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Indie Russian news firm raises $250K in crypto after sanctions cripple finances

A Russian independent news company has raised more than US$250,000 in cryptocurrency donations from supporters in order to continue reporting independent news under a barrage of Russian government propaganda and censorship.

Meduza, a Latvian-based Russian-language news site that claims to report on “the real Russia, today” has been asking for donations since April 2021 in the form of USD, euros and cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Binance (BNB), Tether (USDT), Monero (XMR) and zcash (ZEC).

Since publishing their donations plea, the news company has received around US$250,000 in crypto donations through 146,000 individual transactions. Around 93% of the total donation amount came in the form of 3.75 BTC ($116,954) and 49.9 ETH ($117,767).

Meduza’s money troubles actually began in April 2021, after it and several other independent media outlets got labelled by Russia’s Justice Ministry as “foreign agents,” requiring the company to place a large font warning in each of its Russian-language articles informing readers of its “foreign agent” status. The same warning also has to appear in all advertisements, leading to a loss of nearly all its advertisers. It wrote on its donations FAQ:

“As you can imagine, few companies will pay to promote their products below a warning that the content was “created by foreign agents.”

Being labelled as a foreign agent did not prevent readers in Russia from donating to the organization however, as the company promptly set up an avenue for contributors to provide regulator donations through their banks using payment processor Stripe and through crypto.

But in March, Meduza found itself pincered by both Russian government censorship and the impact of Western sanctions. Its website was blocked by Russian authorities for “disseminating information in violation of the law,” and a major avenue for receiving donations from Russian supporters blocked by a ban on the SWIFT network for Russian banks on February 26.

SWIFT is a global financial messaging network used by financial institutions to execute international money transfers.

Meduza wrote on its donation website that the financial restrictions had made it impossible for them to field donations from their supporters in Russia.

Since February 25, the news organization and its journalists have been publishing daily updates on Russia’s war against Ukraine, sharing images and stories about Ukrainian civilians impacted by the war and other major events not reported by local Russian media.

“Millions of people in Russia now rely on our reporting,” wrote Meduza, noting its journalists were forced to leave the country.

“Since the outbreak of this war, transferring money from Russia to Europe has been impossible. We lost 30,000 donators. At the moment, we get no money from Russia at all.”

Ivan Kolpakov, editor-in-chief of Meduza told Bloomberg the donations will help their 25 journalists, who have since fled the country to resettle in Riga, Latvia, where the company’s headquarters is located.

Related: The Ukraine invasion shows why we need crypto regulation

Meduza and its journalists are not the only unintentional victims of the Russian sanctions. Media reports over the months have pointed to everyday Russians, students studying abroad, international students in Russia, and even entire nations’ civilian populations as having been severely impacted by Russian-facing sanctions.

About Sean Patterson

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