NFTs And Cryptorealism Supporting Ukraine: A Conversation With Davood Roostaei

Since the launch of the attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, much of the world has mobilized in an attempt to help. Responding to the injustice of the attack by Russia on another sovereign nation, many people all over the world have been moved to help — and have found ways to contribute without necessarily leaving the comfort of their keyboards.

Once the butt of dismissive jokes, keyboard activists have been making a difference for Ukraine by collectively helping to shine the light of global attention on the human suffering taking place in Ukraine and keeping the focus on the human narrative with videos, images, and updates. Ukraine has remained a fixture among Twitter hashtags for more than a month, making social media and internet culture a new factor in a modern war — where information and narrative are not as easily controlled as they were with traditional, centralized media.

Of course, the role of cryptocurrency in the war should not be overlooked. The embattled government of Ukraine has requested donations in crypto — presumably the easiest way for them to process donations in dire circumstances.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky recently introduced a new law to parliament, repealing restrictions “On Virtual Assets” set in September 2021 in Ukraine.

According to Ukraine’s Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Digital Transformation, Alex Bornyakov, Ukraine has received over $100 million in cryptocurrency donations since the Russian invasion according to Merkle Science. The Ukraine Ministry of Digital Transformation recently created its own website in partnership with FTX, Kuna, and everstake to accept donations, which features crypto donations prominently. These donations have the advantages of being able to more easily cross international borders and being processed more quickly than traditional bank transfers.

According to Merkle, the Ukrainian government has received over $58 million in cryptocurrency donations, while Come Back Alive (a Ukrainian NGO) has received nearly $17.5 million, Ukraine DAO has received nearly $14 million, and Binance Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund has received nearly $10 million.

NFTs and Fundraising

The violence inflicted on the people of Ukraine has incited both fundraising and strong sentiments that call for expression — a perfect formula for support from the thriving NFT art community.

For users looking for some digital art to indelibly signify their donation and share their support with others, there are a variety of NFT projects looking to meet those needs.

PipeFlare, an NFT project for P2E gaming platforms, is offering Ukrainian Charity NFTs, which provides gamers perks on PipeFlare and various games on its platform.

Pipeflare Support Refugee Families #50

“By raising funds through NFTs, PipeFlare will be able to reach a new target audience, some of whom might not necessarily know how to donate or have the means to donate through traditional banking mechanisms. We want to show our support, and through this sale, PipeFlare will be donating all profits to to help Ukrainian refugees,” Jonathan Teplitsky, CEO of Pipeline Marketing and Founder of PipeFlare said.

Pray4Ukraine is a charitable NFT project that has created a run of 10,000 “art object” NFTs based on the Ukrainian map, the Dove representing peace, and the flags of every partner country supporting Ukraine.

According to their press release, sent on Telegram by a contact within Ukraine, “To help their motherland, Ukrainians are launching a new charity project, Pray4Ukraine, which has been invented to collect funds for humanitarian aid to civilians and the Ukrainian Army. More than 1100 Ukrainian artists united to create 10,000 NFT Art-Objects with the Ukraine thematic, which will be sold on the Crypto-market. Each personal story of our artists started in Ukraine, their oeuvres are influenced by classic Ukrainian art, of which each Ukrainian is proud.

UkraineDAO, backed by Nadya Tolokonnikova, a member of the Russian activist group Pussy Riot, has also been raising money and awareness by selling NFTs and donating to the Come Back Alive organization.

Imagine a Better World

Those of us in the blockchain world should be well familiar with the idea that our beliefs can directly impact the reality we live in. The commerce of our community, now a player on a global stage, is fundamentally an exchange of both ideas and technology.

That’s why Benzinga took the opportunity to speak, through an interpreter, with Davood Roostaei, a globally-recognized artist with a career that spans more than 40 years of provocative, visceral, highly-emotional art that stems in part from his experience as a political prisoner in Iran.

Roostaei’s work is defined by a style that he developed in 1987, called Cryptorealism. In this case, the term refers to the overlaying of levels of images, “meaning upon meaning, in a purposeful and dramatic way to engage the viewer with all of those perspectives,” Roostaei works entirely without brushes, using his fingers to layer shades of meaning and hidden or implied juxtaposed images in his work.

