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“I want to come and see for myself… also let Ukraine know that a lot of people in the blockchain, Ethereum, crypto world really care and support you.”
Vitalik Buterin told Fortune
From Warsaw – the capital of Poland, he took an 18-hour train to Ukraine (no planes landed here while the war was going on). Wearing an orange jacket and light gray sun hat, Vitalik toured the city, ate at the best Ikigai sushi bar in the capital, met the deputy prime minister of Ukraine and attended Kyiv Tech Summit.
Before arriving in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Vitalik followed everything on the Internet and Twitter. He knew Kyiv was about 450 kilometers from the front line, but beyond that he didn’t know what to expect. “What will Ukrainian security be like? Are there missile attacks?” Vitalik wondered.
But to his surprise, Kyiv was like any other European city. Regardless of government areas that are militarized with some soldiers and lots of posters like: “Be brave like Ukraine”, people still seem to be shopping, going to restaurants, doing all sorts of things. normal work. “Like everyone here has described to me, it was almost an act of continuing to live a normal life in the midst of an invasion,” Vitalik said.
However, aside from the war itself, there is something “unusual” going on here: crypto.
Reminder: Ethereum is neutral, but I am not.
— vitalik.eth (@VitalikButerin) February 24, 2022
Crypto: A precious ally in war
Some have called the tensions between Russia and Ukraine the “world’s first crypto-related war.” Ukraine is said to have received over $184 million in crypto donations — including $5 million from Vitalik himself. On this occasion he shared his thoughts on the potential of crypto in helping people trapped in crisis and war.
Vitalik thinks crypto is valuable to help governments access valuable resources during the first few weeks of war — when no financial system is working and foreign governments have yet to come to aid. Crypto is also useful to other groups in the form of fundraising and money transfers.
In addition to seeing crypto as currency, Vitalik is also interested in their digital identity applications. “There were a lot of refugees who had to leave quickly without taking much with them,” he said. “They need some way to interact with the economy and prove themselves trustworthy. From there, people can be willing to work with them and provide aid, goods and services to them,” Ethereum’s chief architect told Fortune.
To make this happen, developers in crypto have started using cutting-edge ideas around zero-knowledge (ZK) technology — something Vitalik has talked about a lot over the past year or two. According to the founder of Ethereum, there is an interesting project that integrates the digital IDs of Ukrainians, and another team is trying to integrate all of that into the Gitcoin passport.
Read more: Crypto in War – Friend or Enemy?
Where is Ukraine on the world crypto map?
During the Kyiv tech conference, Vitalik had the opportunity to chat with a “small, but certainly very dedicated and enthusiastic” group of hackers. They include people who are working on blockchain-based projects trying to identify refugees or crypto-based applications… And during a panel session with government officials, Vitalik had Exciting discussions about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and the value of these ideas to Ukraine.
“Crypto community in Ukraine is definitely strong”
As evidenced by many internationally famous projects with Ukrainian founders, the NEAR protocol is a prime example.
Another thing about Ukraine that excites Vitalik is that the government is very willing to get into the crypto space and try to be forward-thinking. “It reminds me of a trip to Estonia about five years ago. Talking to this government is like talking to a startup. And Ukraine really gives me the same feeling,” Vitalik said.
“Ethereum Foundation also has Ukrainian developers, and a lot of them are extremely good and smart.”
A recent trip to Montenegro also helped Vitalik see that even the governments there are trying to pass blockchain laws and be as friendly with them as possible. “It seems like Eastern Europe is a place where people really want to do something with crypto and their active involvement in institutions and governments is very interesting,” commented Vitalik.
He is also particularly impressed with the crypto community in Argentina and Brazil. But according to Vitalik, Latin America is a contrast. On a recent trip to eastern Mexico, he didn’t see much government attention to crypto.
Ethereum’s Rollup and Scaling Ambition
Ethereum was born out of Vitalik’s adventures to crypto communities around the world. And now on a trip to a warring country with the help of crypto, he talks about the future of the platform.
According to Vitalik, Ethereum’s scaling roadmap is focused on rollups – like a “hybrid” to Bitcoin’s roadmap. There are no changes in L1, developers will build L2 on top. “Bitcoin has the Lightning network, and we are trying to scale completely through L2 building on L1, but working differently,” Vitalik said. This is in contrast to EOS or Solana’s scaling approach, which focuses on keeping everyone at L1 and making it as robust as possible.
“People don’t want the network to become centralized, but they also understand the need for scalability,” Vitalik said. Therefore, this rollup-focused roadmap makes several improvements at L1 to help build L2 protocols that can handle more transactions. Then it’s up to the L2 protocols to want to build to support these transactions.
According to Vitalik, there are already many such platforms: Optimism, Arbitrum, Scroll, Starkware, zkSync. Polygon is also among them – started as a somewhat more centralized and trusted sidechain, but they have hired excellent ZK teams and are well on their way to becoming a rollup on their own.
The Ethereum founder also appreciates the ZK and zkEVM proofs.
“ZK proof as a technology will be as important as blockchain”
“They possess a strong ability to add privacy and add scalability to our blockchain applications. And these two technologies complement each other,” said Ethereum chief architect.
Proof of ZK – the solution to the privacy problem of blockchain
According to Vitalik, blockchains provide censorship resistance and ensure rules are followed, just like a smart contract. But to get there, blockchains have to sacrifice scalability and privacy. The ZK proof is the solution to this difficult problem. “At some point, we will live in a world where we can add ZK proof to everything,” Vitalik said.
Regarding zkEVM, Vitalik said that currently Starkware is one of the teams that are working very hard to make zkEVM a reality.
“Starkware has been in this field longer than anyone else and I have to thank them for showing me a lot of the math behind how zk-SNARKS works,” Vitalik said. Starkware is working on Cairo – their own programming language for the Starks, and contributes a lot to the development of the entire space. There are also other projects that are creating zkEVM based on Cairo like ImmutableX.
In many cases, there is a compromise between decentralization and an acceptable form of centralization to make applications more efficient in the short term. “I think the idea of Starkware is probably better for organizations than the private blockchains that everyone was excited about five years ago,” Vitalik said.
The Ethereum founder also appreciates Loopring – the team has been implementing zkEVM rollups years ago when no one had ever done this.
“I am very pleased with the kind of community we have been building”
This is not the first time Vitalik has gone to great lengths to attend a crypto conference like in Ukraine and have reflections on the development of the industry. In 2013, after dropping out of college, he set off on an adventure to explore all the different Bitcoin communities.
“I thought it was going to be just a six-month round-the-world trip. But around the end of my journey, I came up with the idea of Ethereum, and from there the trip grew longer and longer. Like that, I’ve been moving for about nine years now,” Vitalik said.
Given the efforts Vitalik is making, we can count on him to keep going – and the same is true for Ethereum and the crypto space.
Read more: Vitalik Buterin and the destruction of centralized power
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