How a Russian-Speaking Crypto Firm Is Navigating the War in Ukraine

JThe Russian invasion of Ukraine cuts through the very human world of digital assets in multiple ways.

Ukrainian authorities and resistance fighters are harnessing the power of cryptocurrencies to fund their defense. Western countries, individual donors and charities use digital assets to reach Ukrainians in need. Meanwhile, Russians and their financial service providers are eyeing digital assets amid a ruble crash. And there has been speculation whether Russian institutions and oligarchs might also consider cryptocurrencies as a way to protect or move their assets to evade sanctions.

But in an industry with many founders, workers and users in the former Soviet sphere, the humanitarian impacts are profound, including for PointPay, a Russian-speaking company that bills itself as the first crypto ecosystem that encompasses a wallet, a bank, a exchange and a payment system, but which is cut off by the battle lines in Ukraine.

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Vladimir Kardapoltsev, who joined PointPay about a year ago and became its CEO, is a young entrepreneur who got into crypto when he was 21 years old.

“PointPay was about to finalize their participation in the IPO and I was one of their first big hires as Head of Projects, the first project being to oversee the overhaul of their entire system “, said Kardapoltsev. “I helped grow the company from 15 to about 100 employees, and I was the main person hiring everyone and prioritizing hires.”

Kardapoltsev was later asked to take over as CEO after a rift with his predecessor. Today, he concerns himself with business growth, acquisitions, new hires, strategic leadership and trying to make the company more stable – but the conflict has hampered his company’s promising growth.

Now Kardapoltsev finds himself leading PointPay through Europe’s most serious major dispute in decades.

Built on the block

“I was the main person developing the business, which operated mainly from Russia and Ukraine at the beginning,” Kardapoltsev said. “We exceeded the market in Russia – I interviewed 3,000 people, pretty much everyone who worked in crypto in the Russian-speaking world and all kinds of people in Europe. We searched for people in Kazakhstan, in Belarus and Ukraine, because not only are the salaries there slightly lower than in Russia, but there are incredibly good specialists in these countries.

PointPay is actually based in the Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Kardapoltsev was educated in London and lived in the UK for most of his life, but claims Romanian citizenship and lives in Montenegro. The private owner of PointPay is a Russian-American.

But PointPay recruited most of its nearly 150 employees from Russia and the former Soviet sphere. Ukrainians in particular were highly educated and could speak, write and work in Russian effortlessly, Kardapoltsev said. With crucial employees scattered across a bloc of countries with varying levels of stability, it didn’t take long for a geopolitical contingency to emerge in the form of major protests over gas prices across Kazakhstan in January. who threatened to cut five of the PointPay employees from the company.

Kardapoltsev offered to relocate these employees to ensure business continuity, covering their travel costs, but the situation cleared up within two weeks.

“Obviously a similar crisis could happen in our second most populous region, Ukraine, so we started making contingency plans for that,” Kardapoltsev said of the company’s planning. earlier this year. “At the beginning, at the end of January, we anticipated that because (US President Joe) Biden was saying that the attack on Ukraine and the invasion of Donbass (a region in eastern Ukraine) were inevitable, we should be proactive.”

Escape from Ukraine

At that time, PointPay had seven employees in or near Donbass, with most of its Ukrainian employees living in the capital, kyiv, and in the west of the country.

Donbass employees were located and asked to move, but not all were willing or able to do so for personal reasons, Kardapoltsev said.

“We asked them to do it as a temporary measure, to treat it as if they were going on vacation, or at least to consider moving to Lviv (a city in western Ukraine)”, a- he declared. “I thought they would probably leave for good, but I told them to think like it was a vacation – and if you can’t get to Lviv, move to Russia. We couldn’t impose it on them, they didn’t listen to us. We told them that we would provide them with accommodation, but they said they did not want to leave their families.

Then PointPay decided to locate everyone working in Ukraine, Kardapoltsev said. “We really didn’t think anything would happen in Kyiv; we thought it would be good and it would only affect the eastern part of the country, the Donbass region. We never thought [Russia] would actually try to invade kyiv and start bombing the whole country.

On February 20, Kardapoltsev reinforced the urgency of his messages, asking all male employees to relocate immediately if possible. An employee living in the city of Mariupol did not listen, and during a visit to his grandmother on February 23, he was conscripted on the spot.

“Most of the women in our company managed to escape, they weren’t conscripted, some men managed to get out of the country,” Kardapoltsev said. “A C-suite senior executive who split his time between Kyiv and Moscow, he escaped in the back of a trunk (the trunk of a vehicle) and moved to Hungary. Another person in the C suite, an important person in our company, had two newborn babies and was unable to escape at all. He’s hiding somewhere in rural western Ukraine; he managed to leave the city early, before you are not allowed to leave the oblast (region).

An evolving conflict

PointPay continues to track its employees in Ukraine, five of whom are stranded in Kyiv. “We all said that the Russians would never invade kyiv, but now we have five employees in kyiv who cannot leave the city and who have to sleep in the metro at night and cannot go back to work during the day,” Kardapoltsev said. .

PointPay finds itself strained by the conflict, but the business has been able to continue operating and is still trying to hire and grow.

But Kardapoltsev also said he and PointPay have faced anti-Russian sentiments, even though they are technically not a Russian company.

“We’ve had two employees in the past who have outright said they don’t want to work for a Russian company, even though we’re not based in Russia, I don’t live in Russia, our owner is an ethnic Russian but he doesn’t Russian, he’s American,” Kardapoltsev said. “Most of our company didn’t live in Russia, but since the people were Russian by blood and we spoke Russian, they didn’t want anything have to do with us and they quit.”

As for the other employees in Ukraine, he continued: “Some, we had a few employees who asked us for leave – they managed to escape the war but were so traumatized by the events that we gave them two months of leave. leave. We try to keep in touch with them; some of them no longer wanted to work in the industry at all.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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