Ukraine has been at the forefront of international news following a revolution, continued lack of political stability, and fears of a possible invasion by Russia after the annexation of Crimea. But it’s not all gloom and doom, and other important developments, such as gradually spreading awareness of Bitcoin, are also happening in Ukraine.
Keeping that in mind, CoinTelegraph recently spoke to Michael Chobanian, the man behind the Kuna Bitcoin Agency, the first such agency in Ukraine, about how current unrest may ultimately be a catalyst for positive change.
CoinTelegraph: This is a tired old cliché, but it’s something to get the ball rolling: How did you get into Bitcoin?
Michael Chobanian: My company was consulting a local business group. The group wanted to launch a hybrid crowd lending and pure Internet banking services in Ukraine and Russia. As part of initial R&D we were researching all of the available electronic payments. One of them was Bitcoin. At a time its price just dropped from $30 to around $3. Unfortunately, I did not buy any [at that time]. Since then I was following bitcoin news and made my first investment back in August of 2013.
CT: Given the current political unrest in the country, have you faced major challenges in promoting Bitcoin in the Ukraine? Have you received any guidance or warnings from the government?
MC: Given the unrest I was able to launch the business. There is no law or order in the country, and thus no regulation. Ex President [Victor] Yanukovich and his family had an interest in the electronic payments market, and abused their power to monopolize the market and forbid anyone from entering. Now he is gone. Right now Ukraine is a haven for cryptocurrency – no one can or will stop you.
CT: You are the first Bitcoin agency in the Ukraine that allows exchanging Hryvna, the national currency, for Bitcoin, as well as offering consulting services. How many businesses and individuals have shown interest so far?
MC: As of now, Kuna works only with private individuals. There is simply no [official] status of Bitcoin and hence no framework for companies on how to pay taxes in bitcoin. Since launch we have served a couple of hundreds of customers from all over Ukraine.
I am waiting for the [May 25] presidential elections to finish. Hopefully, the election will bring some stability to the country. Right now I am not risking to expand [our] physical footprint to other cities. I had plans to open stores in Eastern parts of Ukraine, but now these territories are a war zone. It’s not the best place for a shop right now.
CT: Do you think that a decentralized P2P currency could help regular citizens in Ukraine circumvent the current problems of exchange and withdrawal restrictions as well as inflation of fiat?
MC: It is happening right now. I have customers from occupied Crimea. Right now, Bitcoin is one of the easiest ways to engage in international trade. There are no working banks in Crimea. So it is only cash or electronic money like Webmoney, Yandex Money, etc. [that people can use]. These payment systems are centralized and controlled by Russian authorities hence they can be blocked at any time. Furthermore no Western companies accept them. So Bitcoin is the only solution.
Bitcoin gives freedom of ownership back to us – the owners. That is the idea i believe in.
CT: Could you describe the altcoin scene in the Ukraine? Are you planning to offer services for other crypto currencies besides Bitcoin?
MC: Ukraine is one of the world leaders in IT outsourcing. We have a lot of talented young [people]. Altcoins are very popular among individual miners. Majority of them prefer Scrypt, simply for the ease of mining with regular GFX. For Kuna the transition from Bitcoin-only to all coin will commence in two steps. Step 1: We start selling mining hardware. Step 2: We exchange most popular altcoins.