Watch as we send bitcoin from Miami to a Ukrainian in Poland

Alena Vorobiova had not thought much about bitcoin before Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Fast forward to border closures and shelling in her hometown, cash shortages at ATMs across the country and the central bank suspending electronic cash transfers – and she decided to give bitcoin a try.

Where money providers often charge transfer fees of 10% or more when sending $ 100 from the US to Ukraine, the Bitcoin Lightning Network, a payment platform built on the basis of bitcoin, reduces the cost of transactions to virtually zero.

Vorobiova and CNBC decided to put Lightning payments to the test – with the expertise and translation skills of bitcoin developer Gleb Naumenko, who is currently hiding in the western part of Ukraine as the war rages on.

The bottom line? It really works just as well as bitcoin boosters say it does.

The process of downloading a crypto-wallet on Vorobiova’s phone, transferring bitcoin over the Lightning Network from the US to Poland and withdrawing similarly in Polish currency from a bitcoin ATM from the southwestern city of Wrocław took less than three minutes.

Alena Vorobiova withdraws Polish zlotys from a bitcoin ATM in Poland.

Sends rate from Dallas to Miami to Poland

Last August on a road trip from Houston to Dallas, Peter McCormack – founder and host of the popular What Bitcoin Did ‘podcast – taught CNBC how to use the Lightning Network to make instant payments to anyone in the world.

The tutorial took less than 60 seconds and involved four basic steps: We downloaded the Blue Wallet app and generated a one-time invoice in the form of a QR code. McCormack scanned that QR code using a similar app on his own phone and then transferred 100,000 satoshis or rate (the minimum value of bitcoin, around 0.00000001 BTC) from his account to ours. The total transfer was about $ 50.

Eight months later, from a hotel room in Miami on the sidelines of the Bitcoin 2022 conference, CNBC decided to pay for this knowledge – and some of these efforts.

On a three-way video call with Naumenko in western Ukraine, Vorobiova in southwestern Poland, and CNBC in Miami, we followed a very similar sequence of events.

With the guidance of Naumenko, Vorobiova Muun downloaded the wallet app, another type of self-storage wallet for bitcoin and Lightning, made a four-digit pin and generated an invoice as a QR code. CNBC then captured that QR code using the scan mode in Blue Wallet and transmitted over 50,000 rate from McCormack. The fees amounted to fractions of a penny. (For the purpose of the experiment, Naumenko transferred an additional 50,000 because the bitcoin ATM had a minimum payout amount.)

Bitcoin developer Jeff Czyz tells CNBC that Lightning wallets are compatible because they all need to implement the Basic for Lightning Technology specification, or BOLT, which defines a Layer 2 protocol for sending payments across the Lightning network.

“A Lightning wallet app is akin to a bank, as sending money between banks requires them to speak the same language,” said Czyz, a developer with Jack Dorsey’s team known as Spiral (formerly Square Crypto). The common language is the BOLT specification.

“The Lightning Network consists of nodes connected by payment channels, which are used to forward payments across the network without the need to rely on intermediaries,” Czyz continued.

Alena Vorobiova withdraws Polish zlotys from a bitcoin ATM in Poland.

Like the tutorial in the car, the process of transferring rate from Miami to Wrocław also took about a minute.

From there, Vorobiova – who accompanied his sister and niece to the Polish city of Wrocław to help them settle down – went to one of the fifteen bitcoin ATMs in Wrocław and requested a withdrawal.

She achieved this by using a QR code that the ATM spit out. She scanned the QR code into her phone using the Muun app, transferred her bitcoin to the ATM account, and the ATM again issued the money. She ended up with 170 zlotys, the Polish currency, worth about 100,000 rate or $ 40. The ATM company charged a fee of 10 zlotys, or about 5.5% of the total transaction.

“It’s the same flow as paying for a product or service using Lightning,” Czyz explained.

For Vorobiova, this was more of a fun experiment. She is able to take back and forth from Ukraine to Poland, and she tells CNBC that she follows the instructions of the Ukrainian regulators to use only credit cards so far.

But the process illustrates how refugees without cash and no way to access their belongings can use crypto-wallets for banking.

Some Ukrainians use it to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions, while others have found that Lightning is a cheap and fast way to receive donations and money transfers from anywhere in the world. In Poland, for example, there are more than 175 bitcoin ATMs, allowing refugees who fled with bitcoin to cash them back for fiat currency.

“I’m in California, I can still send you any amount instantly to your phone at any time,” Gladstein said.

“We do not have to worry about you being a refugee. It does not matter that you do not have a Polish passport or a bank account. None of these things matter,” Gladstein continued.

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