How Bitcoin and a Crypto Exchange Became Part of Ukraine’s War Effort
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How Bitcoin and a Crypto Exchange Became Part of Ukraine’s War Effort

Kuna, Ukraine’s largest crypto exchange, has emerged as central hub for the country’s efforts to raise funds via cryptocurrencies.

By Paul Vigna
Fri, Mar 4, 2022 10:45amGrey Clock 3 min

The founder of Ukraine’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Kuna, has been sleeping only a few hours a day since Russia invaded his country.

Trading of cryptocurrencies on Kuna has jumped since the war began. The surge is, in part, a consequence of strict capital controls implemented by the Ukrainian central bank: limits on ATM withdrawals, restrictions on the country’s official electronic-currency system and suspension of the foreign-exchange market. But cryptocurrency and Kuna are also providing a vehicle for outsiders to donate to Ukraine, raising funds for the government and relief efforts.

Michael Chobanian is operating Kuna from the western part of Ukraine after leaving Kyiv. He said he had moved his staff and the exchange’s infrastructure outside the country before the invasion. Mr. Chobanian spoke to The Wall Street Journal via recorded messages to save time. At the moment, everything is being done in an ad-hoc fashion.

“That’s the reality I have to live in,” Mr. Chobanian said.

The Ukrainian government and private aid groups have raised about $51 million in crypto from more than 89,000 donations since the invasion started last week, according to the analytics firm Elliptic. Most of that has been coordinated by Mr. Chobanian and Kuna.

On Kuna’s landing page for a fund it set up to accept donations, it says: “Let’s stop the war. Let there be peace. In crypto we trust, for Ukraine we pray.”

The crypto donations have helped finance military equipment, medical supplies and other goods, Elliptic said.

While activists, politicians and even terrorist groups have used cryptocurrencies to raise funds in recent years, it has never been done by a national government, said Tom Robinson, the co-founder of Elliptic.

The amounts aren’t large compared with other funding sources—the Biden administration proposed sending $6.4 billion in aid and Ukraine raised $270 million in bonds on Tuesday to help fund its war efforts—but it shows that crypto has a role to play, he said.

“It demonstrates that money can be raised directly from individuals around the world, for humanitarian aid, or to directly fund a war,” said Mr. Robinson.

Leaning on technology isn’t out of character for the Ukrainian government, which has been trying to boost its economy with the technology industry in recent years. The country launched an official government-based system of electronic money and created a Ministry of Digital Transformation. It was that ministry that asked Kuna to start the crypto fundraising effort, Mr. Chobanian said.

“Cash is useless because it’s physical,” Mr. Chobanian said. Carrying cash is also dangerous in a war zone, he said.

Most people, he said, are using credit cards or IBAN, the international bank account number system used by banks. Cryptocurrencies work well for large payments and international payments, Mr. Chobanian said.

Crypto transfers are especially fast compared with traditional methods. Transactions settle in about 10 minutes for bitcoin, for example, after which the money is transferred. What that means in practice is that the money being donated is available almost immediately.

Kuna converts crypto into other digital currencies or fiat currencies for bank accounts. Some of the supply companies for which Kuna is brokering the purchases, Mr. Chobanian said, are accepting payments directly in crypto. In some cases, they have walked the companies through the steps to do so.

“Because a lot of companies want to help us more than make money, they start accepting crypto for us,” Mr. Chobanian said.

The donation fund accepts a range of cryptocurrencies: bitcoin, ether, tether, litecoin, dogecoin and about 20 others. Gavin Wood, the founder of one blockchain-based platform called Polkadot, tweeted that he would donate $5 million if they set up a Polkadot address. Mr. Chobanian did a few hours later. Mr. Wood made the donation.

The Ukrainian government alone has raised $31.5 million in crypto donations and spent $17 million of it so far, according to an update Wednesday Mr. Chobanian shared on his Twitter account.

Ukrainian and U.S. officials have voiced concerns that Russians could use cryptocurrencies to evade sanctions. Over the weekend, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov asked crypto exchanges to block Russian users, something none of the exchanges agreed to do. So far there hasn’t been evidence supporting a large-scale Russian effort to avoid sanctions using cryptocurrencies.



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New York Watch Auctions Record Uptick in Sales in the Face of Market Slowdown
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Luxury watch collectors showed ongoing strong demand for Patek Philippe, growing interest in modern watches and a preference for larger case sizes and leather straps at the June watch sales in New York, according to an analysis of the major auctions.

