Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin surprised attendees at the Kyiv Tech Summit to show support for war-torn Ukraine, an appearance that was a closely guarded secret for security reasons, organizers told CoinDesk.
Buterin's support of Ukraine is far from surprising. While the Ethereum co-founder was born in Russia and met Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 to discuss Ethereum opportunities, he's been critical of his homeland's government for years as well as its war with Ukraine. Still, his visit is notable due to timing: Ethereum’s much-anticipated overhaul known as the Merge is just days away.
"I have been following Ukraine closely since the war started," Buterin said as the marquee speaker on the closing panel of the summit. "I wanted to come and see for myself" and "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."
Buterin was in Kyiv at a time when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also made a surprise unannounced trip there. Blinken did not attend the Kyiv Tech Summit.
The war-time conference brought together 30 tech experts, the most high profile of them being Buterin and two government officials – Mykhailo Fedorov, the country's vice prime minister and Digital Transformation minister for IT development, and Alex Bornyakov, Fedorov's deputy and the face of Ukraine's use of crypto.
The three-day event was focused on 500 hackers who submitted almost 50 projects as part of a crypto-related hackathon to support Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. What stood out among the themes discussed were decentralized electoral voting, central banks issuing digital currencies, and the role of Web3 and blockchain in fighting disinformation.
Buterin who has made large monetary contributions to Ukraine's war-time effort also said he came to see what kind of projects people in Ukraine were up to, what they cared about, what they were building and what kind of implications one would find in Ukraine for blockchain, Web3 and Ethereum.
"It was incredible to have Vitalik join us on the ground as well as important figures from the Ministry of Digital Transformation," said CJ Hetherington, co-founder of the summit. "Kyiv Tech Summit is not just an ordinary tech event. It’s a protest, a movement and an embodiment of the unbreakable spirit of Ukraine."
Other speakers at the summit included Kiril Khomiakov, general manager of Binance Ukraine; Illia Polosukhin, co-founder of Near Protocol; and Pavlo Kartashov, director of the Ukrainian Startup Fund.
UPDATED (Sept. 10, 19:15 UTC): Adds context to second paragraph.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.