His work in Cryptorealism has not been and has no designs on being released as NFTs — but he is working on a new large-scale painting, 8’ x 12’, titled “Imagine - 2022”. Roostaei is already working with galleries representing him to find potential buyers for this piece. It is estimated the piece will sell for between $700,000 to $1,000,000, and all proceeds will be donated to Ukraine relief efforts.

Davood Roostaei in his studio. Photo: Hugh Foster

BZ: What is the intent behind this new painting?

Roostaei: I’m taking my own personal experiences as someone who was going to one of the most prestigious art schools in Iran in the late 1970s and then the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, which quite violently disrupted my art studies. I became politically active through my art against the regime. That was deemed quite subversive and I was thrown into jail for two years.

I lived through the revolution, I lived through the war. And then I gained asylum in Germany in 1984, where I was able to then continue my art studies. I’m taking all of those experiences and connecting them with the current world events, especially what's happening in Ukraine right now. This piece is both a meditation on peace and a call for it.

Davood Roostaei, Activating the Void, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in. © Davood Roostaei.
BZ: What is your message to the people of Ukraine and of the world watching this horrible conflict?

Roostaei: Especially when one is going through turbulent situations like this, the most important thing is to always be strong and not lose hope. Just know that at the end of the day we are all one and there will hopefully be the right kind of sufficient support.

BZ: What is your message to artists who are seeing the injustice of the attack on Ukraine and want to help in some way?

Roostaei: They can make a difference, regardless of their medium, whether they're painters, poets, musicians or whatever they do, as long as they can reflect from within and also, and then reflect on what's happening in the world right now and have the intention to make a difference.... And if they're committed to it and they do something about it, then that's the most important thing — as long as the intention is there and they do something about it, then they're contributing in a positive way.

Davood Roostaei, Justice At Bay, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 in. © Davood Roostaei.

BZ: Would you ever consider releasing your art as NFTs?

Roostaei: As interesting as NFTs are, the work I create has to be incredibly visceral, rigorous, and I put so much of myself into each and every single piece both intellectually and figuratively. That is the way I have been doing it for the past, 40+ years and that is how I’m going to continue... So no, I haven’t considered NFTs.

Davood Roostaei, Nirvana, 1995, oil and acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 in. © Davood Roostaei.
BZ: If you had one message you could convey, what would it be?

Roostaei: As humans, we all have limited time. There's been so much turbulence in the past that we should have learned from by now. I believe that we should just all come together and try to make this world a better place, both for us right now and also for the generations to come. We can all make a difference if we want to make a difference. I think as long as we have that intention and do something about it, regardless of whether we're artists or whatever professional walk of life we come from, then that will culminate into a better world and a better future for everybody.


It is difficult to do a round-up of projects supporting Ukraine without immediately wishing we had been able to include a dozen more projects. If you are looking to donate to support the people of Ukraine during their time of need, it is wisest to start with the means provided by the Ukrainian Government. However, if you are looking to collect NFTs as part of your journey in supporting Ukraine, that is a perfectly valid way to provide support.

If the meteoric rise of NFTs has shown anything, they have proven blockchain’s incredible efficacy in raising money, whether for private business or public good. There are two parts to this new dynamic of “virtual support” which are arguably the continued march of Web 3 — users are more empowered to directly impact events, contributing our ideas, opinions, and money to promote the outcomes we collectively believe in.

As for Roostaei — I have had the great fortune to speak to so many accomplished people but rarely have I felt as much that I was in the presence of genius as I did speaking with him. They say you should believe in the art and study the art, when picking an NFT to buy. I posit that we should also study artists, including those outside the NFT space. Everything we have built on blockchain started with a spark of innovation, and the father of Cryptorealism has style and determination that should be an inspiration to NFT creators, even if he has no interest in playing in our sandbox.

Ultimately, the story of blockchain, the story of NFTs, and Web 3 is all a collective, decentralized dream of a better world.

Posted In: CryptocurrencyNewsGlobalExclusivesMarketsInterviewNFTsRussiaUkraine