Independent and neo-vintage categories, meanwhile, experienced declines in total sales and average prices, said the report from  EveryWatch, a global online platform for watch information. Overall, the New York auctions achieved total sales of US$52.27 million, a 9.87% increase from the previous year, on the sale of 470 lots, reflecting a 37% increase in volume. Unsold rates ticked down a few points to 5.31%, according to the platform’s analysis.

EveryWatch gathered data from official auction results for sales held in New York from June 5 to 10 at Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s. Limited to watch sales exclusively, each auction’s data was reviewed and compiled for several categories, including total lots, sales and sold rates, highest prices achieved, performance against estimates, sales trends in case materials and sizes as well as dial colors, and more. The resulting analysis provides a detailed overview of market trends and performance.

The Charles Frodsham Pocket watch sold at Phillips for $433,400.

“We still see a strong thirst for rare, interesting, and exceptional watches, modern and vintage alike, despite a little slow down in the market overall,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of the California-based pre-owned online watch dealer BobsWatches.com, in an email. “The results show that there is still a lot of money floating around out there in the economy looking for quality assets.”

Patek Philippe came out on top with more than US$17.68 million on the sale of 122 lots. It also claimed the top lot: Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe GrandMaster Chime 6300G-010, still in the sealed factory packaging, which sold at Sotheby’s for US$5.4 million, much to the dismay of the brand’s president, Thierry Stern . The London-based industry news website WatchPro estimates the flip made the actor as much as US$2 million in just a few years.

At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire
Richard Mille

“As we have seen before and again in the recent Sotheby’s sale, provenance can really drive prices higher than market value with regards to the Sylvester Stallone Panerai watches and his standard Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1a offered,” Altieri says.

Patek Philippe claimed half of the top 10 lots, while Rolex and Richard Mille claimed two each, and Philippe Dufour claimed the No. 3 slot with a 1999 Duality, which sold at Phillips for about US$2.1 million.

“In-line with EveryWatch’s observation of the market’s strong preference for strap watches, the top lot of our auction was a Philippe Dufour Duality,” says Paul Boutros, Phillips’ deputy chairman and head of watches, Americas, in an email. “The only known example with two dials and hand sets, and presented on a leather strap, it achieved a result of over US$2 million—well above its high estimate of US$1.6 million.”

In all, four watches surpassed the US$1 million mark, down from seven in 2023. At Christie’s, the top lot was a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM56-02 AO Tourbillon Sapphire, the most expensive watch sold at Christie’s in New York. That sale also saw a Richard Mille Limited Edition RM52-01 CA-FQ Tourbillon Skull Model go for US$1.26 million to an online buyer.

Rolex expert Altieri was surprised one of the brand’s timepieces did not crack the US$1 million threshold but notes that a rare Rolex Daytona 6239 in yellow gold with a “Paul Newman John Player Special” dial came close at US$952,500 in the Phillips sale.

The Crown did rank second in terms of brand clout, achieving sales of US$8.95 million with 110 lots. However, both Patek Philippe and Rolex experienced a sales decline by 8.55% and 2.46%, respectively. The independent brand Richard Mille, with US$6.71 million in sales, marked a 912% increase from the previous year with 15 lots, up from 5 lots in 2023.

The results underscored recent reports of prices falling on the secondary market for specific coveted models from Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet. The summary points out that five top models produced high sales but with a fall in average prices.

The Rolex Daytona topped the list with 42 appearances, averaging US$132,053, a 41% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, with two of the top five watches, made 26 appearances with an average price of US$111,198, a 26% average price decrease. Patek Philippe’s Perpetual Calendar followed with 23 appearances and a US$231,877 average price, signifying a fall of 43%, and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak had 22 appearances and an average price of US$105,673, a 10% decrease. The Rolex Day Date is the only watch in the top five that tracks an increase in average price, which at US$72,459 clocked a 92% increase over last year.

In terms of categories, modern watches (2005 and newer) led the market with US$30 million in total sales from 226 lots, representing a 53.54% increase in sales and a 3.78% increase in average sales price over 2023. Vintage watches (pre-1985) logged a modest 6.22% increase in total sales and an 89.89% increase in total lots to 169.

However, the average price was down across vintage, independent, and neo-vintage (1990-2005) watches. Independent brands saw sales fall 24.10% to US$8.47 million and average prices falling 42.17%, while neo-vintage watches experienced the largest decline in sales and lots, with total sales falling 44.7% to US$8.25 million, and average sales price falling 35.73% to US$111,000.

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