Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency.
“It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.
The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar.
It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200).
Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”
Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak.
It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.
The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.
Crypto boom: a new digital economy
The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app.
Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.
Read More:Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse