a criminal mind. 

For me, he is a political prisoner. This is a very dirty case. There was a lot of slander against him, a lot of false testimony, and a lot of false information that was spread by the prosecutors themselves. The more I learn about him (and I read his vlogs, I talk to his family), the more I understand that this injustice is not to be ignored. Without the Silk Road Bitcoin would not have become so popular. There is a possibility that no one would have found out about it. 

Thus, I believe it is our duty as a crypto community to fight for Ross and his freedom. We will help as much as we can.

Gаgarin News:  You are probably overloaded right now. What do you think you will do after the victory of Ukraine?

Alona: After the victory, I plan to move towards the same goal I am moving towards now. I think this journey will be long and difficult. There is much more to be done in the information field. People don’t know how to work with information. This is a big problem. I don't know whether it can be minimized somehow in the future, but I will try to focus on this particular task. 

It is difficult because the war exacerbated problems that existed before the war, including health matters. I have no time for myself. I know that my work brings value and this is the only thing that keeps me moving forward. 

There is a real information war against me. I have an idea who is behind it and who is trying to destroy my reputation. But I will be okay. I have no other choice. My grandfather, who died on December 24 in Nikopol, always supported me in this matter. My heart breaks when I think that the last thing he saw in his life was war! So I will fight for both of us.